Sunday 23 October 2016

All The Boss' Men

These are the men Mukesh Ambani trusts more than Anil Updates
Jayanta Saha/ BW
Who All Is In The A-Team

1. Mukesh Ambani
He controls the Reliance empire, and has his key men in the right places
2. Anand Jain
Is Mukesh's key advisor and is the final word on all critical issues
3. Manoj Modi
He is the implementer, who ensures mega projects are on schedule
4. Nikhil Meswani
Is now the liaison guy to deal with petroleum & petrochem ministries
5. Hital Meswani
He looks after new projects, along with the trusted Manoj Modi
Sandeep Tandon
Has snubbed Anil the wrong way in matters concerning his wife, Tina
Inside the Reliance group, he's just AJ. Like the fictional AJ in Blackberry's TV ad, he is also all over the place. He may, at the same time, be negotiating the purchase of family property in Mumbai, finalising office space in Delhi, deciding the schedule for India's first corporate family's holidays. He's the one-man A-team of Mukesh Ambani, chairman, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), who's fighting a no-holds-barred business battle with his younger brother, Anil Ambani. As one RIL source comments: "AJ is Mukesh's consummate corporate Man Friday."

Make no mistake about Anand Jain's power and influence. Although he doesn't earn a single paisa as salary from any of Reliance's group companies, he's a director in IPCL and Reliance Infocomm, apart from being Reliance Capital's CEO. Operating from his headquarters at Mumbai's 84-A Mittal Court—he doesn't really sit at Maker Chamber-IV, where Mukesh has his office—AJ is the brain and the final word on all issues related to real estate (whether the family's or group's), investments through privately-held firms (be it to control the family's stake in the flagship cash cow, RIL, or the Ambanis' holdings in other group companies), and the media and image management of Mukesh and his wife, Nita.

"Jain's responsible for Mukesh's new image and his transformation from a publicity-shy businessman to one who's now seen frequently in public. It was AJ who asked Mukesh to don Armani suits, advised him to become the chairman of the board of directors for the Foundation of the International Federation of Red Cross, and decides which publications and TV channels he should speak to," says a Mumbai-based RIL source. Others say AJ was also behind Nita's decisions to open a school and a hospital. "More important, he's not just an advisor, he's an implementer, too. He ensures that things get done and the Boss (as Mukesh is called by the employees) remains satisfied," the source says.

But the key question is: how did AJ become so powerful in the Reliance set-up? And a corollary to this: are there others in Mukesh's camp who wield similar influence? Most importantly, why does Anil Ambani hate them with such vengeance as is evident from the letter he wrote last week while resigning from his posts (as vice-chairman and a director) in IPCL? (He said that he didn't wish to be on the same board as AJ.)

Three decades ago, the Boss and AJ studied together at Mumbai's Hill Grange High School. In 1981, when Mukesh returned from Stanford University, Jain left his family's property and transport businesses in Delhi to join RIL in Mumbai. Initially, AJ helped Dhirubhai Ambani purchase private and official properties. Over the years, he became Mukesh's most trusted man. The story going around is that it was Jain who "cajoled" Mukesh to think about succession and inheritance issues when his younger brother had a son in the early '90s. At that time, Mukesh didn't have any kids.

. . By the late '90s, Jain became Mukesh's chief friend-advisor-strategist.According to Anil Ambani, he also became the "architect" who helped transfer control of the bulk of the family's stake in RIL—which was held through a matrix of 300-400 investment firms—to Mukesh (The Really Fine Print,(Outlook December 20). With his team of faceless and nameless CAs, AJ transformed the "ownership/control matrix". This gave Mukesh control over RIL and, hence, most of the group firms where the flagship had majority stakes. The move left Anil in the lurch.

Helping Jain in this ownership act was Mukesh's second key advisor and collegemate, Manoj Modi. A director in Reliance Infocomm, Modi is the brawn behind Mukesh's success, ensuring the completion of mega projects the latter is credited for. "Put him on any site and he'll ensure that all deadlines are met.Moreover, he is one of the best negotiators I've seen," says one admiring acquaintance.So, be it the Jamnagar refinery or Reliance Infocomm's telecom infrastructure, Modi ensured their implementation in record time. That's one of the reasons why Mukesh is known as the great builder, one who quietly gets things done and successfully manages mega projects. One of Mumbai's highest taxpayers for years, Modi reportedly bought a term insurance policy of Rs 100 crore, on which he pays an annual premium of Rs 16 crore, from ICICI Prudential in 2003.

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