Once upon a time, long before the hoodie was invented, pioneers of business preferred to call themselves self-made men rather than entrepreneurs. They built hard assets like ports, railways and oil terminals. They cajoled—and canoodled with—governments. They built vast conglomerates.
In America, such men made history in the Gilded Age. In India, one of their modern-day avatars is Gautam Adani, a trader who started his career haggling for diamonds, and now controls more ports, power stations, solar farms and airports than almost any other private tycoon. A thickset 59-year-old of few words, a strong political antenna and a stomach for debt, he could not be further removed from the elfin founder-ceos of the digital age. And yet as recently as June, the value of his companies had more than quintupled in 12 months, to $133bn. That is tech-like growth from what is normally one of the stodgiest parts of the old economy—infrastructure.