Mukesh Ambani: Reliance Will Keep Focus on India

After doling out a 1:1 bonus issue for shareholders just ahead of Diwali festivities, Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani is now looking to conquer new frontiers. His new business architecture will hope to tap into what he refers to as "societal gaps" in India to build sustainable, competitive business models. RIL may explore new business opportunities in health, education and affordable housing, though he confesses that he hasn't figured out a way of making it work just as yet. (Watch)

When asked if there was any truth in the buzz surrounding RIL's global acquisition, Mr. Ambani says that India has enough opportunities. India's economy, which has touched the $1-trillion mark, was at an inflection point, and RIL's emphasis would be to capture the opportunities which will arise as the economy grows. You can read between the lines: "It's not about buying a big business abroad. How can you create something unique and add value by integrating the strength of India, its knowledge and talent," he asks.

In an exclusive chat with ET NOW, Mr. Ambani was candid. When pressed further on the next big thing from RIL, he's upfront: "We will (continue) focusing on our existing sectors. We will look at filling societal gaps, at providing expertise and management and creating business models. We are looking at both organic and inorganic growth," Mr. Ambani said. So, if the markets are expecting a big-bang acquisition overseas, it may not be happening very soon.

Reliance's announcement of a 1:1 bonus, which caught the markets by surprise, is intended to reward shareholders as the company completes a major cycle of value creation. A day after the announcement, a visibly relaxed and confident Mukesh Ambani emphasised that RIL had a long tradition of leaving something on the table for its shareholders. "We have gone through cycles of value creation at RIL. We have created an SEZ refinery which has added significantly to India's exports and has proved that despite having no oil, we can still import the input and using complex technology export products (which are) competitive. The other piece was deepwater gas, where the world average from concept to production is 10 years. We have done this in a shorter period, and have strengthened the Indian economy," Mr. Ambani said.

Does the bonus issue signal confidence, given the uncertainty which still pervades the global economy? "We stayed on track despite the (global financial crisis) of a year ago. We had one of the largest capital expenditure programmes anywhere in the world, and we did not put it on hold. We think through everything we do and then stay on track. Similarly, having completed the current capital cycle, we will think through our future plans," Mr. Ambani said.

The RIL chairman emphasised the benefits to India's fertiliser and power sectors from the production of natural gas. "There is enormous value for India's economy (from the gas production). It reduces the fertiliser subsidy for urea and creates value for the government and for our farmers. It also improves the power situation," Mr. Ambani said.

One of the fallouts of the global credit crunch, according to Mr. Ambani, is that "money cannot create money. Instead, firms will have to make money the old-fashioned way by supplying goods and services." When asked about the future direction of crude prices, Mr. Ambani prefers to take the long and fairly conventional view that the world would have to move towards a low carbon economy and that new technologies will emerge.

But will crude touch its former stratospheric level? "Whenever I have predicted oil prices, I have always got it wrong. I would like to meet the guy who can do it!" There's a word of advice he has for telecom price warriors, a business he built and exited in 2005 after the family settlement with younger brother Anil Ambani. "Telecom operators need to move on to broadband. Voice is a low-margin business." What an idea, sirji!

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