Meet Nita Ambani, The First Lady Of Indian Business

Ahead of its wider public rollout of much-awaited 4G phone service, Reliance Jio Infocomm, the telecom arm of oil and gas giant Reliance Industries, held a December soft launch at a sprawling 500-acre corporate campus outside of Mumbai. Soft but big–the company controlled by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest person, had 37,000 staff on site for the event, and more than 75,000 others from Reliance outposts were present by video link.

neeta AmbaniThe debut took place on the eve of the group’s legendary founder Dhirubhai Ambani’s birth anniversary. With its attendant Bollywood glamour–superstar Shah Rukh Khan, Jio’s brand ambassador, presided as master of ceremonies–the gala was orchestrated by Nita Ambani, the billionaire’s wife, who has been involved with the telecom’s marketing and branding strategy.

In what is a first for any Ambani venture, the 4G service doesn’t deploy the Reliance name in its branding but is simply called Jio, which translates to “Live life” in Hindi. The well-recognized roundel logo of the parent has also been dispensed with. “This is a brave new world for us, so we decided, after much debate, to break away from the old,” explains Nita from Reliance’s headquarters in south Mumbai.

She occupies a desk in an open office that houses Reliance’s sports business, which she also oversees. While Mukesh still works from his father’s old corner room on a higher floor, Nita says she prefers mingling with the crew.

This new open culture was ushered in at the urging of their U.S.-educated twins, Isha and Akash, who work in an open office on Jio’s campus . Isha, who studied at Yale and worked briefly at McKinsey, is involved in marketing with her mother; Akash, an undergrad from Brown, works on the tech side. “I’m enjoying mentoring them,” says Nita.

In a country where billionaire wives tend to remain in the shadow of their husbands, Nita’s rising profile in the Reliance empire is unusual and earns her a debut spot on our Power Business-women ranking this year. Reliance is among India’s most valuable companies, with $57 billion in revenues.

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