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July 8, 2002 | 0855 IST
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RIL: A smooth succession ensured

BS Corporate Bureau

The visionary that he was, it was only natural that Dhirubhai Ambani planned out the succession in his group companies well in advance.

His two sons, Mukesh and Anil, have been working with the senior Ambani for almost a decade, and both have been in decision-making positions for quite some time now.

Older son Mukesh is currently designated vice-chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, and the vice-chairman of Reliance Petroleum, while younger son Anil is the managing director of both the companies. The Ambanis at present are awaiting regulatory approvals for the merger of Reliance Industries with Reliance Petroleum.

Mukesh is also the chairman of the group's latest acquisition, Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd, the significance of which is not lost upon the industry.

Industry observers expect Mukesh to slip into the shoes of the group chairman, while Anil is widely expected to play the role of the chief executive.

Observers tracking the company from Dhirubhai's heydays said the father had always banked upon Mukesh to be the visionary of the family, while Anil, who, with his flamboyant ways effortlessly became the public face of the group, has emerged as the nuts-and-bolts man.

As CEO, Anil will be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the company, which fits in nicely with his nature, they said.

In addition, the Meswani scions (Dhirubhai's sister Trilochanaben is married into the Meswani family), Nikhil and Hital, cousins of the Ambanis, are also directors on the boards of the main group companies.

The two Meswanis, sources say, have played a considerable role in the growth of the Reliance group. The two families are known to be very close and live in the same residence in south Mumbai.

Trilochanaben's husband, the late Lallubhai Meswani, was Dhirubhai's closest aide in his earlier years. Of late, there has been speculation that the functioning of the group companies could be split between the two Ambani brothers.

But Reliance insiders roundly reject such possibilities.

"The two brothers understand each other's strengths. They have, in fact, taken turns to bring their own expertise at different times in the company's history," a top RIL executive told Business Standard on condition of anonymity.

"They are a seamless combination," the executive said, adding, "each brother is perfectly capable of completing a sentence started by the other."

Asked specifically if Anil was being groomed to handle the group's core oil & gas business whereas Mukesh would be in charge of the 'new economy' initiatives, this RIL executive said, "It is just a misconception that Anil is not involved in telecom and other new economy businesses. It is true that Mukesh is more hands-on in the telecom project, but Anil is equally involved. And, when the senior Ambani is not around (in routine meetings), Mukesh still has the last word on the group's oil and gas issues."

"Mukesh is the quiet type. As you would have seen, he didn't even come out once inside the Breach Candy Hospital (during the period Dhirubhai was admitted). But that doesn't mean he is out of the loop on anything. People have started suspecting a rift between the brothers as Mukesh is concentrating on rolling out the group's infocom project," this executive said.

Industry observers, reflecting on Dhirubhai's working style, said there was definitely a pattern in the way the group had inducted some high-flying professionals in recent years.

These include K G Ramanathan, former chairman and managing director of IPCL, who now heads Reliance Power; B D Khurana, formerly of the Bharti group, who is now vice-chairman of Reliance Infocom, Alok Agarwal, formerly of Bank of America, who has been the group treasurer for some time now, and Firuza Parikh, who heads the biotech initiative.

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The Ambani Saga