By Saritha Rai, P R Sanjai and Baiju Kalesh
He has no flashy titles and few outdoors India know his title. However within the halls of Reliance Industries Ltd., Manoj Modi has quietly change into some of the highly effective forces behind the company empire of Asia’s richest man.
Reserved and principally invisible to the general public, Modi is seen by many insiders and others in India’s enterprise world as the proper hand of billionaire Mukesh Ambani. He performed a key function throughout negotiations for a $5.7 billion take care of Fb Inc. in April, backing Ambani and his youngsters as they hashed out an settlement with the social networking big, folks aware of the matter mentioned.
As Ambani, 63, shifts his sprawling conglomerate’s focus from petrochemicals to web applied sciences, Modi is seen as a very influential voice. Fb’s funding within the group’s Jio Platforms was adopted by comparable offers from a slew of private-equity funds, injecting $13 billion into the enterprise and putting it firmly on Silicon Valley’s radar.
The sixty-something, diminutive Modi — who isn’t associated to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi — hardly ever offers interviews and there’s little within the public realm about his personal life. But he illustrates how lesser recognized personalities in India with long-running ties to company dynasties can have an outsized influence.
“It’s not an organization that advertises its organizational construction however the business is aware of that Ambani and Modi are a strongly-bonded crew — and collectively drive deal negotiation and relentless execution to the final degree of element,” mentioned Vani Kola, managing director of enterprise capital agency, Kalaari Capital Companions, who persuaded Modi to make a uncommon public look at a convention final yr, albeit by video.
A Reliance spokesperson didn’t reply to a request for feedback from the corporate and Modi.
Modi is a director at Reliance Retail Ltd. and the group’s telecom service Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. At Kola’s convention, he downplayed his abilities. “I don’t actually negotiate,” Modi mentioned. “I don’t perceive technique,” he went on. “In reality, folks internally know that I don’t actually have a imaginative and prescient.” He described his function, saying, “I take care of our inner folks, teaching them, mentoring them and guiding them on how one thing may be performed.”
However then got here a touch of his pondering: “Our precept at Reliance could be very easy: Until everybody makes cash whereas working with us, you can not have a sustainable enterprise.”
In interviews, greater than half-a-dozen executives within the know-how business, who’ve had dealings with Reliance, mentioned Modi has a status for driving laborious bargains. When coping with startups, he usually controls negotiations from behind the scenes by instructing executives how far to push, making an look nearing deal fruition, they mentioned.
Whereas Reliance’s latest mega investments have drawn the highlight, the conglomerate additionally started an acquisition spree to purchase smaller corporations some years in the past to construct experience in newer applied sciences from synthetic intelligence to blockchain. The thought is to create a digital enterprise that wields energy in all the pieces from on-line retail to streamed leisure and web funds.
Modi has a giant say in each deal and sometimes a gathering with him indicators the ultimate stamp of approval, 4 completely different startup founders mentioned in interviews.
“He derives his energy within the group not simply due to his loyalty, however due to his very astute, good and in a position negotiator abilities for Reliance Industries,” G. R. Gopinath, founding father of funds service Air Deccan, who had offered a stake in his cargo airline to Reliance in 2010. “Considerably, although with out formal training from Ivy League universities, he has a really sharp thoughts and a uncommon perception and native genius to understand trendy know-how within the Indian context.”
Gopinath mentioned Modi is “ruthlessly environment friendly” and manages to get the very best deal for Reliance in mergers and acquisitions.
Modi is without doubt one of the few who’ve been with the corporate because the 1980s when Ambani’s late father was constructing the oil-and-petrochemicals big. A number of years earlier, Manoj Harjivandas Modi and Ambani had studied at what was then referred to as the University Department of Chemical Technology in Mumbai and change into quick associates.
That’s allowed Modi an opportunity to work with three generations of the Ambani dynasty: The late patriarch Dhirubhai, then Mukesh and his spouse Nita, and now his youngsters Isha and Akash, who’re taking part in extra outstanding roles on offers like Fb.
Through the years Modi grew to become often known as the execution man, overseeing massive initiatives. He broke new floor by managing Reliance’s retail attain to smaller cities and expanded it to India’s largest retailer. But it surely was with the pathbreaking telecom service that Ambani constructed up that Modi got here into his personal.
His negotiating abilities have been very seen when Reliance Jio raced to launch its wi-fi companies in 2016 and constructed its fiber optic cable community.
One of many individuals who participated within the negotiations described a scene the place choose distributors have been summoned to the headquarters for talks. The bait dangled in entrance of every was the huge scale of the venture. Unknown to distributors at the moment, a number of Reliance groups negotiated concurrently in separate rooms with Modi because the interface guiding executives, that individual mentioned.
Lately, after crushing its rivals, Jio is the most important telecom operator in India with almost 400 million customers. It’s additionally more and more vital to world companies like Fb and WhatsApp because it serves as an entryway into an exploding digital financial system and an e-commerce ecosystem that features funds, training and well being care.
“Their work in increasing entry to inexpensive cell broadband has been phenomenal,” Ajit Mohan, vp and managing director in India for Fb, mentioned of Ambani’s firm.
Among the many abilities Modi has honed is working with senior executives at Reliance, like Anshuman Thakur, head of technique at Reliance Jio Infocomm and a very long time banker, who performs a key function on offers and repeatedly briefs the press.
Throughout the negotiations for the Fb deal, Ambani, his youngsters Isha and Akash, and Modi have been key proper by the discussions, one of many folks aware of the transaction mentioned. As soon as Ambani gave the go forward, Thakur labored to construction the deal, one of many folks mentioned.
In latest weeks, Jio’s investor checklist has included names like KKR & Co., Silver Lake Companions, Vista Fairness Companions, Common Atlantic and Abu Dhabi Funding Authority. There could also be extra. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is in advanced talks for a stake, folks aware of the matter mentioned this month.
Nonetheless, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic is poised to place India on observe for a pointy financial contraction, which implies Modi and Ambani can have their work minimize out for them rising digital gross sales whereas client spending slows.
In the meantime, a crash in oil costs prompted uncertainty in negotiations to promote an estimated $15 billion stake in Reliance Industries’ oil and chemical substances division to Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Aramco, as a part of its bid to pay down its formidable debt pile, which stood at greater than $20 billion as of March final yr. Reliance just lately mentioned the Aramco talks are progressing.
Little or no is understood in regards to the precise plans of Jio Platforms because the digital enterprise rolls into the following part of its enlargement. Each Modi and his boss could have a joint hand in sustaining this degree of secrecy.
“Why discuss needlessly when you possibly can present your capabilities within the ranbhoomi,” mentioned Kola, the enterprise capitalist, utilizing the Hindi phrase for battlefield.