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Dhirubhai Ambani: Adding to India's fortunes

Dhirubhai Ambani
Dhirubhai Ambani was one of India's most successful businessmen.  

From Ram Ramgopal

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- In death, as in life, the image Dhirubhai Ambani projected was larger than life. And his following was clearly in evidence as thousands gathered for the funeral of one of India's most successful businessmen in Mumbai on Sunday.

Politicians, industrialists, film stars and ordinary people were out in full force to pay tribute to the man, the founder and chairman who steered his company, the Reliance Group, into the elite list of Fortune 500 companies.

Ambani died late on Saturday at the age of 69. He had been in intensive care since being admitted to Bombay's Breach Candy hospital on June 24 after suffering a second stroke. He was left partially paralysed by a previous stroke in 1986.

Ambani contributed greatly to the fortunes of India with his passion, ambition and intelligence.

Billionaire head of India's Reliance dead at 69 

The 12-billion-dollar-plus Reliance Group, an industrial conglomerate with interests in energy, textiles, petrochemicals and telecommunications, was a pioneer for Indian industry in many ways.

Business analysts say the company almost single-handedly transformed the concept of investing.

Reliance successfully raised millions of dollars from the capital markets as ordinary investors bought into a stock that has climbed steadily in the past three decades.

Three and a half million shareholders have a stake in Reliance, making it one of the most widely held companies in India.

Ambani rose to fame from modest beginnings. He was born in 1932 into a poor teacher's family in western Gujarat state.

A high school dropout, he worked as a gas station attendant in Yemen before returning to his native land to create his industrial empire.

He went on to become one of the world's wealthiest men with an estimated personal fortune of $2.9 billion.

To finance his grand ambitions, Ambani raised money through the market, ending the near monopoly on bank financing in India doled out to a small clique of elite families.

Reliance Industries was listed in 1977 in one of the largest public stock offerings of its time, and its annual shareholders' meetings were so well attended they had to be held in a football stadium.

Hero of shareholders

Paying high dividends and bonuses at a time when equities were seen as a low-return, risky investment made Ambani a hero to shareholders.

Yet, Ambani's business practices were controversial, and he was sometimes accused of manipulating government policy for his own ends.

Responding to those charges, Ambani once remarked, "Controversy is the price to be paid for success." The fact remains, he added, "that when an elephant walks, dogs tend to bark."

Charge of Reliance now shifts to the next generation of Ambanis - Dhirubhai's sons Anil and Mukesh, who say they will fulfill their father's vision for the company.




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