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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

India's Mukesh Ambani to overtake Jack Ma as Asia's richest tycoon

The older of the Ambani brothers has built a business empire that includes the world's largest refinery as well as low-cost telecoms services

Mukesh Ambani is poised to overtake Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma to become Asia’s richest person as he positions Reliance Industries to disrupt the e-commerce space in India.

The chairman of India’s refining-to-telecoms conglomerate, Ambani was estimated to be worth $44.3bn on Friday with Reliance Industries trading 1.7 per cent higher, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The stock fetched Rs1,100.65 as of 12.25 pm in Mumbai and is set for a record. Mr Ma’s wealth stood at $44bn at close of trade on Thursday in the US, where the company is listed.

Mr Ambani has added $4bn to his fortune this year as Reliance doubled its petrochemicals capacity and investors cheered the success of his disruptive telecoms upstart Reliance Jio Infocomm. Then earlier this month, the tycoon unveiled plans to leverage his 215 million telecom subscribers to expand his e-commerce offerings, taking on the likes of Amazon.com and Walmart. Alibaba Group Holding’s Ma has lost $1.4bn in 2018.

“We need to broaden our horizon of expectation with Reliance,” said Nitin Tiwari, a Mumbai-based analyst at Antique Stock Broking. “They are in for something really transformational.”

Mr Ambani, best known for executing large-scale projects, spearheaded construction of the world’s largest refining complex in Jamnagar, owns the most-widespread mobile data network globally and claims to have India’s biggest as well as most-profitable retail firm.

At this month’s annual shareholders’ meeting, Mr Ambani said Reliance saw its “biggest growth opportunity in creating a hybrid, online-to-offline new commerce platform,” involving the group’s Reliance Retail Ltd. and Reliance Jio businesses.

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The latter will introduce a fibre-based broadband service across 1,100 Indian cities in August in what Ambani said would be the biggest greenfield fixed-line rollout anywhere in the world.

A spokesman for Reliance didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

Within a week of the announcements, Reliance re-entered the $100 billion club after more than a decade. He used the same venue two years ago to announce his disruptive telecom venture with free offers that eventually forced smaller rivals to quit and the biggest ones to merge.

The billionaire inherited Reliance from his much-storied father Dhirubhai Ambani, who is credited with sparking an equity culture among middle-class Indians and using their savings to build the group’s textile and petrochemical manufacturing units.

Dhirubhai’s death in 2002 left the group in the hands of Mukesh and his younger brother Anil Ambani. The brothers eventually split the company in 2005, as per a family pact brokered by their mother, after years of acrimony.