Most people in the Western world know Mukesh Ambani only from articles that speak about his jaw-dropping $1 billion home, Antilia. The construction of this 27-story personal home was (and still is) the subject of many controversies. Critics don’t get how an Indian magnate could build himself the most expensive home in the world when millions of fellow Indians around him struggle with poverty. So what we find in the media about this man is mostly limited to his house.
But who is this person? What does he do? Where does he come from? Well, this article is meant to offer some insight into these matters and more. Let’s start with “Who is Mukesh Ambani?”.
Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani is the eldest son of the late founder of Reliance Industries, Dhirubhai Ambani. The man started his business in 1958, soon after his first son, Mukesh, was born (19 April 1957). It all started as a small family business in a small trading office in Mumbai. Back then, Reliance was only exporting spices to Yemen. Then the company entered the yarn trade, a pretty difficult business at the time, with the government restricting large-scale manufacturing in the country. But Dhirubhai was an intelligent man and he knew how to make his company grow.
Mukesh and his younger brother, Anil, grew up surrounded by business and they soon understood its mechanisms. Mukesh was made a board member when he was only 17-18 years old, and he had a major role in Reliance Industries’ growth. Talking about this, Ambani said he always felt that he didn’t just inherit the business, but that he actually built it together with his father. “He treated me like a partner, saying ‘O.K., let’s do this.’ And more than that, he gave me full freedom, the ability to bet the house”. Dhirubhai Ambani was right to trust his son: Mukesh initiated the company’s backward integration (the purchase of suppliers, in order to reduce dependency) and took Reliance on a journey from textiles to polyester fibers, then petrochemicals, petroleum refining, and further on to oil and gas exploitation and production.
During this process, Mukesh helped create 60 new and modern manufacturing facilities with many diverse and innovative technologies. Thanks to this, Reliance’s production and profile was raised considerably, with its manufacturing capacities soaring from a few hundred thousand tons to more than 12 million tons per year. He also created the largest grassroots petroleum refinery in the world, at Jamnagar, India. The current capacity of the refinery is of 660,000 barrels per day, or some 33 million tons per year, integrated with petrochemicals. For a developing India, Mukesh Ambani is currently considered to be the country’s “great transformer”, just like Rockefeller and Carnegie were for the American business world. However, he is not the kind of Indian businessman who embraces everything that comes from the West. While other magnates in his country choose to wear western suites and speak English in their families, Mukesh sticks to his India-made clothes, his Indian food (he is a vegetarian, by the way) and he prefers speaking Gujarati, not English. Oh, and he loves watching some 3 Bollywood movies every week.
Together with his brother, Anil, Mukesh set up one of the largest communication companies in India, called Reliance Communications Limited. Soon after their father’s death, the two brothers started battling for control over Reliance Group, and their relationship began to deteriorate. Their mother, also a major shareholder in the company, settled the quarrel by splitting the business in two: Mukesh got the industrial businesses, while Anil got the newer service businesses, including telecommunications, banking and electric power. The Ambani brothers never speak about their relationship in public.
Mukesh was named by Forbes among the most powerful people in the world in 2010, and as of this year he is the second richest man in Asia, and the ninth richest in the world. With a personal fortune of approximately $27 billion, he is expected to soon become the richest man in the world, probably in 2014. But Mukesh wasn’t always so wealthy: as a child, he and his family used to live in a two-bedroom apartment in his birth-town, Mumbai. The humble building in which he grew up had metal grates covering the windows and was shadowed by other, more attractive towers in the area.
After his father’s business stated to grow, he and his family (Mukesh, Anil, two other sisters and their parents) could afford to live in much better conditions, and now…well, everybody knows what kind of house the Indian magnate has got. Yes, at this point we could engage in criticism and controversies, but there are enough people out there doing that already. So this time we choose to only admire his ascension and his undisputable talent for business.