The Fortune India 500 rankings and special issue come to you when the Indian economy is at a crucial juncture and in the midst of a slowdown which could potentially derail the government’s ambition of making India a $5-trillion economy in the next five years. The gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate has slowed to a worrying 4.5% in the September quarter of FY20, and in its latest monetary policy statement, the Reserve Bank of India has also reduced its growth forecast for the economy sharply to 5% forFY20 from the 6.1% it announced in the October policy statement. The RBI, which has reduced its benchmark repo rate multiple times since the beginning of the year to spur growth, however, kept the rate unchanged in its December statement, since inflation has also started inching up. With private investment not picking up, and the corporate sector shaky about the future prospects of the economy, these are challenging times indeed. However, the Fortune India 500 list of companies has demonstrated a good degree of resilience, with their combined revenue growing by 9.53% and profit by 11.8% in FY19. This, despite the aftershocks of the Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) debacle, and the piling up of non-performing assets at public sector banks (PSBs).
As our lists editor Rajiv Bhuva points out, there’s been a good degree of churn in this year's list as well, with 57 companies dropping off, and 33 making their way into it from the Fortune India Next 500, the list of India’s largest midsize companies. A theme this year has also been that of consolidation, with several mergers and acquisitions taking place within list members, adding to the churn. Whether it is the merger of some PSBs, the consolidation in public sector undertakings (like the acquisition of REC by Power Finance Corporation and ONGC acquiring Hindustan Petroleum), these deals meant there was enough action within the 500 universe.
But the biggest story this year has been the emergence of a new No. 1, the first time since this list was first published in 2010. Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), the oil-to-telecom-to-retail megacorp owned by Asia’s richest billionaire, Mukesh Ambani, finally toppled public sector giant Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) to take the top slot in the Fortune India 500 list this year. Last year, RIL was snapping at the heels of IOC, with the gap in their revenue at just over ₹14,026 crore, but this year RIL has surged ahead to top the charts with a hefty ₹5.81 lakh crore in revenue, 8.35% more than IOC’s. In late November, RIL also became the first Indian company ever to hit the ₹10 lakh crore market capitalisation figure, as its stock surged to new highs. The old order is changing.