Indian jeweller becomes billionaire as gold surges

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T S Kalyanaraman is beloved by his customers and detested by his rivals for bringing transparency to jewellery sales in India, where haggling is the norm.

He opened a shop in the southern Indian state of Kerala in 1993 and taught customers how to test the purity of their gold to expose cheating craftsmen.

Two decades later, the 65-year-old has become a billionaire as a 12-year rally in gold prices fails to damp demand in India, the world’s largest consumer of the precious metal. He owns 44 stores in India and plans to open 36 more by March 2014, including five in West Asia.

“Less profit, more turnover; that is what we believe in,” Kalyanaraman, chairman of Kalyan Jewellers, said in a phone interview from Kerala. “Be as transparent as you can in your trade. The big thing in life is trust.”

Kalyanaraman’s closely held Kalyan Jewellers is valued at about $1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Kalyan Jewellers posted revenue of Rs 95 billion and Ebitda of Rs 2.95 billion in the year ended March 31. “I don’t calculate my net worth,” said Kalyanaraman, when asked about his status as a billionaire. “I am more keen to trade, develop my brand, but you may be right.”

India consumes 30 per cent of the global gold supply, according to World Gold Council. More than half of gold jewellery is bought for weddings and religious festivals.

Southern India accounts for 45 per cent of the total jewellery business in the country according to Firstcall. “We don’t find it tough to sell gold; people love to buy jewellery,” Kalyanaraman said. Kalyanaraman, whose office is adorned with idols of Lord Rama, the Hindu god, spends his Sunday mornings at the temple that his grandfather built more than a century ago.

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