Advice to Europe - from Britain's richest man

Even Lakshmi Mittal is feeling the economic pain. The metals magnate tells James Ashton what he would do about it

How do you puncture high spirits on a sunny afternoon in one of Kensington's most sought-after addresses? Simple, just bring up the state of the economy. Lakshmi Mittal, the steel magnate and Britain's richest man, has been elated by the impact of the Olympics on London. Waiters are friendlier and even if shops and West End nightspots are ghostly quiet, he believes the Games are showing the capital in a good light.

Those that want a new view of the city can ascend the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the opinion-dividing steel tower in the Olympic Park that has garnered more column inches from the world's press than many of athletes competing below.

For Mittal, who funded the structure after a chance encounter with London mayor Boris Johnson in the cloakroom at Davos during the World Economic Forum, it offers a cheerful distraction from the economic mire. Away from the Games, it is a case of same old, same old.

"Business is challenging," Mittal said with a sigh, as he sat in the conservatory. "The macroeconomic indicators are not good, not positive, Europe is clearly challenging. My team believes that we will have this challenge continuing for at least 12 to 18 months and it could get worse if the Europeans don't get their act together."

Oh dear. The gloom permeated ArcelorMittal's last set of trading figures, which showed net income was down 63 per cent to $970m (£620m) in the first half of the financial year. Costs are being trimmed at steel plants. If only politicians could come together to tackle the crux of the issue. "They are busy on austerity measures and fixing the banks' problems but the real issue is we are not seeing any money coming into the real economy and that is causing concern," he added. "We can clearly see in our business that segments like construction and real estate are not making any progress, so we are concerned about the global economy."

Mittal, 62, whose fortune stands at £12.7bn, thinks Europe can learn a lot from across the Atlantic, where confidence is recovering. "Look at the United States: after the 2008 crisis the Federal Reserve and US government made a lot of efforts and now we see the US economy is coming out (from its slump)…If we do nothing, we are doomed. We have to do something. The question is whether austerity is enough or we need something along the lines of austerity and growth to keep the economy going forward. (I think) we need a bit of both."

Mittal can survey the global economy from a unique position. ArcelorMittal, the steel empire he began building as the international arm of his father's steel business, stretches from Kazakhstan to Mexico and employs 260,000 staff.

Named after the Hindu goddess of wealth, he joined his father's firm at the age of 19. By his mid-20s he'd set up a steel plant in Indonesia that his father had been unsure of. He developed a taste for globe-trotting, spying an opportunity to consolidate a localised, fragmented industry and rip out costs. A buying spree followed and, by 1995, the family business split.

Such vision has brought him wealth that includes a Gulfstream jet and a home bought for £57m eight years ago from Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, making it the world's most expensive house at the time.

Myths abound about this place. For example, where are the stones taken from the same quarry as the Taj Mahal that has earned it the nickname of the Taj Mittal? "There are stones in the swimming pool area," he says with a wave. "I did not buy those. We bought the house with the stones already there." What is true is the walls are stacked with art and double doors lead out into the garden where water bubbles in an impressive fountain and a kids' playground stands, to occupy his grandchildren.

Tough times for ArcelorMittal mean further steel expansion has been put on hold in favour of cost-cutting.

Mittal's most high-profile investment in Britain has been the Orbit. What began as a pledge to donate 2,000 tonnes of steel became an all-encompassing project that involved Mittal helping to single out Anish Kapoor's design. Before long, the budget was rising, as was the size of the structure.

"It started as a very small project," said Mittal, "30 metres, 40 metres in height. Not a big investment, not a big thing. But I also got carried away by the whole excitement. while Cecil (Balmond, the engineer) was doing it he felt the height could go up to 115 metres. That required some extra investment, but we did agree."

In the end, £10m became £23m. Its legacy is safe when the park reopens as a tourist attraction after the Olympics. The Orbit earned Mittal a turn in the torch relay and a visit from the Queen the day after the Games opened.

"When she walked in she said: 'It is yours.' And I said 'Your Majesty, it is ours.' I've got some amazing photos."

They sound like an ideal memento of the few days when one of the world's biggest businessmen could set aside the woes of the global economy.

Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Polly Borgen at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012
peopleThe Emmy award-winner starred in Cape Fear, the Sopranos and Desperate House Wives
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam