Billionaire Ambani topples Jack Ma as Asia’s richest person

By BLOOMBERG

MUMBAI • Mukesh Ambani (picture) overtook Alibaba Group Holding Ltd founder Jack Ma to become Asia’s richest person as he positions Reliance Industries Ltd to disrupt the e-commerce space in India.

The chairman of India’s refiningto- telecoms conglomerate, Ambani was estimated to be worth US$44.3 billion (RM179.52 billion) last Friday with Reliance rising 1.6% to a record 1,099.80 rupees (RM65.05), according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Ma’s wealth stood at US$44 billion at the close of trading last Friday in the US, where the company is listed.

Ambani has added US$4 billion to his fortune this year as Reliance doubled its petrochemicals capacity and investors cheered the success of his disruptive telecom upstart, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. 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 Inc and Walmart Inc. Alibaba’s Ma has lost US$1.4 billion 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.”

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, 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. The “size of Reliance will more than double” by 2025, Ambani said at the meeting.

Reliance Jio will introduce a fibrebased 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.

“Reliance Jio is the driver behind the surge in Reliance,” said Deven Choksey, MD at Mumbai-based KR Choksey Shares and Securities Pte Ltd. “If the company is going to double profit a few years down the line, the stock price will also double, if not more.”

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

Within a week of the announcements, Reliance re-entered the US$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. Dhirubhai’s death in 2002 left the group in the hands of Ambani and his younger brother Anil. The brothers eventually split the company in 2005 after years of acrimony.