Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries, says he will trigger a second green revolution in the country -- with synergies between farming and energy -- by involving his group in agriculture in a big way.
In an interview with Newsweek magazine, he says his company's involvement with the farm sector "has the potential to change the world" and adds that he views India's billion-plus population not as a problem but as billion-plus customers.
Here are some excerpts from the interview that was printed in the Newsweek edition that hit the stands on Monday:
Q: You say India's competitive advantages are globalisation, democracy, the ability to adapt to technology, and demography. Starting with democracy, doesn't it slow growth?
A: Sure, but increased aspirations are also driving growth. Politicians used to tell me: 'We sell dreams to people that we knew we'd never be able to fulfil'. Today, the mindset of these politicians has changed. They genuinely believe we have an opportunity to substantially alleviate poverty by 2030.
Q: How does technology fit in?
A: We are using new technologies in meaningful ways. To build our new refinery in 60 per cent of the time it took to build our first, we are training 20,000 people in a new generation of welding technology in six months. This is where demographics come in. We have 650 million people who are below their early 30s, while the US and Europe face a shortage of skilled workers.
A billion people used to mean lots of problems. Today I see a billion people as a billion potential consumers, an opportunity to generate value for them and to make a return for myself.
Q: How do you motivate poor farmers to join your new farm-to-retail network?
A: We will work with farmers to get them to increase their productivity and produce the right products of the right quality. This also requires a major investment in technology because there are minimum import standards [overseas]. We are also creating something that is totally missing in India: an efficient distribution system, linked to supermarkets across the world. This will generate up to one million new jobs and make us the largest private-sector employer in India.
Q: What drives you?
A: In my father's language: "To create something out of nothing." That possibility exists in India even in old-world sectors like agriculture.
Q: Is this an agrarian revolution?
A: Absolutely. Reliance is involving itself in agriculture in a big way. This will help to create a second green revolution at a time when energy and agro are converging. Oil is now at $70 a barrel, [but it's] a finite asset. We need a fallback position. We are looking for more gas and oil but we are also trying to grow our own energy. We think this has the potential to change the world.
Q: How disruptive and dispiriting was the feud with your brother?
A: Fundamentally we had different approaches. My view is to give everyone the space to grow in his own way. When you see restructuring or separations in a family [firm], value has almost always been destroyed. This is the first case where value has been enhanced. In that way it has been a win-win ending.