At the Reliance Industries (RIL) annual general meeting last Thursday, chairman Mukesh Ambani made a special mention of his children, Akash and Isha.
Both are 24 years old, and directors of Reliance Jio and Reliance Retail Ventures. Mukesh praised them for being hands-on leaders in a business where the average age of employees is 30.
Though the spotlight is firmly on Akash and Isha, there are many others who have quietly worked their way to the top in various Reliance group firms.
People familiar with the internal working of RIL claim while many in the old guard are still involved in broad corporate decision-making, they have made space for newer leaders as well.
In keeping with the group’s new focus on Jio, Mukesh himself leads the telecom business, with Akash involved on the technology side and Isha with branding and consumer initiatives.
But the man working quietly with them is Sanjay Mashruwala, left, who is the managing director of RJio Infocom, an unlisted subsidiary of RIL.
A graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and a post-graduate in engineering from the University of Texas, Mashruwala has been associated with RIL since 1981.
He earned his stripes as the head of project implementation at Reliance Petroleum, a company that was later merged into RIL. Prior to joining RIL, he was with National Rayon Corporation.
Reliance’s traditional business – oil & gas – is managed by Ajay Khandelwal, left, an electrical engineering graduate from Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute, Mumbai, (now, Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute) and a master in business administration from Cranfield School of Management, UK.
Khandelwal joined Reliance in 2013 after working as chief executive officer in the Jubilant Group for four years. He has been involved with KG-D6, once a flagship asset for RIL, now replaced by RJio as a focus area for the group.
A marathon enthusiast, he has company in Mayank Ashar, former chief executive and managing director, Cairn India, who too has run many marathons.
Ashar, left, joined RIL last month as an adviser. With years of experience in the North American market, 61 year-old Ashar has an expertise in crude procurement.
He is now part of refinery and marketing team that works under Hital R Meswani, a director on RIL board.
Even though refinery and petrochemicals constitute the biggest chunk of the company’s revenue, there aren’t any CEOs for them since they are run within the RIL fold.
Business heads are designated as presidents and chief operating officers (COO). Vipul Shah, for instance, is the COO for petrochemicals. Shah, too, is an old hand at RIL since he started his career with the company but joined Dow India in 1988.
At a young age of 33, Shah, left, became the India head at Dow. A bachelor in chemical engineering and master in polymer science from the University of Texas, Austin, US, Shah returned to RIL to head the petrochemicals division that works under Nikhil Meswani.
Besides telecom, the retail segment has been at the centre of change in the RIL’s business composition. It now claims to be the largest in this segment with 12 retail formats and 3,383 stores across 679 cities. Each of the RIL retail format businesses has their own heads.
Brian Bade, left, the chief executive officer in Reliance Digital Ltd, heads the biggest of them.
Bade had 15 years of experience in Circuit City, an American retail chain for consumer electronics and durables, when he joined the firm in 2010.
At that point, RIL was just entering the segment and had faced early reverses in Uttar Pradesh. It was trying to get things right for over two years.
Another recent entrant into the RIL business fold is the media and entertainment segment. The company owns Network18 which has business news channels CNBC TV18 and CNBC Awaaz, general news channel CNN-News18 and entertainment channels Colors, VH1, MTV and Nick. Rahul Joshi, former editor of the Economic Times, is the CEO and editor-in-chief of Network18.
Till 2009, when RIL started gas production from KG-D6, it had invested $15 billion in refinery and upstream businesses.
“Every business has an investment cycle. Not that we aren’t focussed on oil and gas anymore but there is a lull before the next round of investment begins. RIL follows an investment cycle every three to five years,” explained a company executive.
So, it is now the turn of telecom and petrochemicals where from 2013 onwards it plans to put in $30 billion, double of all the investment made earlier.