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July 8, 2002 | 0905 IST
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'The shareholder was his chief deity'

Murli Deora

I met him just a week before he suffered a stroke. He was fit as ever, and showed little evidence of any health problem. In fact, we were to lunch together on the day after he suffered the stroke.

I remember the several occasions when we had no money. I traded in yarn then and we used to go to New Delhi. Dhirubhai and I negotiated an arrangement with the bell captain or somebody at Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi.

In return for a tip, this person allowed us to keep our baggage in one room. In the evening we would return to the hotel, pick up our luggage and return to Mumbai. We'd tell people that we were staying at the Ashoka. The bell captain took telephone messages for us. We "stayed" at the Ashoka in this manner several times.

I remember how he began in a small office at Bhuleshwar building at Jaihind Estate near Opera House in Mumbai. From here he moved to an office at Fort Chamber in Dhobi Talao where he was conducting a yarn brokerage business for the Vimal textile plant in Ahmedabad. Then he moved to supplying raw materials to firms in Patalganga and then branched out into the plastics industry.

In the earlier days he used to talk to me very often, almost daily. I remember the time when a spate of articles critical of Dhirubhai was appearing in the media. I used to express my concern about this but he would respond and say: "I have to swim the English Channel every day and even that against unfavourable currents."

He had a temper too. Once at an annual general meeting at the Bombay Cricket Association stadium someone asked him a silly and deliberately planted question. Dhirubhai recognised the man on sight and lost his temper. "I know you have come from Calcutta," he thundered and asked the gentleman to sit down.

Ambani was a great visionary. He felt if some other nation was able to do something, we should be able to do it too. He was very shrewd in business. However, it was his ability to handle the downsides of business that I observed. If he suffered a loss in business, he would take it coolly. But immediately thereafter he would change his strategy. He was a true entrepreneur and always took risks.

He said: "True entrepreneurship comes only from risk-taking." He was committed to his stockholders. To him they were living Gods.

He always said: "I will never let down my stockholders." He loved them. This is one of the prime reasons Reliance Industries is the number one company in India. Dhirubhai brought the equity culture to India. The stock market used to operate like a satta bazaar till his time. He converted it into an investment opportunity. I have met several families who tell me that they are not at all worried about marrying off their daughters as they hold Reliance Industries shares.

As told to Rennie Abraham

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The Ambani Saga