Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani has begun executing a succession plan for his oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Reliance Industries, with his twin children Akash and Isha to head the telecoms and retail businesses.
Akash Ambani, 30, was announced chair of telecoms unit Reliance Jio Infocomm on Tuesday after Mukesh stepped down from the role. Jio Infocomm is a subsidiary of Jio Platforms, in which Meta and Google hold stakes and is still chaired by Mukesh.
Akash’s twin sister Isha has been a director of Reliance Retail’s holding company since 2014 and oversees day-to-day management, according to three people close to the business. While its board was not planning to announce Isha as chair in the near future, one of the people said any title change would be cosmetic.
“Even today she is running the retail business,” the person said, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to comment to the media. “The role is not going to change.” Shares in Reliance Industries, India’s largest listed business by market capitalisation at $218bn, rose 2.5 per cent on Tuesday.
Mukesh is no stranger to dynastic issues. Mukesh and his brother Anil battled for control of Reliance Industries after their father Dhirubhai’s unexpected death in 2002.
The brothers divided the corporate empire in 2005, but their fortunes diverged. Mukesh holds the title of Asia’s richest man, while Anil’s businesses struggled. In 2020, he told a London court his net worth was “zero”.
Mukesh has groomed his three US Ivy League university-educated children for leadership positions at Reliance’s three units — oil to chemicals, telecoms and retail. Mukesh’s youngest son Anant is a director at Reliance’s energy and petrochemicals arm.
Akash and Isha “are hands-on and they are also supported by the leadership, which includes trusted lieutenants on the board,” said Vivekanand Subbaraman, research analyst at Ambit Capital.
“Mukesh has been consciously cultivating these professionals in the ‘Reliance way’ . . . whether it is Mukesh or Isha and Akash, they are ably supported by these people,” Subbaraman said.
In December 2021, Mukesh heralded a “momentous leadership transition” at Reliance, saying he “would like this process to be accelerated”.
“All seniors — myself included — should now yield to the highly competent, extremely committed and incredibly promising young leadership talent at Reliance,” Mukesh said in a public address.
Mukesh said in 2019 he planned to list both the telecoms unit and retail business within five years.
Subbaraman said the leadership transition supported a changing business strategy, in which Reliance’s newer telecoms and retail units were acquiring stakes in start-ups to drive expansion. Dealmaking by the conglomerate in the first quarter of this year hit a three-year high at 10 deals.
“With Jio and Retail, Reliance is increasingly pivoting away from doing things on its own,” said Subbaraman. “They want to signal to the founder of a start-up that, hey, a youngster is in charge here also. So it’s not like you are presenting your pitch or business plan to an old guy in his sixties.”