The Weekend Leader - Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Empire: A Story of Success

From a Two-Bedroom Apartment to One of the World's Most Expensive Private Residences: The Life Story of Mukesh Ambani

Khimi Thapa   |  


Vol 15 | Issue 19

In the vast landscape of global business, few names evoke the same aura of success as Mukesh Ambani. Ranked by Forbes as the 9th richest individual in the world in 2024, he stands shoulder to shoulder with Bernard Arnault, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg with a net worth of $116 billion.

But his tale is more than just a sum of digits; it's a saga of ambition, innovation, and familial bonds that have shaped not only his empire but also the very landscape of modern business.

Mukesh Ambani with wife Nita Ambani (Photos: IANS)

Founded by Dhirubhai Ambani, Mukesh's father, the Reliance conglomerate began its journey in the textile industry before diversifying into petrochemicals and refining during the 1970s.

The pivotal moment came in 1981 when Mukesh left his MBA program at Stanford University midway to join his father in expanding Reliance, which led to the establishment of a petroleum refinery in Jamnagar, the largest of its kind in the industry at that time.

Diversification and expansion became Mukesh's mantra. Years later, Reliance Jio propelled the business for Ambani's foray beyond traditional oil and petrochemical ventures.

Jio disrupted the industry landscape with its incredibly affordable data plans and smartphones. With its vast customer base and extensive reach, especially in rural areas, Jio took Reliance to the forefront of the telecommunications sector and also facilitated the expansion of its e-commerce ventures.

Mukesh has inherited his father's legacy and learned the ropes of business from him. At the NASSCOM India Leadership Forum in 2017, Mukesh Ambani shared a poignant conversation he had with his father.

Following his return from Stanford, Mukesh sought guidance from Dhirubhai on his role and responsibilities. In response, Dhirubhai imparted a timeless lesson: 'If you are in a job, you are a manager. If you are an entrepreneur, you will figure it out.'"

Mukesh joined the Reliance board of directors at age 20

Mukesh was only 20 when he joined the Board of Directors of Reliance. Today, following in his father's footsteps, he is keen on inducting his three children into the business at a young age.

He recounts how a conversation with his daughter, Isha, played a pivotal role in the inception of Jio.

During an NDTV News event, Mukesh shared, "The idea of Jio was first seeded by my daughter, Isha, in 2011. She was a student at Yale (in the US) and was home for holidays. She wanted to submit some coursework and she said, 'Dad, the internet in our house sucks'."

When one thinks of the Ambani family, opulence is the first thing that comes to mind. However, it wasn't always this way.

Despite now residing in one of the world's most opulent and expensive homes, Mukesh and his family once lived in a modest two-bedroom apartment in Mumbai's Bhuleshwar neighborhood.

Mukesh reminisced about a cherished childhood memory during an interview with Simi Garewal, recalling a time when he and his brother ate the food meant for guests.

The next day, their father disciplined them by having them spend two days in the garage on nothing but water and roti. Mukesh chuckled as he recounted how this incident not only led to their repentance but also strengthened the bond between the two brothers.

Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani (extreme left), two of India's richest individuals, at a formal event

After Dhirubhai Ambani's demise in 2002, a bitter feud erupted between Mukesh and Anil over control of Reliance Industries, leading to a series of legal battles and public disputes.

In December 2005, the Bombay High Court approved the demerger of Reliance Industries, with Mukesh Ambani securing control over Reliance Industries and IPCL, while Anil gained control of Reliance Infocomm, Reliance Energy, and Reliance Capital.

However, some shareholders criticised the decision, claiming it resembled more of a family arrangement than a genuine business separation. Far from resolving their differences, the demerger served as a catalyst for further conflict between the brothers.

Allegations emerged that Mukesh's company planned to sell gas to Anil's power company at a discounted rate. When the government declined to approve the deal, Anil accused the government of favouring his brother.

Tensions persisted as allegations of favouritism and espionage surfaced, exacerbating the rift between the brothers.

In May 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mukesh, permitting Reliance Industries to sell gas to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Natural Resources Ltd. at government-set prices, which were higher than those agreed upon in a 2005 family deal.

Anil announced that he wouldn't challenge the verdict. Meanwhile, the family's matriarch and the mother of Ambani brothers, Kokilaben, intervened to reconcile the differences between the brothers.

Mukesh and Nita at the Ram Mandir inauguration in Ayodhya 

As a result, both brothers entered into a new non-compete agreement, replacing the old one that had evidently failed to resolve their conflicts.

Anil Ambani, once ranked as the sixth richest individual worldwide with a staggering net worth of $42 billion in 2008, landed in deep financial crisis and never managed to recover from it.

At one stage, his company Reliance Communications (RCom) owed Rs 550 crore to Ericsson AB's Indian Unit in 2019.

This amount was paid off by his brother in a dramatic fashion; just a day before the Supreme Court's deadline expired, averting the looming threat of imprisonment for Anil.

Anil expressed his gratitude through a press release, thanking both Mukesh and his wife Nita Ambani for their timely help. The once-estranged brothers are now seen together at family events.

Mukesh's journey to finding his life partner, Nita, is a tale of serendipity. At 21, Nita caught the eye of Dhirubhai Ambani and his wife Kokilaben with her exceptional dance performance at an event. Impressed, Dhirubhai called her the next day, proposing a meeting with his elder son.

After just a few encounters, Mukesh decided to propose to Nita. However, there were no grand romantic gestures. Instead, amidst the chaos of Mumbai's bustling streets, he halted the car in traffic, refusing to move until he heard Nita's 'yes'.

