Few people in the world can claim to be billionaires. Fewer can claim to have shaped a country’s economy and contributed to its growth. Among those incredibly rare individuals who’ve done both, an underlying common thread that seems to unite them all is the mystique that surrounds them. For Mukesh Ambani, this sense of curiosity that he attracts is in his professional space.
Mukesh, the eldest son of Dhirubhai Ambani runs Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a small polyester shop started nearly half a century back by his father. Since its inception, the firm has diversified to sectors such as Oil & Ga, retail and has even bankrolled sports teams; not to mean the immense CSR initiatives taken up by the company. The kind of respect Ambani commands, especially in the financial capital is probably second to none. This is not just because he is India’s richest man, worth $23.5 billion. It is because he runs India’s biggest private firm (measured by profits), Reliance Industries.
Last year, he addressed a punctual audience of bigwigs at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel as part of a discussion on “Reimagining India”. He spoke about the impatience of the nation’s 700m living in poverty with the authority of a man raised in the city’s tenements and the sanctimony of someone who now lives in a personal skyscraper that towers above them, a 27-storey perquisite of being the world’s 26th-richest man. A conglomerate spanning energy, chemicals, retail, telecoms and media, Reliance accounts for 15% of India’s exports, 4% of its stock market’s value and 3% of its tax revenues. Indeed, few firms have contributed as much as Reliance has to India. The ‘India Shining’ or whatever metaphor you want to use to describe the growth of this economy since the shackles of economic independence was thrown off in the early 90’s. RIL is also a last of a dying breed – the corporate that has made people, from all of society’s strata, into wealth generators; from the man living in a distant suburb to the many in attendance at the Taj Mahal reception.
But the company has not stayed still and basked in the glory of its accomplishments for long. Indeed, this is the hallmark of corporations and even shrewd investors who’ve grown magnanimously while reaping in the rewards of a free capital economy. RIL is midway through a three-year, $30 billion capital-investment programme. Part of this is directed at the core petrochemicals and refining divisions. These industries are low-margin affairs, but by making its plants more complex and efficient at using feedstock and their own byproducts, Reliance hopes to make them more profitable than the global average.
And don’t discount the impact Reliance Jio is going to have in a country where telecom hasn’t reached the sky-high levels many anticipated at its dawn in the early 90’s. This along with considerable interests in the retail and now media as well, with the acquisition of Network 18 will mean that Mukesh Ambani’s company is truly in a league of its own. You don’t have to take our word, just look at company’s balance sheets – profits will rise by over 60% by the year to March 2017, compared with $3.8 billion in the year to March 2014. Now that folk’s is a phenomenal story for a man and a family that started from scratch.