Posted by: John Elliott | June 20, 2007

Mukesh Ambani builds a monument to his wealth

Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries (RIL), one of India’s two largest business groups, has been wowing people with his drive and ability for many years, especially since his father died five years ago and he and his brother Anil split the family business empire in 2005. Now he has amazed his peers, competitors, and observers again, but this time less laudably, by building a gigantic 570-foot high home in one of the plush areas of Mumbai.

According to a recent article in the Mumbai Mirror, a local daily, the 570-foot tower will cost $500 million and comprise 27 floors with car parks and maintenance areas, entertainment spaces including a small theatre, health and exercise rooms with pools, guest rooms, gardens, helicopter pads – oh yes, and four floors of family accommodation for him, his wife, three children and his mother. It is rumored there will be a staff of 600 (or maybe just 400, say some!) and it will be called Antillia after a phantom Atlantic island.Mukesh's Tower

Even for the world’s 14th richest businessman, that is an appalling display of conspicuous consumption. And it is especially so when his estimated $20 billion of wealth makes him the richest businessman in a basically poor country, with people living in slums not far from the Antillia construction site.

The tower rises above Peddar Road April 2009

The tower rises above Peddar Road April 2009

Outrageous displays of wealth are of course nothing new here. Many of the old maharajahs who ruled much of the country before independence (some continue to live as if they still do) deserved ridicule for their sumptuous lifestyles in massive palaces, with hordes of servants, women, cars and elephants to care for their every need. ut business people have usually been more discreet, and their homes, while extravagant, have been relatively modest in scale.

When I first came to India in the 1980s, I was always told – and saw for myself – that the rich usually avoided public displays of wealth because they did not want to attract the attention of the tax authorities. That no longer seems to apply.

Lakshmi Mittal, Indian-born but with wealth acquired abroad as the world’s largest steelmaker, broke normal bounds in 2004 when he bought a vast and not very pretty $110 million pile in London’s exclusive Kensington Palace Gardens. In Delhi, he bought an old bungalow in the exclusive Aurangzeb Road and rebuilt it, though within the two-or-three story height required in that road.

Sunil Mittal (no relation), who runs India’s largest mobile telecom business, also kept within normal bounds when he built a house in the even more exclusive Amrita Shergil Marg, which is slightly bulkier and more stately than most of its neighbors, but not outrageously so. Others have built sumptuous homes on the outskirts of Delhi, as have families like Hinduja and Godrej on Mumbai’s Juhu beach.

But none of these is anywhere near as publicly extravagant as the Ambani tower. Bankers and business people are puzzled as to why he did it, because his public image is that of a hard-working and modest – though ruthlessly ambitious – company boss. Most are highly critical but will not speak on record – and a Reliance spokesman declined to comment. Some suggest it is part of his determination to outshine his younger brother Anil. It is also said, more practically, that land is so scarce in Mumbai that one has to build upwards rather than across a large plot – but that does not justify 27 floors for a family of six!

Whatever the reason, it puts into perspective a speech made by Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, on May 24. He attacked corruption and asked businessmen to discourage “vulgar displays of wealth.”


  1. quite frankly i think that the man is blessed to have so much money in his pockets, he can do whatever he wants to do with his money just as long as he does not forget to plough into the community in various ways. For instance, he could use his money to help develop a state of the art medical center as we all know that India has got one of the world s highest prevalences of HIV/AIDS. Nevertheless good luck to him & his company, and may he prosper even further!!!!!!!

  2. If one reads the (now banned and removed from the markets) book: “The Polyester Prince” we would discover the reality behind the conglomerate Reliance. There was corruption at all kinds of levels – lets not even get into it – so whoever has written that the Ambani wealth wasn’t created through Corruption stands corrected!