Mukesh and Nita Ambani greet Isha Ambani, Anand Piramal, and their newborn twins in Mumbai

This unconventional proposal led to their marriage in 1985. Since then, Nita has played a key role in steering Reliance’s community engagement initiatives to new heights.

A graduate of Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics, Nita used to be a teacher before marrying Mukesh.

Today, Nita is deeply involved with Mumbai Indians, the IPL cricket team owned by her family. When Mukesh initially revealed to her that he had acquired a cricket team for $111.9 million, making it the costliest franchise in the IPL in 2008, she was concerned.

She is supposed to have wondered how they would handle another business venture with their existing commitments. Despite her initial reservations, she has since become the face of Mumbai Indians.

Reflecting on her journey, Nita once fondly recalled the second season of the IPL, a time when their team languished at the bottom of the table.

“I had no knowledge of cricket but I flew to South Africa to motivate and be with the team when they were down and out,” she had remarked.

“From those first meeting with the team, learning the nitty-gritties of cricket from the legends of the game to this day, ten years later, when Mumbai Indians is the most valued team in India with four IPL titles, my journey has been incredible.”

Despite the power and influence that accompany immense wealth, Nita ensured that Mukesh remained grounded in his commitment to his family and children, Akash, Anant, and Isha, all of whom play vital roles within Reliance today.

“I told him (Mukesh) you may be busy influencing the future of Reliance and the country, but you better influence the future of your kids, too,” Nita said in an interview to iDiva.

IMukesh and Nita pose for a photograph with family during the engagement party of their son Anant Ambani with Radhika Merchant

“I believe that it’s not just quality, but also the quantity of time spent with the kids that makes them sound individuals.” She revealed how Mukesh would miss board meetings to help the children with their homework on weekends.

When it comes to parenting, the Ambanis believe in striking a balance between discipline and love. Sharing an anecdote about teaching their children the value of money, Nita once told GQ, “When my kids were still young, I would give them Rs 5 each every Friday to spend in the school canteen. One day, my youngest, Anant [Ambani], came running into my bedroom and demanded he be given Rs 10 instead.

“When I questioned him, he said his pals in school laughed whenever they saw him take out a five-rupee coin saying,‘Tu Ambani hai ya bhikari!’ (Are you Ambani or beggar). Mukesh and I couldn’t help but crack up.”

At Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2017, talking about his parenting style, Mukesh said that his father, Dhirubhai Ambani, was his biggest influence and treated him like a friend, a relationship he said he could replicate with his children.

However, he quipped, “I never dared to tell my father that dad ‘you don’t get it’. I get a quite a lot of that from my children. After a speech, my daughter Isha tells me that dad you were very boring,” he added.

The Ambanis are renowned for their lavish lifestyle. Mukesh owns properties in Dubai, Buckinghamshire (England), and New York, but it's Antilia, their famous Mumbai residence, that steals the spotlight.

Antillia, named after a legendary island from 15th-century Spanish tales, now serves as the majestic abode of Mukesh Ambani and his family, offering a striking juxtaposition to his modest roots in a simple two-bedroom house.

Reports suggest that Antilia stands as the world's most expensive private residence, with a construction cost of $1.5 billion, equivalent to approximately Rs 12,500 crore, surpassing even the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building globally.

Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant at the pre-wedding celebrations 

The property is as opulent as it can get. According to an Architectural Digest article, the six floors of the house have an impressive collection of 168 cars including Mukesh Ambani’s unique Maybach.

Not just that, the building boasts its own car service station and has three helipads. The article claims that Antilia is engineered to withstand earthquakes measuring up to 8 on the Richter scale.

The building reportedly also has nine high-speed lifts, a 50-seat theatre, terrace gardens, swimming pool and spa and a temple. This colossal residence is maintained and managed by nearly 600 staff members.

While Antilia left many in awe, it encountered its fair share of controversy. One of the most vocal criticisms came from none other than Ratan Tata, the then chairperson of Tata Sons.

“It makes me wonder why someone would do that. That's what revolutions are made of. The person who lives in there should be concerned about what he sees around him and [asking] can he make a difference,” said Tata, known for humble lifestyle, in an interview with The Times in May 2011.

“If he is not, then it's sad because this country needs people to allocate some of their enormous wealth to finding ways of mitigating the hardship that people have. We are doing so little about the disparity. We are allowing it to be there and wishing it away.”

When discussing opulence, one cannot overlook the lavish weddings and pre-wedding festivities of the Ambani children. Their celebrations are never complete without the presence of Bollywood icons such as Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, and Salman Khan, accompanied by an array of international celebrities.

The power couple with former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

During 2005 and 2006, Reliance underwent restructuring, dividing its investments in power generation and distribution, financial services, and telecommunication services into four separate entities. Currently, Akash Ambani and Isha Ambani serve as directors of Reliance Jio Infocomm, while Anant Ambani holds a directorial position at Reliance Retail Ventures.

This succession plan indicates Mukesh Ambani's intention to avoid the mistake his father made — not leaving a will — to prevent a dispute similar to the one between him and his brother.

At the company’s 46th AGM, Mukesh said, “I see both my father and me in Isha, Akash, and Anant. I see the flame of (founder) Dhirubhai (Ambani) shine in all of them." This AGM marked the entry of Isha, Akash, and Anant onto the Board of Directors of Reliance Industries Ltd., ensuring the enduring legacy of Dhirubhai and Mukesh. -©TWL

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