Adieu, the immortal hero of corporate india

At the end of the day, there is a Rs 65,000 crore business empire. At the beginning there was nothing. Dhirubhai Hirachand Ambani literally built a corporate monolith out of thin air, by his sheer wizardry and indomitable will power, a combination that was on stark display right through his tumultuous life, even during the last ten days when he was fighting his terminal battle.

The man who declared that he would retire only at his funeral kept his word yesterday as mourning multitudes thronged his residence, the most popular address in Mumbai, to bid farewell to corporate India ‘s greatest son.

There have been film stars and political icons who had won popular acclaim and mass adulation, but Dhirubhai was the first and will probably be the last, corporate hero in an otherwise colourless business world. He had a fan following that was much broader in its base, wider in its spectrum and deeper in its love and reverence for him than any other celebrity of his time.

And one does not have to look far for the reasons for such undiminished faith and adoration that he commanded amongst his countrymen, a confidence that remained undented by reams and reams of calculated calumny unleashed by vested interests and envious enemies. While all the other stars enriched themselves at the expense of their followers, here was a super star that shone in every household that reposed trust in him. Dhirubhai’s prosperity was also the prosperity of millions of his shareholders and as his wealth ballooned, so did the wealth of his investors.

And unlike the fortunes of other icons who rode in palanquins borne by faceless fans, there was nothing vulgar about Dhirubhai’s riches because he made every one of his investors, a partner in his progress and prosperity. He not only created wealth but also distributed it. Dhirubhai achieved through his capitalism what socialism was supposed to!

But to judge Dhirubhai Ambani merely by his millions is to belittle his achievements. The man single-handedly changed the mindset of corporate India and shook it out of the reverie that it had wilfully and complacently lapsed into. In a milieu where corporate czars were cautious and narrow minded in their approach, concerned as they were only with their control over their companies and less about the stockholders ‘ stake, Dhirubhai’s daring onslaught completely overturned the rules of the business world.

And he rewrote them with such conviction and finality that the pre-Dhirubhai days now seem like pre-historic stuff. Ingenious financial instruments that inundated the stock markets like a tidal wave, mind-boggling scales of operation that made Lilliputs of his competitors, projects that beat deadlines by months in a common scenario of time overruns, quality standards that were unheard hitherto to hapless Indians et al and more are Dhirubhai ‘ s lasting legacies to his motherland, which he loved and doted upon.

He was a grand visionary who not only dreamed big for himself, his shareholders and his country but also had the mental wherewithall to realise them during his lifetime itself, no mean achievement that. He was always a man in a hurry, with an air of innocent impatience about him as if the world would come to an end anytime and he had better get his plans implemented before that. He thought big, he thought fast and he thought ahead and if in today’s globalised business environment, India is still in the reckoning Dhirubhai can certainly claim credit as the torch bearer of the initial onward march.

Controversy and envy pursued him like persevering shadows but he took them in his stride as only great men could. Though he felt intimidated in the initial stages, he later dismissed them as a price for success and in any case, he had already outgrown such trivialities, dwarfing his critics and making them seem like clowns pelting pebbles at a colossus. He dared to tread a path that his peers dreaded to and as goes the adage, fortune favoured the brave Dhirubhai. A quote from him would sum up his disposition:

‘You can hardly blame me for taking advantage of the schemes when others kept their eyes shut. You do not require an invitation when there is profit.’

While others were content with the crumbs offered by the license raj system and living under its benign protective shadow, Dhirubhai, while remorselessly using the system to his advantage also had the vision to look beyond it.He was perhaps the only businessman who had the uncanny knack of thoroughly exploiting the protection regime while at the same time gearing up for a competitive era.

The much written about flip side of his success story is a matter of nil relevance and it was indeed gratifying to see his inveterate baiters frontpaging his funeral and heaping encomiums on him while hitherto they had reserved those columns of calumny for purveying the choicest of abuses, half-truths and innuendos. In death, Dhirubhai has really had the last laugh.

While as a performer par excellence he became a legend with a larger than life aura around him, as a personality he was a man of great humility, always remembering his humble beginnings. An avid listener, he had a perennial appetite for information. His bulging eyes and disarming, ear-to-ear grin hid a keen mind that was always mulling one scheme or the other. But this ruthless businessman was a benevolent humanbeing too.

A capitalist to boot by instinct he was egalitarian in outlook that explains his tendency to share his success. His relentless pursuit of profit was only a means to realise his larger vision of a resurgent and prosperous India and he led by example by making his Reliance Industries the benchmark for the country to emulate and replicate. In a world milieu where economics decides politics, the passing of Dhirubhai Ambani signifies the loss of a unique leader who had built a constituency of his own that transcended traditional barriers and which he nurtured by his sheer performance and earning their lasting trust, something that our ill-intentioned politicians are dying to achieve.

How we wish we had such leaders as him in politics too, who have the ambition, the ability and above all, the mind to look beyond one’s self and create wealth for all. At the end of the day, India would have been a far better and more prosperous place to live in!

Jawahar T R