Mukesh Ambani is a man on a mission and even a pandemic or lockdown can’t stop him

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani is a man on a mission: to dominate India’s consumer Internet market — from online retail to digital payments.

He just sealed three deals in as many weeks to raise a combined $8 billion, including from Facebook Inc. Asia’s richest man isn’t done yet, as he races to transform the legacy oil-and-petrochemicals empire his late father built into a technology-driven, e-commerce force.

In the latest announcement Friday from his Reliance Industries Ltd., Vista Equity Partners agreed to pay $1.5 billion for a 2.3% stake in Jio Platforms, the conglomerate’s digital unit. Earlier this week, Menlo Park, California-based Silver Lake Partners said it would invest $753 million in the business, hot on the heels of Facebook’s decision in April to plow $5.7 billion for a 10% stake in Jio.

The flurry of transactions show the tycoon’s ambitions to pivot Reliance Industries into an Indian technology titan are going into hyperdrive. With investments from the likes of the social-networking giant and the two private-equity firms, Ambani, 63, is not only getting Silicon Valley’s backing for his plans, but is also raising funds to honor a pledge he made to investors in August — to wipe out net debt at his group.

“Mukesh Ambani’s transformation plans for Reliance Industries tell us we can expect significant upside in the years to come,” said Chakri Lokapriya, managing director at TCG Asset Management. “He clearly understands that a technology company is valued much higher than the underlying commodity business of Reliance.”

The agreements also showcase the deal-making chops of the Mumbai-based company, when most of the world is in a lockdown to help contain the spread of Covid-19. As travel curbs stymied progress on the talks, trusted lieutenants of Ambani and Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg turned to video conferences and phone calls to wrap up the deal, people familiar with the matter said last month.

Jio Platforms’ turn as an an investor magnet is built on the potential of India’s digital market, both enterprise and consumer. Every business rooted in ancient practices and technologies is ripe for disruption — be it the centuries-old kirana or mom-and-pop stores, its traditional education system or hospitals.

Impenetrable Market