Reliance Industries, the country’s largest private sector company, on Tuesday initiated a much-anticipated generational shift in its telecom arm’s top management, with Mukesh Ambani stepping down from the board of Reliance Jio Infocomm.
His elder son, Akash (30), non-executive director, has been appointed the chairman of the country’s largest telecom service provider. Jio is a wholly-owned subsidiary of RIL and is credited with bringing about the biggest change in the telecom market by charging only for data with voice being free. The change comes at a time when the telecom market is set for a generational change with the onset of 5G technology and services.
Mukesh Ambani, however, will continue to be the chairman of Jio Platforms, the flagship company that owns all digital services brands, including RJio, and in which big-tech firms like Facebook, Qualcomm, Google, Intel and a host of PE firms have made investments totalling `1.52 trillion.
Jio’s entry into the telecom services market in 2016 brought down data prices from around `200 per GB to under `10 GB currently.
Mukesh Ambani, 65, has three children – twins Akash and Isha and youngest son Anant.
With this generational change in the telecom arm, it is widely expected that the reins of Reliance Retail, another subsidiary of RIL, may soon be handed over to Isha, 30, who is married to Anand Piramal (son of Piramal Group’s Ajay and Swati Piramal).
Akash and Isha have been on the boards of Reliance Retail Ventures (RRVL) — the company that operates supermarkets offering consumer electronics, food and grocery, fashion, jewellery, footwear, and clothing, as well as the online retail venture, JioMart — and Jio Platforms since October 2014.
Anant, 27, has recently been inducted as a director in RRVL. He has been a director in JPL since May 2020.
Among other appointments, Pankaj Mohan Pawar was appointed managing director of Reliance Jio for five years beginning June 27, a regulatory filing said. Former Union finance secretary Raminder Singh Gujral and former CVC KV Chowdary were appointed independent directors, it added. The two are already on the board of RIL.
Akash, who’s an Economics major from Brown University, was closely involved with the development and launch of JioPhone in 2017. The handset was aimed at providing 2G phone users with smartphone-like features which would ultimately make them transition to 4G services. He was also instrumental in the creation of a digital ecosystem around 4G.
Akash had also personally led Jio’s acquisitions and investments in the digital space, including Saavn Media, Buzzo.ai, Glance and Radisys India, in the last few years, and was involved with the development of new technologies and capabilities, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain.
Akash’s elevation comes at a time when telecom players have moved much beyond providing voice and data services. They have become the epicentre of the entire digital interface of the consumers. Access to e-commerce services, over-the-top players, e-education, e-health, et al, is gaining traction through partnerships with telcos. The launch of 5G services later this year would herald a much bigger change with robotics, AI and machine-to-machine talks changing the face of the entire industry.