Billionaire Mukesh Ambani on Monday laid bare the succession plan at India’s most valuable company, identifying twins Akash and Isha for telecom and retail leadership, and youngest son Anant for the new energy unit. He, however, insisted he isn’t retiring yet and will “continue to provide hands-on leadership as before”. At the annual shareholders’ meeting of Reliance Industries Ltd, he said the robust architecture that he has announced will ensure the firm remains “a unit, well-integrated and secure institution even as it develops existing businesses and adds new growth engines.” Reliance has three broad businesses — oil refining and petrochemicals, retail, and digital services that include telecom. Retail and digital services are housed in separate wholly-owned subsidiaries – Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd (RRVL).
The oil-to-chemical or O2C business is a functional division of Reliance. The new energy business is also with the parent firm. Just like his business, Ambani, also has three children — twins Akash and Isha, and youngest son Anant. “Akash and Isha have assumed leadership roles in Jio and Retail respectively. They have been passionately involved in our consumer businesses since inception,” he said. “Anant has also joined our new energy business with great zeal. In fact, he is spending most of his time in Jamnagar.” So far only Akash has been made functional head of a company, while the other two are on boards. “All three have fully inherited our founder’s (Dhirubhai’s) mindset. They are first among equals in a young team of leaders and professionals who are already doing amazing things at Reliance. Of course, all of them are being mentored on a daily basis by our senior leaders, including myself and the board of directors,” he said.
In June, Akash, 30, was made the chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, a subsidiary of Jio Platforms. Jio Infocomm is the firm that holds telecom licenses but Mukesh Ambani continues to be the chairman of Jio Platforms, the firm in which global technology giants like Google and Facebook owner Meta have invested. The senior Ambani also continues to head RRVL. At the AGM on Monday, Ambani introduced Isha as the leader of retail business as he invited her to give a presentation on integration of the e-commerce unit with WhatsApp and foray into FMCG.
Later, he said Anant, 26, has joined the new energy business that spans solar, battery and hydrogen investments. Isha is married to Anand Piramal (son of Piramal Group’s Ajay and Swati Piramal). Akash and Isha have been on the boards of RRVL – the company that operates supermarkets offering consumer electronics, food and grocery, fashion, jewellery, footwear, and clothing, as well as online retail venture JioMart – and digital arm Jio Platforms Ltd (JPL) since October 2014. Anant has recently been inducted as a director on RRVL. He has been a director of JPL since May 2020. The three businesses of Reliance are almost equal in size. While Akash and Isha have been both active in the group’s new-age businesses of retail and telecom, Anant has been looking at the renewable energy of Reliance as a director.
The announcement outlines a clear transfer of wealth by the 65-year-old tycoon, who was embroiled in a bitter inheritance dispute with his younger brother after their father died in 2002 without a will. Ambani, whose net worth is over USD 94 billion, continues to be the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd. His wife Nita, 59, too is on board of Reliance.
As per the company filings, the Ambani family’s current stake in Reliance has risen to 50.6 per cent from 47.27 per cent in March 2019.
Ambani first spoke of a succession plan at Reliance Family Day, which marks the birth anniversary of the group’s founder Dhirubhai Ambani, on December 28 last year. Reliance, he had said, is “now in the process of effecting a momentous leadership transition”. Prior to that, at the company’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in June 2021, he had indicated that his children will now find a prominent place in the family’s vast empire. He had said, “I have no doubt whatsoever that the next generation of leaders at Reliance, led by Isha, Akash and Anant, will further enrich this precious legacy.” The succession plan comes at a time when Reliance is in the middle of a very expensive switch to clean fuels by investing across the entire value chain of solar, batteries and hydrogen.
Just as steady cash flows from oil refining and petrochemicals made it possible for Reliance to incubate telecom from scratch, profits from digital businesses and retail may allow it to replace hydrocarbons, the conglomerate’s traditional source of wealth, with green energy over the next decade. Dhirajlal Hirachand Ambani, also known as Dhirubhai Ambani, had founded Reliance in 1973. He led the family business expansion from textile to oil to telecom but the family plunged into chaos after his sudden death in 2002. The differences between Mukesh and his younger brother Anil grew and after three years of bitter war, mother Kokilaben in 2005 divided Reliance’s assets. Mukesh got refining, petrochemicals, oil and gas, and textile businesses, while Anil was made in charge of telecommunications, asset management, entertainment and power generation businesses. Over years, Mukesh Ambani transformed Reliance into a behemoth with re-entry into the telecom business as well as forays into retailing and clean energy, while Anil Ambani’s business empire crumbled.