NEW YORK • Mr Mukesh Ambani has overtaken Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma to become Asia's richest person, as he positions Reliance Industries to disrupt the e-commerce space in India.
The chairman of India's refining-to-telecoms conglomerate was estimated to be worth US$44.3 billion (S$60.5 billion) last Friday, with Reliance Industries shares rising 1.6 per cent to a record 1,099.8 rupees, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Mr Ma's wealth stood at US$44 billion at the close of trading on Friday in the United States, where the company is listed.
Mr Ambani has added US$4 billion to his fortune this year as Reliance doubled its petrochemicals capacity and investors cheered the success of his disruptive telecoms upstart Reliance Jio Infocomm.
The tycoon this month unveiled plans to leverage his 215 million telecoms subscribers to expand his e-commerce offerings, taking on the likes of Amazon and Walmart.
In contrast, Mr Ma has lost US$1.4 billion this year.
"We need to broaden our horizon of expectations with Reliance," said Mr Nitin Tiwari, a Mumbai-based analyst at Antique Stock Broking, adding that "something really transformational" is in the works.
Mr Ambani, best known for executing large-scale projects, spearheaded construction of the world's largest refining complex in Jamnagar, owns the most widespread mobile data network globally and claims to have India's biggest and most profitable retail firm.
At this month's annual shareholders' meeting, Mr Ambani said Reliance saw its "biggest growth opportunity in creating a hybrid, online-to-offline new commerce platform" involving the Reliance Retail and Reliance Jio businesses.
The "size of Reliance will more than double" by 2025, Mr Ambani said at the meeting.
Jio will introduce a fibre-based broadband service across 1,100 Indian cities next month in what Mr Ambani said would be the biggest greenfield fixed-line roll-out in the world.
"Jio is the driver behind the surge in Reliance," said Mr Deven Choksey, managing director at Mumbai-based KR Choksey Shares and Securities. "If the company is going to double its profit a few years down the line, the stock price will also double, if not more."
Within a week of the announcements, Reliance re-entered the US$100 billion club after more than a decade.
Mr Ambani used the annual shareholders' meeting two years ago to announce his disruptive telecoms venture with free offers that eventually forced smaller rivals to quit and the biggest ones to merge.
The billionaire inherited Reliance from his much-storied father Dhirubhai Ambani, who is credited with sparking an equity culture among middle-class Indians and using their savings to build the group's textile and petrochemical manufacturing units.
Mr Dhirubhai Ambani's death in 2002 left the group in the hands of Mukesh and his younger brother Anil. The brothers eventually split the company in 2005, after years of acrimony.