13 April, 2021

Kingmaker’s Sceptre

Kingmaker’s Sceptre

By the time it was 17 in 1994, the House of Ambani was at the pinnacle of its power. In terms of corporate clout, the group’s flagship, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), which went public in 1977 though it was privately held for several years, was feared by competitors. RIL’s patriarch, the late Dhirubhai Ambani, could make or break governments. Investors loved the scrip. And the company was on its way to becoming the largest (in terms of revenues and profits) in India.

Dhirubhai’s penchant for business vengeance was legendary. He never forgot an insult. In the 1970s, he met Kapal Mehra’s father, the founder of Orkay Silk Mills, one of the fastest growing textile firms, for tips to set up a dyeing unit. The senior Mehra flexed his biceps and said, “You need to mix blood with chemicals to make dyes. You can’t do it.” Dhirubhai vowed to destroy Orkay. By 1994, Kapal Mehra, who had once desired to become what Ambani became, was practically on the streets.

Of course, everyone has heard about the mother of all corporate...

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