Saudi Aramco chairman and head of the Kingdom's cash-rich wealth fund PIF Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan will join the board of Reliance Industries Ltd as an independent director in a precursor to a $15 billion deal.
Reliance chairman and Asia's richest man Mukesh Ambani, who had two years back disclosed the talks to sell a 20 per cent stake in the company's oil-to-chemical unit to Saudi Aramco, announced the appointment of Al-Rumayyan at the company's annual meeting of shareholders.
Harvard educated Al-Rumayyan, 51, will replace Yogendra P Trivedi, 92, who has expressed a desire to retire, Ambani said.
On the sale of a 20 per cent stake in the O2C business, he said the deal is likely to conclude this year.
"Despite several challenges due to COVID-19, we have made substantial progress in the past in our discussions (with Saudi Aramco)," he said.
"This continued engagement and resolve from both sides, even during this pandemic, is a testimony of strong relationship between Saudi Aramco and Reliance.”
Ambani said RIL is looking forward to "welcoming Saudi Aramco as a strategic partner in our O2C business".
"I expect our partnership to be formalised in an expeditious manner during this year," he added.
In 2019, he had announced a $75 billion valuation of the O2C venture, which houses the group's oil refineries and petrochemical units as well as fuel retailing.
A 20 per cent stake to Aramco was valued at $15 billion.
But, on Thursday, he did not put any value.
“I am delighted to welcome Yasir Al-Rumayyan, chairman of Saudi Aramco and the Governor of the Public Investment Fund, to join the board of Reliance Industries Ltd as an independent director," Ambani said.
Besides bringing his vast financial experience, the induction of Al-Rumayyan, who also sits on the board of SoftBank Group Corp and Uber Technologies, will bring down the average age of the board of directors of Reliance.
Over the past years, the oil-to-telecom conglomerate has segregated businesses into separate verticals - Jio Platforms houses the company's digital and telecom unit, retail is a separate unit and oil refining and petrochemical segments have been carved into the O2C sector to attract strategic partnerships.
Under Al-Rumayyan, PIF has invested billions of dollars in RIL ventures.
In June last year, PIF bought a 2.32 per cent stake in RIL's digital unit Jio Platforms for Rs 11,367 crore.
Five months later, it picked up a 2.04 per cent stake in RIL's retail venture for Rs 9,555 crore. PIF has also invested Rs 3,779 crore in an infrastructure investment trust (InvIT), Digital Fibre Infrastructure Trust (DFIT) that holds RIL's fibre-optic assets.
"I am sure that we will immensely benefit from his rich experience of running one of the world's largest companies, and also one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world," he said.
"His joining our board is also the beginning of the internationalisation of Reliance. You will hear more about our international plans in the times to come."
An accounting graduate from King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia who went on to do a general management programme at Harvard Business School, Al-Rumayyan is the Governor of Public Investment Fund (PIF) since May 2019. He was appointed chairman of the board of Saudi Aramco in September 2019.
Al-Rumayyan's experience encompasses over 25 years working in some of Saudi Arabia's key financial institutions.
He began his career at the Saudi Hollandi Bank, where he occupied key positions in various departments.
He is a member of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, and also serves as an advisor to the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, the Chairman of the Decision Support Center, and a board member of the Saudi Industrial Development Fund.
Ambani had in August 2019 announced talks for the sale of a 20 per cent stake in the oil-to-chemicals (O2C) business, which comprises its twin oil refineries at Jamnagar in Gujarat and petrochemical assets to the world's largest oil exporter.
The deal was to conclude by March 2020 but has been delayed.
Talks have revived this year and the two are reportedly discussing a cash and share deal - Aramco paying for the stake with its shares initially and then staggered cash payments over several years.
Besides refineries and petrochemical plants, the O2C business also comprises a 51 per cent stake in the fuel retailing business.
It, however, does not include the upstream oil and gas producing assets such as the flagging KG-D6 block in the Bay of Bengal.
RIL had in 2019 put $75 billion as the value of the O2C business after signing a non-binding letter of intent with Saudi Aramco.
The firm had recently announced carving out the O2C business as a separate subsidiary to support strategic partnerships and new investors in order to accelerate its new energy and material plans.
Digital business is already held by a subsidiary Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail holds the offline and online retail business.
Aramco buying 20 per cent in O2C business would allow Reliance to build financial muscle, as it carves out a space for itself in highly competitive omnichannel retail.
With a stake, Aramco would have a share in one of the world's best refineries and largest integrated petrochemical complex.
It has access to one of the fastest-growing markets, a ready-made market for 5 lakh barrels per day of its Arabian crude and offering a potentially bigger downstream role in the future.
Besides Ambani, the RIL board has his wife Nita and cousins Hital and Nikhil Meswani. Business heads PMS Prasad and PK Kapil too are on the board.
Independent directors include eminent scientist Raghunath A Mashelkar, 78; Adil Zainulbhai, 67; Dipak C Jain, 64; former finance secretary Raminder Singh Gujral, 68; Shumeet Banerji, 59; former SBI chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya, 63; and former CVC K V Chowdary, 66.
Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters