Ambani’s Reliance appoints head of Saudi wealth fund to board

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries has appointed the head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to its board, deepening ties between the powerful Indian conglomerate and the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.

Yasir al-Rumayyan, managing director of the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, will join the board as an independent director, Ambani said at the company’s annual meeting on Thursday.

Rumayyan’s appointment is part of Reliance’s years-long attempt to remake the family-run conglomerate, founded by Mukesh’s father Dhirubhai almost 50 years ago, into a 21st-century business embedded in the global energy and technology economy.

Reliance brought in a series of strategic investors from tech and private equity to its digital and retail businesses last year. Facebook and Google have seats on the board of Reliance’s digital subsidiary Jio Platforms, in which they have invested billions of dollars.

The addition of Rumayyan, who is also chair of state energy giant Saudi Aramco, to the Reliance board highlights Ambani’s quest to deepen ties with the Gulf kingdom, whose oil and cash are vital to the future of the Indian group’s core refinery business.

Reliance is trying to close a $15bn investment from Saudi Arabia for a 20 per cent stake in the conglomerate’s refining and petrochemical assets, first announced by Ambani in 2019.

The deal was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the fallout of the economic crisis on Aramco’s finances. Talks were recently revived, with the kingdom considering initially paying for the Reliance deal with shares, and then staggered cash payments over several years.

The PIF last year agreed to invest $1.5bn in Jio, part of a $20bn fundraising spree by the Reliance subsidiary. The Saudi fund also ploughed $1.3bn into Reliance Retail. 

Ambani said was “delighted and privileged” that Rumayyan would join the board, calling him “one of the most renowned names in energy, finance and technology”.

The Reliance boss also said the appointment would accelerate the “internationalisation” of the Indian conglomerate, but did not disclose details of what role Rumayyan would play. 

Saudi Arabia has a close relationship with India, a big consumer of the country’s crude oil. As growth in oil demand weakens in the west, the Gulf kingdom is turning to big buyers in Asia to prop up long-term sales. 

As with many Indian conglomerates, Reliance is run largely by family members and longtime associates. Ambani’s wife Nita sits on Reliance’s board along with Hital and Nikhil Meswani, both sons of one of the company’s founding directors.

Ambani has cultivated relationships with Saudi royals and elites, making multiple trips to the country including a 2019 appearance at Riyadh’s “Davos in the Desert” annual investment summit.

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