The decade in business

The decade in business

The fight of the century

Soon, Mukesh was locked in a bitter battle with his younger brother Anil Ambani (above, left). The fight resonated through the media, even Parliament. The brothers settled their differences in 2005, signing an agreement whose details were not made public and which gave control of some of the conglomerate’s businesses to Mukesh, and others to Anil. Soon, however, the brothers were locked in another fight, this time over natural gas. The gas was being extracted by Reliance Industries, a part of Mukesh’s share of the empire but Reliance Natural Resources Ltd, a part of Anil’s share of the empire, staked claim to some part of it, at a certain price, citing the agreement. Reliance Industries claimed that it could not sell the gas to a buyer not approved by and at a price not set by the government. The companies went to court. The Supreme Court eventually, in 2010, ruled in favour of Reliance Industries but not before the brothers fought a pitched battle—in the courts, in the media, and again, through friendly politicians, in Parliament.

The information technology services boom

In 2009-10, India’s IT exports were worth $49.7 billion, according to the software lobby group Nasscom, and are expected to grow 13-15% in 2010-11. IT and back-office services firms employed around 2.3 million people in the country in 2009-10 and provided indirect employment to around 8.2 million, according to Nasscom. Some of these firms have become stock market darlings and made shareholders, founders, even employees, rich. And some of them—despite the fraud at Satyam Computer Services Ltd—have set new standards in how they are managed and governed. The last decade was the one that saw them do all this, parlaying an expertise in tackling the Y2K bug into creating a global delivery model that saw them building and managing applications for customers in the US and Europe—out of India.

The telecom revolution

Organizational transformation

Two such were Avantha (the erstwhile Ballarpur Industries group) and the Mahindra Group. In 1996, when Gautam Thapar (right) was asked to take charge of Ballarpur Industries and a few other companies, the group was in a precarious position. Profits of the flagship were down to the single digit. Although the low-profile Thapar hit the ground running, it was only in the past decade that he and the conglomerate came into their own, not least because of smart diversification into power and farm produce. Anand Mahindra (left) effected a similar turnaround in the Mahindra Group’s fortunes. To be sure, the conglomerate has always been financially healthy, but the past decade saw it launch some hugely successful products (the Scorpio SUV, for one), enter new businesses (trucks, scooters), and make a big-ticket acquisition (Satyam Computer) that propelled it to the first tier of the Indian IT services business.

Global buys

Regulation

Professionalization

Decline of the South

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