    Personally, yeah I am thrilled that he has the money and it’s only his problem what he wants to do with it! But what really bothers me is this:

    The Ambani’s have started the Dhirubhai Ambani International School which follows the IGCSE curriculum, which charges students ridiculously high fess like Rs. 7 lakhs a year! Yes again that’s none of my biz. But how about GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY? What if a part of that money was spent on building schools for children in the rural interiors of India?

    Ok he has created employment for the people working on the house – but then what after that? They aren’t going to be hanging around there forever now! Sure he can display his wealth – but a little more can definitely be done to improve his country’s impoverished condition. I know I would if I were in his place.

    Abhi: While Bangalore may not see poverty, trust me Mumbai – the financial capital – beyond a certain city limit will put one to shame to see the dilapidated living conditions of many – we have Dharavi (Asia’s largest slum) to boast about!!

  3. While I have no problem with this dude spending his money on some pointless extravagance, I do have a problem with the image that Indian corporate bosses have.

    Warren Buffet – by far the greatest investor the world has seen – and Bill Gates, arguably the best businessman in the world – have made charitable donations greater than the GDP of a small country.

    On the other hand, our great businessmen – Ambani & Mallya – can only be characterized by their excesses. I have NOT HEARD of them contributing to our ridiculously poor country in any way, in the public press.

    So either I don’t read the right stuff or our business leaders have no sense of charity.

  4. But you missed the point. Mr. Ambani did not earn his wealth through corruption, so the Prime Minister’s words have no relevance here.
    Yesh Prabhu

  5. Hey hi to all,
    MUKESH AMBANI has became WORLD’S RICHEST BUSINESSMAN… It also seems that Dhirubhai Ambani’s dream will come true in near future- to become WORLD’S BIGGEST CO… it’s GLOBAL INDIAN TAKEOVER… Njoi THE RIDE OF ELEPHANT..

    Who wants to make a house like him!!!!
    SAY YEah ……
    I do…
    CONGRADULATIONS… BUT NOW THEY NEED TO BE ABOVE BILL GATES.. AND THAT NEED TO BE DONE NOW…..SHOW THE WORLD WHO IS THE BOSS…Guys to be very frank and serious . I too never liked the way money is made by the brother’s.. but..but..but.. they share and eAt… thats what u need to learn….SHARE it…..Get out an IPO..wowowowowo.. and then eat your stake. it keeps getting bigger.
    Also all the time Reliance group is working (i call it so as Both brothers are anyways together off paper)they have given out dividents and profit share duely to the share holders..
    Thanks Dhiru, Mukesh and Anil ..REGARDS

  7. good evening mate,
    seems like ur still lost in your touristy elephant ride that you encountered whilst reading a comic book on london bridge in the 1930’s..
    that construction is going to create alot of jobs..which takes care of alot of peoples’ employment
    secondly, other than being a critic, why dont you get off the elephants back and go and help the poor down there..
    mind you.. if u know bit of your history.. the poor in india are a side effect of all that the country had lost to the hands of colonial rule..
    india currently is “under reconstruction”… and the ambani construction is only symbollic of an india that unfortunately for you my friend is way past your comic book fantasies..and into the future..
    non interference would be my advice to all western viewpoints such as yours.

  8. i find it just so mazing when I read this article posted by this gentlemen. Yes this is a display of wealth…infact this is a blatant way of Ambani showing his power and status. But what is so wrong with it? Infact I argue it is so very required to uplift the image of your country in a global position.

    Look at all the western countries such as the The US with all its skyscrapers which attract hoarrds of people from all corners and give the place an air of respect.

    Or have you sir forgotton how the queen of england lives in Buckingham palace that too on the taxpayers money having about 600 rooms and the same amount of attendants.

    Atleast Ambani has built it on his own steam. Not on bits and bobs funded by uk taxpayers.

    It is also very easy to say that ambani should help the poor out instead of creating such a monstrous tower. But Then I argue that the rich western nations should help the poor countries out especially if they have had their wealth been built by free labour and exploiting other countries…dont you think!!!

