Learning from the greatest business leaders of the world
Mukesh Ambani (born April 19, 1957) is an Indian business magnate and the largest shareholder of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), which is a Fortune Global 500 company.
According to the Forbes magazine, he is the richest Asian and the 13th richest person in the world as of March 2019.
Reliance Industries was founded by Mukesh’s father Dhirubhai Ambani. Dhirubhai worked as a yarn trader and incorporated Reliance Textiles Engineers in 1996. But he didn’t stop there but continued to build his business interests.
Mukesh has one younger brother, Anil and two sisters. During his schooling days, in addition to the academic field, he was a good sportsman specialising in football and hockey. He had an interest in visiting Indian villages and mixing with them. He received his degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Bombay and later enrolled for an MBA at the Stanford University USA.
In 1980, the Indian government under Indira Gandhi decided to grant polyester filament yarn (PFY) manufacturing to the private sector. Dhirubhai Ambani applied for a licence to set up a plant. Obtaining the licence was a long-drawn-out process requiring a strong connection within the government.
In spite of stiff competition from Tatas, Birlas and 43 others, Dhirubhai was awarded the licence. To help him build the PFY plant, Dhirubhai pulled his son, Mukesh, out of Stanford, to work with him in the company. Initially, Mukesh had been given the opportunity to contribute to the company but report to Executive Director Rasikbhai Meswani.
Mukesh says, “When we started work on setting up a polyester filament yarn project, my chemical engineering and business school background helped me in organising the work, creating reporting structures, motivating people... in all this, my father and Rasikbhai were two steps ahead of me.”
“We worked liked a partnership; I was fortunate to be able to contribute from day one. One of my biggest obsessions today is that senior people must give bright 25-year-olds the opportunity to contribute meaningfully.”
Rasikbhai died in 1985 but during those five years Mukesh, being an enterprising person, learned all the ropes he needed.
Mukesh also set up Reliance Infocomm Limited (now Reliance Communications Limited), which was focused on information and communications technology initiatives. At the age of 24, Mukesh was given charge of the construction of Patal-ganga petrochemical plant when the company was heavily investing in oil refinery and petrochemicals. Mukesh’s father treated him as a business partner allowing him the freedom to take decisions.
On July 6, 2002, Mukesh’s father died. His death elevated tensions between the brothers Mukesh and Anil due to Dhirubhai not leaving a will behind for the distribution of the empire. By mutual understanding after the mother’s intervention, they decided to split the company into two, where Mukesh will gain control of Reliance Industries Limited and Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited.
In 2010, Mukesh created of the world’s largest grassroots petroleum refinery at Jamnagar, India, which had the capacity to produce 33 million tonnes per year, integrated with petrochemicals, power generation, port and related infrastructure.
In December 2013 Mukesh announced the possibility of a ‘collaborative venture’ with Bharti Airtel in setting up digital infrastructure for the 4G network in India. On June 18, 2014, he confirmed the investment of Indian Rs.1.8 trillion across businesses in the next three years and launched 4G broadband services in 2015.
In February 2016, Mukesh Ambani-led Jio launched its own 4G smartphone brand named LYF (short for life). By early 2018, LYF topped the overall mobile handset leadership with 27 percent market share.
Through Reliance, he also owns the Indian Premier League franchise Mumbai Indians and is the founder of Indian Super League, a football league in India.
What lessons can we learn from Mukesh Ambani?
1. Let your work speak for itself
The famous quote is apt for Mukesh Ambani. The 62-year-old likes to keep a low profile in the social circle or so it seems to be with the media at least! He isn’t keen on voicing opinions on global, political or economic issues at events.
But still, he is one of the most talked about personalities in the country. Ambani’s focus has always been his business and this entrepreneur is credited for the creation of the world’s largest petroleum refinery at Jamnagar in Gujarat besides other successful ventures.
2. Have a dream
Mukesh believes having a dream and working towards it is the most essential thing for any business to identify its niche space. Words may sound hollow when one speaks of a ‘dream’ but really how can a business take shape without a concept and a dream that would show the road ahead?
3. Trust all but depend on none
Ambani in an interview had said that he did not want “people carrying their wisdom in notebooks as if it some kind of secretive operations”. While he has a trusted team of a few people, who have played a pivotal role in the growth of his empire, Ambani has always emphasised on the importance of being involved in one’s own business.
When it comes to work, Mukesh Ambani knows nothing can match the aspects of perseverance and self-learning. Trust is something but being prepared for all kinds of emergencies is what keeps the company going – he knows it well.
4. Risks give greatest lessons
Ambani once said that the person who doesn’t take risks will not have major growth in their life. And yes, he proved it from the start of his career. But his risks are calculative, like adventure-seeker and not like a gambler. He knows his goals and will chase them to their logical end.
5. Trust your gut instincts
There have been several controversies concerning Mukesh – ‘a rich man without a heart’ owing to his splurging of money on building his massive house and investing in the IPL cricket team. However, Mukesh does what he deems right and mostly, it so turns out that it is the ‘right’ thing to do.
6. Be hungry, be impatient
Success eludes those who rest in the middle of a run. You got to recharge your batteries. That is right. But, don’t time it right in the middle of a competition that’s warming up. Markets wait for none, so be on your toes. Resting time is when the market slips into slumber.
7. Don’t panic, stay strong
Mukesh Ambani joined his father’s business at a very young age. And while he was still in the process of learning the nuances of the business, he lost his father’s business partner Rasikbhai in 1986, followed by his father’s stroke and eventual death. He had to take his father’s place and steered the company forward at a time when India was still a land of Licence Raj.
8. Credibility carries high premium
Whether your team needs you or your competition – be there on both occasions to give your fullest. Understand, innovate and prepare for the future. Mukesh believes that credibility is something that needs to be safeguarded beyond cash inflow and outflow.
9. Keep your eyes wide open
Mukesh Ambani keeps his eyes wide open when it comes to hunting for new ventures. It always pays well to understand your surroundings. You may have created a niche product. But if there is a better product in the market that’s going to outdo yours, you better pull up your socks and sit down to improve your skills.
10. Build a team
Be there for your team. Trust the professionals. Learn, learn and learn. It’s never too late for that. When you build teams that are trustworthy, every moment you spend with them contributes directly to revenue of the company.
(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 30 years’ experience in senior business management.
Presently he is a freelance journalist and could be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)