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The spotlight is back on Mukesh Ambani – for all the right reasons. In the past year, the chairman of Reliance Industries (RIL) has steered his company – and its stock – to new heights. He has led the company’s launch of game changing new ventures, stabilised new businesses like retail and fuel retailing and delivered world-beating performance from the world’s largest refining complex at Jamnagar. On top of all that, he’s shaken up the telecom market.
Last month, the surge in RIL shares helped Ambani add $12.5 billion to his wealth, making him Asia’s second-richest tycoon, according to the Bloomberg billionaire’s index. His $35 billion wealth ranked him 19th in the world.
Ambani stands out as an industrialist who has made huge capital investments in the last few years. And the investments are now beginning to add to the company’s cash flow. But this has not satiated his appetite for growth.
Beginning last year, Reliance Jio has been shaking up the market, attracting a flood of customers with offerings such as free voice calls and generous data packages. It has now offered customers a phone against a refundable deposit of Rs 1,500 and pitched the offering as “effectively free”. Leading equity analysts have cheered the move and said the company is likely to break even faster than they earlier imagined. Ambani got seven votes in the first round of voting, compared with four for his nearest rival.
The second time, the jury was unanimous while selecting Ambani for his second ET Business Leader of the Year award — he first won it in 2006. “The jury recognised the vision Mukesh Ambani had, the disruption he created and the guts he displayed and the way he transformed the industry in a way that is unprecedented in India. What he has done is not just industry moving, but India moving.” A chemical engineer from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai, Ambani has excelled in implementing world-class projects. He spearheaded the creation of the world’s biggest refinery at Jamnagar in the 1990s and went on to expand RIL’s refining capacity to a staggering 1.24 million barrels a day. In the most recent quarter, when RIL’s net profit exceeded Rs 9,000 crore, its refining margin was almost double that of Asian peers.
Margins are poised to expand further with the implementation of its syngas project, which will significantly reduce energy costs. Ambani has also steered the company’s pan-India retail network. Reliance Retail operates 3,634 stores across 703 cities. Organised retail contributed a healthy Rs 11,571 crore turnover in the last quarter.
The past year has been among the most significant in Ambani’s 40 years on the board of RIL. The company has weathered serious disputes with the oil ministry over regulatory matters. However, a combination of patience and deftness in handling the situation helped the company resolve them, leading to the recent big announcement of $6 billion investment to produce natural gas from KG-basin deep-sea fields. The company has also revived its network of petrol pumps, which is now showing much higher sales than the industry average. With this, RIL’s petroleum business again straddles the entire value chain from exploration to retail sales.