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MUMBAI : In a surprise move, Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambani, 65, on Tuesday stepped down from the board of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, the group’s telecom arm. His eldest son Akash, 30, replaced him as the chairman of the wireless unit of India’s most valuable company.

Reliance’s board approved the appointment of Akash Ambani, non-executive director, as chairman of the board, a stock exchange filing by the company said.

Succession planning
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Succession planning

The elevation of Akash Ambani is the first official signal that succession planning is underway at Reliance Industries. Akash joined the board of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd in October 2014 and took on several responsibilities, including negotiations that led to multi-billion dollar investments into Jio Platforms Ltd, the parent of the telecom unit.

To be sure, Mukesh Ambani will continue to be the chairman of Jio Platforms, the company that owns all digital assets, including Reliance Jio Infocomm.

“This is the first instance of Mukesh Ambani taking a backseat. Akash has been closely involved with the business from inception. He was involved in a number of acquisitions by Jio and the stake sale," a person close to the development said. “Akash’s elevation as chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm recognises the specific contributions made by him to the digital services journey and rededicates him to even higher levels of responsibilities."

Mukesh Ambani is banking on the experience of the top executives in Reliance’s leadership team to help guide Akash as he takes over a crucial leadership position.

“Akash is surrounded by experienced people. We have Manoj Modi to lend him all the support he needs. The board is there. See, as long as his father was around, people would continue to look at him, but with him stepping down, Akash will finally have his day in the sun," a second person said, also requesting anonymity.

“Active deliberations are also going on for succession planning in other Reliance companies. But it is still a work in progress," this person added.

Akash has also been closely involved with creating the digital ecosystem around Jio’s 4G proposition, the first person said, adding that he worked closely with engineers to develop the Jiophone in 2017. The person added that Akash also led the key acquisitions made by Reliance Jio and has been keenly involved in developing new capabilities by leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain technologies.

Some significant acquisitions by Jio in recent years include technology companies Saavn, Haptik, Radisys and Tessaract.

“Akash was also integrally involved in the trailblazing global investments by tech majors and investors in 2020, which in many ways catapulted Jio onto the global investor map," the person said.

In 2020, Jio Platforms raised 1.52 trillion by selling nearly 33% to 13 financial and strategic investors, including Meta Platforms Inc., Google and several private equity firms, including Silver Lake, KKR and General Atlantic.

“Akash is expected to continue to operate on the cutting edges of innovation and technology to develop an ecosystem that will make the power of data and technology more accessible to all, including those who are still at the margins," the person added.

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