She’s billed as one of Asia’s most powerful women. The soft-spoken head of the investment banking firm, Morgan Stanley, has done enough to justify it. Naina Lal Kidwai’s firm has handled some of the biggest deals in the country, and she has been known to influence key policies in the corridors of power. In her own quiet way, has moulded public opinion, especially on issues related to disinvestment policies.
It was the worst year for those Indian-American millionaires (and billionaires) in Silicon Valley, their vast wealth vanishing as tech shares got decimated on the Nasdaq. High-flying Indians like Navin Jain (InfoSpace), Sanjiv Sidhu (i2 technologies) and Gururaj Deshpande (Sycamore) were among the worst losers. Sidhu’s wealth is down a third (from $3.7 bn in 2001), according to the Forbes list of richest people. Jain, whose firm’s scrip price has tumbled from $130 in early 2000 to $10 now, was recently removed as InfoSpace’s CEO. Deshpande too has come down to earth; in early ’01, he had claimed he was working at the cutting edge of technology with no plans to invest in India. He’s now on to India-specific projects.
Mukesh Ambani’s succession to the Reliance chairman post happened at a critical stage in the life of India’s largest private sector business group. Reliance Industries and Reliance Petroleum were being merged, the group had entered energy exploration and genetic engineering, and was on the threshold of its largest ever expansion: into retail telephony. The question asked by shareholders and investment bankers alike was: can Mukesh fill the late Dhirubhai’s shoes? The answer became clear even as the merger went through smoothly. Reliance struck pay dirt in the Krishna-Godavari basin and ended 2002 poised to transform the telecom landscape.