Friday, June 20, 2014

The Polyester Prince: Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani

Whoa!! What a book!! Jam packed with facts, revelations, corporate drama, political dance, underworld deals and clash of egos makes it a gripping read.
This book is not available in India due to obvious reasons 
First published in 1998 and the first book to have exposed Dhirubhai, it had infuriated him to such an extent that he bought all the copies from the publisher and bookshops, and dumped the whole lot into the Arabian Sea!! For years, copies of this book were smuggled from other countries and sold in India for prices as high as Rs. 50,000..
Since the book is not in print anymore, the resale value of used copy of this book has reached an all time high of $2,000 :
Young Dhirubhai Ambani
Coming to the content of the book. To give an outline, it starts with Dhirubhai's childhood in the initial chapters, gradually goes on to talk about his work in Aden in which one can notice the shrewd tactics he starts using to make some quick bucks. Later, the book dives deeper into events with great detail about his return to India and his gradual rise after establishing his new company, Reliance.
I was appalled by the shrewd business tactics he had used combined with human emotions to get even the most ethical politicians to his side and in turn make them do unethical acts for his benefit. He knew the weak point of every politician and knew how he could exploit it and at the same time make them feel that he is actually doing them a favor.
Reliance founder Dhirubhai Ambani with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
The author goes on to say that this Price of Polyester controlled the economy and Govt of the nation which was in turn controlled by Ambani. He had the power to make or break a Govt. One can conclude that Ambani was a great choreographer when it came to making politicians dance. I was shocked to find that even the most respected politicians like Pranab'da had danced to Ambani's tunes during 70s & 80s. Ambani had played a role in destroying the Janata Party Govt in late 1970s and played a greater role in bringing back Indira Gandhi to power in 1980 because he had found her to be more cooperative due to her tolerance for corruption & exploiting of loopholes.
That was about politics. Talking about business world, he had done everything that would put even the underworld don and mafia to shame.. He had done everything, from rigging of stock markets, to under invoicing, smuggling, Havala, Harshad Mehta scam, Bofors, plotting murders and many other controversies.
For a common trader, smuggling gold nuggets, electronic items etc itself is an achievement. But the author claims that Ambani had smuggled an entire factory!! It might sound very funny but one must read to book to find out how he managed to do that..
Reliance shareholders meeting in a football stadium!!
He was unethical and cheated the system but at the same time, his respect for humans was immense. He kickstarted the stockmarket revolution in India and ensured his shareholders always got the benefit. One can debate endlessly about his integrity but in my opinion, for the conditions that prevailed in the era of 70s & 80s due to license raj and regulations, that was one of the few ways for a businessman to become successful. One had to be corrupt to deal with a corrupt system.
No doubt, he cheated the system (which included politicians) but the result was that a common man in India could get affordable polyester. He made lot of money by unethical means but at the same time, he reinvested that money in more factories, created more jobs and shared the profits in the form of dividends with his shareholders. (Compare that with our politicians who are using our taxes and depositing it in their Swiss accounts which is neither helping our economy, nor creating jobs)
Ambani & Sons
He was a demon to the Govt & system but a savior to people who had faith in him. No wonder the people (especially stock traders) of Gujarat had held him in high regard.
A must read book for anyone who wants to know about India Inc, Political-Business relations & License raj in general and Ambani/Reliance in particular. Share this with your friends as well so that they also read this gripping book and understand how our system worked in 1970s & 80s..
Click on the following link to read it online or right click and select "save link as" to download it for offline reading.