This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of India’s Richest 2021. See the full list here.
When the second wave of Covid-19 ravaged India earlier this year, the government ordered the nation’s suppliers of commercially used oxygen to shift production to medical oxygen to meet skyrocketing demand. Chemical and industrial gas tycoon Devendra Jain’s privately held Inox Air Products, a joint venture with U.S.-based Air Products & Chemicals, swung into action and ramped up its medical oxygen production by 520% to 2,800 tonnes a day. Since fortunes were last measured, the chairman of Inox Group has seen his net worth nearly double to $3 billion.
Delivering pure oxygen to the far corners of the country was “supremely” hard, says Jain’s grandson Siddharth, 43, Inox Air Products executive director. His first hurdle: the specialized cryogenic tankers needed for its transport were in short supply. Inox Air Products worked quickly to modify tankers used for transporting gases, but it wasn’t enough.
With others in the industry, the company lobbied the government; soon it was transporting the cryogenic tankers by train, with the Indian Air Force flying back the empty tankers so they could be refilled for their next destination. “It was really a war-like situation,” says Siddharth. To make matters worse, several members of his family were battling Covid-19 at the time.
With Covid-19 infections down from their May peak, oxygen production has mostly returned to normal levels, he says. Inox Air Products’ revenue for the fiscal year ended March climbed 10% to $307 million from a year earlier, while net profit increased 4% to $65 million. The family gets the bulk of its wealth from chemicals business Gujarat Fluorochemicals where the stock has more than tripled in the past 12 months. Inox’s nationwide chain of 154 cinemas, shut since March 2020, has mostly reopened as states ease lockdown restrictions.