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Arcelor — the inside story

At 9.35 pm on Thursday, January 26, 2006, Lakshmi Mittal, chairman and chief executive of Mittal Steel, telephoned Guy Dolle, the chief executive officer of Arcelor, Mittal Steel’s rival.

By Mittal’s side at the headquarters of Mittal Steel in Berkeley Square House in London’s Mayfair was his son Aditya. The Frenchman was in Lufthansa’s business class lounge at Toronto airport.

“Guy, this is Lakshmi Mittal. I am calling you as a matter of courtesy to tell you that tomorrow Mittal Steel will be announcing an offer directly to your shareholders for all the shares of Arcelor.”

Someone who was with Dolle at that moment said, “The CEO looked like a man who was about to fall off a building.”

Mittal looked at Aditya. “I can’t believe it. He hung up on me.”

Thus began the mother of all takeover battles, recounted by Tim Bouquet and Byron Ousey in their just published Cold Steel: Britain’s Richest Man and the Multi-Billion Dollar Battle for a Global Empire (Little, Brown; £20).

Even those who followed the twists and turns, from Mittal’s opening bid to his final victory, will realise after reading Cold Steel that a veritable Kurukshetra was being fought on the industrial landscape of Europe.

“We wrote this as a fast paced, narrative thriller,” says Bouquet, who will visit India shortly with Ousey to talk about the richest Indian in Britain. The authors did 65 interviews with 50 of the leading players, seeing Mittal, Aditya and Dolle three times each.

Bouquet is a journalist who also runs a creative writing course, which Ousey, managing director of Gavin Anderson, a financial public relations consultancy, had joined. After their chance encounter one thing led to another, with the pair deciding to collaborate on a book. Bouquet happened to be working on a magazine profile of Mittal, while Ousey had been retained by the Luxembourg government, an Arcelor shareholder, to advise on the takeover.

“We thought this is a hell of a story,” recalls Bouquet.

He is right: “This tale of epic twists and strange turns featured six billionaires, many of the world’s top investment bankers, hundreds of international lawyers, seven governments and their presidents and prime ministers, secret meetings at private airports, accusations of skullduggery... and above all, massive amounts of money. It was a contest full of culture clashes and corporate espionage, and even some allegations of racism.”

The last was a reference to Dolle’s comment in French that Mittal wanted to pay in “monkey money” and that his was a company “of Indians”.

Ousey defends Dolle against the racism charge — “rather ironically, he has a passion for India, its culture, its food. The point he was making was that Mittal was not paying enough cash; he was paying with paper, with shares.”

The French President Jacques Chirac and his economics minister, Thierry Breton, reacted with ill-disguised hostility to Mittal whom they considered an interloper, interfering in European affairs.

“They did not hold back from telling Mittal to his face about the European way of doing things,” Bouquet points out.

During his state visit to Delhi, Chirac even instructed Mittal not to attend a lunch to which the steel tycoon had been invited personally by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Mittal did stay away but got his own back by tipping off Indian journalists who ensured Chirac’s press conference was not a friendly one.

Bouquet reckons that the intervention on Mittal’s behalf by the Indian Prime Minister and Kamal Nath, the commerce and industry minister, may not have materially affected sentiment about the bid but “it helped put the French back in their box.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and economics minister of Luxembourg weakened after meeting the Mittals. “They are very personable, nice people when you meet them socially,” says Ousey. “Tim coined the phrase, ‘stealth diplomat’ — Mittal is just that. His son is even more charming and became known as ‘Prince Charming’.”

Dolle, though, did not take to Aditya and could scarcely bring himself to mention him by name. But Dolle probably underestimated the young man whom he felt had got his job through being his father’s son.

“Aditya was arguably the trigger mechanism for the whole deal,” speculates Ousey. “It is said Aditya was the man pushing for this merger.”

He adds: “You cannot get away from the fact that Arcelor fought a very vigorous battle. There was one down moment when Mittal thought he had really lost it. But typical Mittal, he picks himself up very fast.”

The battle cost the two sides a total of £300 million in fees for lawyers, bankers and advisers. According to Bouquet, “it was a destination deal, that is, there wouldn’t be another one like it in their lifetime.”

“There was a terrific sense of pride and achievement in India when it became clear Mittal had won,” Ousey acknowledges. “History will always suit the victor very well but in no way is this a one-sided book. Mittal had to make some huge concessions to get this deal done. He was very fatigued at the end. But the jury will decide soon — if not now — that this (takeover) has been a spectacular success.”

The authors studied Mittal’s flying log on his private jet. “Just reading it was tiring,” laughs Bouquet.

So why did Mittal win?

“Absolute self-belief in what he was seeking to achieve, tremendous determination and a great capacity to make concessions,” is Ousey’s explanation. “What he achieved is unbelievable. He has transformed the shape of the industry to a certain extent. There are very few people in the world who have this capacity to see a vision and go for it and stay with it.”

Bouquet reflects: “It made me smile when I discovered when Sarkozy visited India this year, in his select party of advisers and friends was Lakshmi Mittal — the Indian the French did not want was now Sarkozy’s best pal.”

Mittal’s Mahabharat

The battle begins: On January 26, 2006, Lakshmi Mittal phones Arcelor chief executive officer Guy Dolle (pic left), who’s at Toronto airport, to inform him that Mittal Steel will be making an open offer for the shares of Arcelor the next day. A shocked Dolle hangs up.

The battle would involve seven governments and their presidents and prime ministers, secret meetings at private airports and accusations of skullduggery.

The French government was hostile to the bid. During his state visit to Delhi, French president Jacques Chirac instructed Mittal not to attend a lunch to which the steel tycoon had been invited personally by Manmohan Singh.

The battle cost the two sides a total of £300 million in fees for lawyers, bankers and advisers

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