Move over Jack Ma, Asia has a new richest man. Mukesh Ambani, the 61-year-old force behind Reliance Industries Ltd., the oil-to-telecom behemoth, has eclipsed the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. founder — at least for now. It’s the latest landmark for the Indian businessman who constructed himself a 27-story home in Mumbai having lifted his father’s textile business to unimaginable heights.
1. How much is Ambani worth?
Ambani’s fortune has grown to $44.3 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His wealth derives mainly from Reliance Industries, India’s second-biggest company with a market capitalization of more than $100 billion. Ambani is chairman and managing director and, together with his family, controls more than 43 percent. He also receives dividends, a salary and fees as a director, as well as owning a stake in Reliance Industrial Infrastructure Ltd. and holding some valuable private investments, including a gas pipeline.
2. How did Mukesh Ambani get his break?
From his father. Dhirubhai Ambani began his career as a clerk before venturing out on his own to trade spices and yarn. He then set up Reliance Industries to manufacture fabrics and textiles. Mukesh was born 10 years after India’s independence from the British in 1947 and trained as a chemical engineer before joining the Reliance board as a 20-year-old, along with his younger brother Anil. Mukesh Ambani earned a reputation for executing large-scale projects and played a crucial role in taking the company into refining and petrochemicals in the 1990s and then telecom and retail in the 2000s. He was instrumental in establishing Reliance’s first major manufacturing project at Patalganga followed by the world’s largest refining complex at Jamnagar on India’s west coast.
3. Why did the brothers fall out?
When Dhirubhai Ambani died in 2002, he didn’t leave a will. Mukesh and Anil, now 59, fell into a dispute that lasted for more than a decade. In a settlement brokered by their mother in 2005, the brothers split the family business. Mukesh retained control over refining, petrochemicals, oil and gas and textiles operations. Anil took the construction, telecommunications, asset management, entertainment and power generation businesses. The siblings’ financial paths soon began to diverge.
4. What happened to Anil Ambani?
His fortunes dwindled as his power business racked up huge debts and the telecommunications business suffered through over-competition. Mukesh Ambani bailed his brother out this year by agreeing to buy most of the assets of Reliance Communications Ltd.
5. How has the journey been for Mukesh?
He enjoyed a steady rise at Reliance and was trusted by his father, who called him back to India from Stanford University while he was pursuing an MBA. After the split with Anil, Reliance experienced strong and steady growth until the 2008 financial crisis. A period of under-performance followed, especially as investors doubted a strategy to re-enter the telecoms market via the acquisition of a small company that had won an auction for pan-India broadband spectrum. The stock dulled as the new business took longer than expected to launch, but regained its aura after Ambani announced the pricing for telecom services last year. That lifted Reliance’s market value beyond $100 billion, for the first time in a decade, on Thursday.
6. What’s helping bolster his wealth?
Optimism about his telecom business: Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. “Jio is the biggest driver behind the surge in Reliance shares,” said Deven Choksey, managing director at Mumbai-based K.R. Choksey Shares and Securities Pvt. After offering free phone calls and cheap data, Ambani last week announced plans to integrate Reliance’s consumer businesses with telecom and media. “With Jio, Ambani has created a highway,” Choksey said. “He will also provide you cars and say you drive in my car, on my highway. Just give me toll now. It was not so clearly visible earlier.”
7. What’s Mukesh Ambani’s succession plan?
That’s unclear. He has three children. Twenty six year-old twins Isha and Akash have already been inducted into the business, with both holding key executive roles in the telecom business. Younger sibling Anant has also been taking part in some meetings and company events.
8. What does Mukesh Ambani like?
Indian food, Bollywood movies and, naturally, cricket. He loves south Indian cuisine and is a frequent visitor to Mysore Cafe, a popular cafe in central Mumbai that dates back to the 1930s. He’s something of a tech geek and likes to keep current with the latest gadgets as well developments in telecoms, digital technology and automation. He watches as many as three Bollywood movies a week. Arguably his biggest extravagance was his tower block in south Mumbai, where he lives with his wife Nita and the three children, and which is worth an estimated $400 million. The billionaire owns the Mumbai Indians professional cricket team.