Heiress on Duty at RIL
Isha Ambani,Director, Reliance Jio and Reliance Retail
Business is in Isha Ambani's genes. "Work never stops for us. That is the only pace of life that I've ever known," says Isha. The Ambani heiress has been instrumental in the transformation of Reliance Retail into an omni-channel retailer through the launch of e-commerce platform JioMart in 2019. Last year, she steered the hefty $6.4-billion fundraising of the retail chain from marquee global investors, and has been as a key member of the team that negotiated the group's recent acquisitions.
"I believe in getting involved from scratch," says Isha. "I like to work on the details right from the drawing board till we eventually bring our projects to life." According to her, work is a common passion shared by the family.
Isha, who graduated in business administration from Stanford Business School in 2018, has had a hand in Reliance Retail's acquisition of Hamleys, the iconic British toys retailer, in 2019, besides Urban Ladder, Netmeds and Just Dial. The retail arm also picked up a minority stake in online lingerie retailer Zivame last year, and has signed exclusive partnerships with over 45 international brands. Isha oversees strategy development and implementation for all marketing teams, including digital, advertising, communications and creative for the retail business. "Her inherent skills allow her to cut through the noise and deliver the message that resonates with consumers," says an executive. She had also readied the blueprint of Reliance Retail's fashion portal Ajio.com, which has grown to 2,500 brands in the last five years.
It was Isha's views about India's dismal Internet speed in 2011 that made Mukesh Ambani think about launching a pure-play data business. "That experience [the launch of Reliance Jio, along with Akash, her twin brother, in 2016] was extremely fulfilling, and it's something I will always cherish — both in terms of the journey we had, and what it has meant for all Indians by virtue of unlocking potential," she says. For the group, Jio has evolved as a technology company working on solutions to amplify the digital revolution in India. It posted a net profit of ₹12,015 crore in 2020-21 on net sales of ₹69,888 crore. Isha was part of the negotiating team which raised $15.2 billion by selling Jio's stake to Facebook, Google and a host of private equity investors. She presented the company's business plan, along with Akash, in the last three AGMs.
"It might be new and overwhelming, but keep putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, and keep at it until you get comfortable — that is the only way to learn and grow," says Isha. "Most importantly, you need to build trust, you have to build credibility, and that only comes from proving yourself time and again. So, you can't stop in your efforts to better yourself, you can't take things for granted and you have to get your hands dirty every single day. A leader is as good or bad as their team, and vice versa. So these are my expectations from myself too."
She is a firm believer in her grandfather Dhirubhai Ambani's words — ideas are no one's monopoly. "We discuss everything in an open and healthy way. It is important to acknowledge different opinions and appreciate others' world views. One should never be dismissive of an idea simply because one doesn't agree with it. And that is what we believe and practice," she says. "We are all entrepreneurs in our own right in Reliance. There's no such thing as employees. What that means is that it is our joint responsibility to figure out what the big problems are for India and how to solve them and create greater value for stakeholders."
The open office culture during her time at McKinsey and while in the West is what she fostered at Jio too, pre-Covid. "The pandemic is changing the paradigm as we all find ways to improve engagement, inclusion, and productivity virtually," she says. Cultivating the right culture at work is important for her. "Your place of work should be a happy place. It should be a place where people can talk openly and be their most authentic selves, while enjoying what they do."
Gender equality is another issue close to her heart. Wherever she has the opportunity, Isha hires women and tries to make sure women within RIL know and converse with each other.
She also works with the schools of Reliance Foundation, headed by her mother Nita Ambani. "I have always been passionate about education," says Isha, who is part of the team that set direction for education initiatives of Reliance Foundation, especially the Dhirubhai Ambani International School (DAIS) and the upcoming Jio University. As the vice chairperson and the force behind DAIS's seamless virtual transition during the early days of the lockdown, she has been actively involved in the planning and operations of the school — be it pedagogy, curriculum, or engagement with national and international collaborators, according to people close to her.
Isha has also been the force behind creating a strong visual arts identity at the Jio World Centre in Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai — from the visual language of the brand to its design and architecture — and the open-air art precinct at Jio World Drive.
"Having her ear to the ground, listening to her peers, and amalgamating those experiences has been the driving force for innovations under Isha," says an RIL executive.