Dhirubhai H. Ambani, the Founder Chairman of Reliance Group, is credited to have brought about the equity cult in India in the late seventies. He is regarded as an icon for enterprise in India. A man far ahead of his times, he epitomized the dauntless entrepreneurial spirit ‘dare to dream and learn to excel’. He dared to dream on a scale unimaginable before in Indian industry.
The life journey of the most enterprising Indian entrepreneur is reminiscent of the rags to riches story. He is remembered as the one who rewrote Indian corporate history and built a truly global corporate group. His life and achievements prove that backed by confidence, courage and conviction, man can achieve the impossible.
Dhirubhai Ambani alias Dhirajlal Hirachand Ambani was born on December 28, 1932, at Chorwad, Gujarat, into a Modh family. His father was a school teacher. Dhirubhai Ambani started his entrepreneurial career by selling bhajias to pilgrims in Mount Girnar over the weekends. He moved to Aden, Yemen after completing his matriculation at the age of 16. He worked there as a gas-station attendant, and as a clerk in an oil company. He returned to India in 1958 with Rs 50,000 and set up a textile trading company.
He started his first textile mill at Naroda, near Ahmedabad in 1966 and started the brand ‘Vimal’. He built India’s largest private sector company, Reliance India Limited, from a scratch. Over time he diversified his business into a core specialization in petrochemicals with additional interests in telecommunications, information technology, energy, power, retail, textiles, infrastructure services, capital markets, and logistics.
Dhirubhai Ambani is credited with revolutionizing capital markets in India by attracting millions of retail investors in a market till then dominated by financial institutions. From nothing, he generated billions of rupees in wealth for those who put their trust in his companies. Due to his efforts and with the help of innovative instruments like the convertible debenture, Reliance quickly became a favorite of the stock market in the 1980s. In 1992, Reliance became the first Indian company to raise money in global markets. Reliance also became the first Indian company to feature in Forbes 500 list.
From a humble beginning, he went on to create an enviable business empire within a span of just 25 years. Under Dhirubhai Ambani’s outstanding visionary leadership, the Reliance Group emerged as the largest business conglomerate in India, and carved out a distinct place for itself in the global pantheon of corporate giants. The Group’s track record of consistent growth is unparalleled in Indian industry and perhaps internationally too. Today, the Group’s turnover represents nearly 3 per cent of India’s GDP. The Reliance Group is a living testimony to Dhirubhai’s indomitable will, single-minded dedication and an unrelenting commitment to his goals.
Besides being firmly rooted in traditional Indian values, Dhirubhai was also the quintessentially modern man, the man of the new millennium. This was clearly reflected in his passion for mega-sized projects, the most advanced technology and the highest level of productivity. The corporate philosophy he followed was short, simple and succinct: “Think big. Think differently. Think fast. Think ahead. Aim for the best”. He inspired the Reliance team to do better than the best—not only in India but in the world.
The number of revolutionary precedents set by Shri Dhirubhai Ambani is legion. His unique vision redefined the potential of the Indian corporate sector as he challenged conventional wisdom in several areas. He was probably the first Indian businessman to recognize the strategic significance of investors, discover the vast untapped potential of the capital markets and channelize the same for the growth and development of industry. He was supremely confident that finance would never be a constraint in executing his projects because, as he said proudly, Indian investors would provide him with the necessary resources. And the investors never let him down.
Dhirubhai Ambani succeeded in creating an investor base of historic proportions for the Reliance Group. He was able to create an unbreakable bond of implicit trust between him and his shareholders, who placed their savings in his care. He worked with unflinching sincerity to get them the best returns. Thereby, he brought happiness and prosperity into the homes of millions of investors. For him, his people were his most important asset. He scouted around for the best and most talented professionals, nurtured them and continuously propelled them to aim for still higher goals.
Dhirubhai visualized the growth of Reliance as an integral part of his grand vision for India. He was convinced that India could become an economic superpower within a short period of time and wanted Reliance to play an important role in realizing this goal. His actions were inspiration for others. Whatever he did became a standard for others to follow. His sterling leadership qualities, remarkable foresight, uncompromising pursuit of excellence, humility, prodigious capacity to motivate and trust people will continue to guide and inspire future generations.
Truly, men like Dhirubhai Ambani are rare. They come gifted with the power and the vision to change the destiny of nations, to alter the course of corporate history. They are the empire builders, the stuff that legends are made of. Some of his notable quotes are: “Our dreams have to be bigger. Our ambitions higher. Our commitment deeper. And our efforts greater. This is my dream for Reliance and for India.”; “You do not require an invitation to make profits.”; “Meeting the deadlines is not good enough, beating the deadlines is my expectation.”; and “Don’t give up, courage is my conviction.”
Dhirubhai Ambani won many words and accolades during his life. He was named the Indian Entrepreneur of the 20th Century by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). In June 1998, he was awarded the Dean’s Medal by The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, for setting an outstanding example of leadership. A poll conducted by The Times of India in 2000 voted him “greatest creator of wealth in the century”.
In November 2000, he was conferred the ‘Man of the Century’ award by Chemtech Foundation and Chemical Engineering World for his contribution to the growth and development of the chemical industry in India. He was lauded for his dynamic, pioneering and innovative genius. His success story fired the imagination of the younger generation of Indian entrepreneurs, business leaders and progressive companies. He was an icon for them, a role model to be emulated.
Dhirubhai Ambani died on July 6, 2002 at Mumbai after suffering a brain stroke. His legacy is being carried on by his sons Mukesh and Anil.