This week, a 64-year-old energy mogul from India became the first non-Western to join the exclusive $100 billion club of the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. Mukesh Ambani, the richest person in Asia according to Forbes, came in tenth, rounding out the exclusive all-boys mega-billionaire top ten list.
A devout Hindu, Ambani is vegetarian and abstains from alcohol, but his parties are the most lavish in India. The super billionaire's conglomerate Reliance Industries contributes roughly 4% of India’s GDP, and he owns his own cricket team—a true showcase of his wealth in the former colony obsessed with the British-origin sport. Despite all this, the man remains relatively austere—continuing to place a cap on his salary at $2 million a year. According to reports, this is the same salary he was earning a decade ago.
Ambani lives with his wife, three children, mother, and his younger brother and his family in a slightly outdated 14-storey home despite hosting his parties in a modern and luxurious 27-storey mansion of helipads and lotus pools in the middle of Mumbai, surrounded by slums.
Ambani owns the world's largest oil refining complex and is the only energy mogul in the $100 billion list. In fact, everyone else on the list has their hands mostly on tech—Elon Musk is at the top with a net worth of $222 billion, followed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos with a net worth of $191 billion. The men ahead of Ambani are all techies and Americans except two: American investor and philanthropist William Buffet is a traditional finance baron, while Frenchman Bernard Arnault specialises in luxury consumer products such as Louis Vuitton Malletier.
The rest of the top 100 billionaires are mostly Westerners except for five Indian and 16 Chinese billionaires. There are only 10 women in the top 100.Ambani’s Reliance Industries has a $74 billion revenue. The mogul also owns a 4G wireless network across India, and his net worth, as of October, is about $101 billion. Last year, Ambani wasn’t even close to the $100 billion club, but Reliance raised a whopping $44.4 billion in 2020 through share sales of Ambani’s digital business and telecom unit Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail—the largest amount of capital any company had raised during the COVID-19 pandemic. His investors include his fellow $100-billionaires, the men behind the tech giants Facebook and Google — Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin and Larry Page.The Ambani empire started out as a small textile business, started by his late father Dhirubhai Ambani, a yarn trader, in 1966. After their father’s death in 2002, Ambani and his younger brother Anil divided the businesses they inherited between them.Anil, however, has not fared as well as Mukesh. In 2010, he was the sixth richest man in India but since then, his fortunes have declined following corruption charges. Earlier this year, he said his net worth had been reduced to zero.
Early on, observers predicted the Ambani brothers splitting their father’s fortune would spell the end of their family’s legacy. One writer called Anil “fast on his feet” while Mukesh ”sedate and steady,” basically polar opposites. A rift then began between them.Soon enough, though, Anil landed in financial trouble, and Mukesh came to his rescue, leading them to patch things up in 2019.Last June, at an annual shareholders’ meeting, Mukesh Ambani outlined his plans to transform Reliance’s legacy power business into green energy. He pledged more than $10 billion over three years to set up four “giga factories” to produce 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2030.
Ambani is married to Nita Ambani and has two sons—Akash and Anant—and a daughter, Isha. He collects luxury cars as a hobby. As of last year, he owns nearly 170 vehicles, which includes a bulletproof BMW 670Li that cost more than$ 250,000 just to register, an Aston Martin Rapide, a Rolls-Royce Phantom, and a Bentley Continental Flying Spur.
Antillia, Ambani’s 27-storey house, has been a curiosity for many since it was unveiled in 2012. It was considered the world’s most expensive private residence in 2014, costing roughly $2 billion to build. The family has yet to move into the house, opting to stay at the less flamboyant “Sea Wind.” Antillia, meanwhile, is the venue of many parties, sparking rumours that claim the house has “negative energy” per the principles of Vaastu, the eastern science of arranging the five elements in a house to bring about harmony. And Ambani uses that harmony to party like a billionaire. His events are frequented by Bollywood’s who’s who, and often make the news.
In 2019, when his son Akash wedded Shloka Mehta, the ceremony was attended by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The man himself, however, maintains a low public profile. To this day, Ambani has little to no social media presence despite his involvement in the telecom industry. Many have compared him to the revered ascetic Mahatma Gandhi, who, like Ambani, came from the merchant caste. Unlike Ambani, however, Gandhi did not have a “level Z” security detail that includes five vehicles—at least one bulletproof—at a cost of 1.6 million Indian rupees (about $21,000).
But the top-ten global billionaire has reason to spend on heightened security. Earlier this year, a gelatin-laden car was found near his residence, along with a letter threatening a future attack. Not everyone is a fan of Ambani—effigies with his picture were burned along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s picture at a recent farmers’ protest in Amritsar, Punjab.
Ambani’s addition to the $100 Billion Club brings much-needed diversity to the list, and it appears more countries are about to be represented. The latest wealth data released show France’s Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, CEO of L’Oreal, India’s Gautam Adani of the Adani Group, and Spain’s Amancio Ortega of Inditex are not far from joining the club.Follow Kris Thomas on Twitter.