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The 'third man' in the Reliance empire

Hemangi Balse | December 30, 2002

Manoj ModiHe is Mukesh Ambani's Man Friday, his sounding board, and close friend and confidant ever since they first met at the University Department of Chemical Technology in Mumbai to study chemical engineering in the mid-seventies.

He is Manoj Modi, virtually the first in command of the Reliance Group after the two brothers, Mukesh and Anil Ambani.

For more than two decades, Mukesh and Manoj have been as inseparable as a form and its shadow and have worked on every project together.

Despite a lack of formal training in finance, Modi is said to have a feel not just for the big numbers but the details behind them.

Indeed, it is his instinctive abilities to judge the viability of a project and grasp the nuances of any business that reportedly attracted the attention of Dhirubhai Ambani.

When Modi requested permission to go abroad to pursue a master's degree in finance, the patriarch refused, saying bluntly, "It's waste of time, do some work."

Since then there has been no looking back for Modi who has been with the Ambani family, conceptualising every project much before it was taken to the drawing board.

In fact, he was the first choice of both Dhirubhai and Mukesh to conceptualise the blueprint for Reliance's entry into the information and communication space, which is considered the most prestigious and ambitious project for the group till date.

Modi, though, is both low profile and unassuming. He attributes much of what he has accomplished today to both Dhirubhai and Mukesh.

"In fact, Mukesh is a walking university and one learns more in his company," he says.

Indeed he says he has imbibed from the 'Ambani university' much more than what he would have ever learnt in any formal international business school and has no regrets for not pursuing higher academics.

The genesis of the project launched last week was the result of a painstaking three months that Modi spent understanding the global telecom sector and its emerging trends in early 2000.

While studying these trends he immediately realised that the Dhirubhai's dream of providing every Indian the facility to communicate at a price less than that of a postcard could only be achieved if the business model incorporated the entire gamut of voice and data services and not just piecemeal services.

Besides, the project size had to be of a truly global scale, albeit to be implemented at a national level initially.

While Modi may be known in corporate circles as a tough negotiator and a no-nonsense person, the man is a staunch believer in God.

He consults a small almanac that he carries along with him and he turns to it before embarking on any major projects.

He's also a fitness freak, practising yoga for half an hour a day, come what may, in addition to half an hour of regular exercise.

Modi is an introvert by nature and appears content to be in Mukesh's shadow rather than hogging the limelight. He refuses to give personal details and talk about himself. Within the Reliance group, he's a respected figure.

But he has also earned some respect from another unlikely source: the income tax department, which awarded him the 'Rashtriya Samman Patra' for being one of the highest individual taxpayers over the past few years.

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