    Ahh…its so easy to show as if one is humanetarian especially after you have accumilated so much wealth. Where was all of this when this wealth was being accumilated I wonder?

    I can keep on giving such examples of hypocracy…but whats the point. The only point is that we indains are moving towards success and im sorry if it hurts your wanted image of us as snake charmers and poor people, because we are not here to base our actions on your opinion of us.

    Kudos to Mukesh. As the famous saying goes…to Be successful one has to look successfull.

    And oh The house of five hundred million means that mukesh has just taken that money out and pumped it into the indian econmy comprising of thousands of workers who will be imployed in construction and as his staff. After all if articles of could feed people no one whould remain hungry.

    Dont you think???

  9. Please dont fight ,give that contract of building to me ! I will be rich…lol .
    I think thousands of labours will get jobs for his mansions and what more can u think !
    I think i have no right to comment against him as i cannot stop him only thing i think is benefits which i told !
    Ravan had Gold lanka ,where it is now ! same as these materials ! Happiness and peace of mind is important than mansions when u cannot sleep at night ! GOD BLESS INDIA !

  10. All the young minds who have posted comments are all driven to succeed and get rich. This is a natural reaction of those who are focused on money and wealth than compassion for another human being.

    We have some fundamental defects from generations of past as some of you and the author mentioned – awe for richness. We put wealth first than anything. A person is respected on his wealth, not on his character. This comes from poverty of mind. That is why corrupt becomes rich and respected.

    For Indian living standards spending $50 million dollars for a wedding and $100 million for the house is not in sycn with per capita or economic strength of our nation and propotional to its population living in poverty. In the West with per capita of $30,000 and the richest people spends $50 million max on his/her house. With a per capita of $300 per year do your math.

    I am not whinning about Ambani’s display of wealth. As many of you said, it is his wealth and he has every right to spend it. In a corrupt society, most of you commentators accept success through any means and willing to reason with absolute materialism. The sadest part is that this comes from the land of spiritual source. If you don’t reject what is wrong and uncompassionate, deeper inside, you are and wish to be corrupt too.

    Amabani has the right to spend his money, but, it simply shows he is not compassionate for the poor in his country and most of you display your greed and lack of compassion too. How much charity he has done?

    Wealth is not a bad thing and we all should aspire to live in abundance while we develop our human side and feel empathy for the poor and suffering.

    Dream high and be human too.

  11. I really find this hype about Ambani’s buildings hilarious. The commenatators seems to assume India is a country of slums and no one has seen a posh building. Please get out of your fear, people are not so dumb. What about oberois, taj, leela, palaces-turned-hotels, posh residential encalves, rashtrapati bhavan, bunglows of big babus, towering commerical buildings across mumbai, lives of film stars, beach bungalows? Are people dancing around these houses with placards in their hands, or are they sane enough not to behave like little children who have just opened their eyes in the world.

    Even your car and flat will seem obscene to a pavement dweller, if he is so inclined. Why are you so kind only on ambani, how about comparing your middle class riches to a pavement dweller sometimes? No you wont think so, because you take your luxuries for granted. These millions of middle class exmaples of luxuries (necessities to us)hurt a poor person more than an occasional super-industrialist or rajah. so please dont dump your guilt on ambani.
    All this deep-seated fear of the ‘revenge of the masses’ has never played out in reality, because everone is fighting to move up, not wasting his energy in revolutions, except some fully paid lumpen elements.

    People have to work hard to move up. ambani has. people who feel jealous of their success, to mind are losers. possibly very lazy and jealous. We cant live in fear of them. Let them come and fight, who is afraid.

  12. Well..let me take Mukesh’s side here…

    What the building of such a tower signifies – is that a family can come from rags to riches and build towers, and it doesnt take many generations to do that… even if it is a display …i’m sure for a small poor kid watching at a 27 story building..will only put a small shine in his eyes (and his heart) that one day later in his life..he too can hope to achieve something like this….

    And there is nothing more than ‘hope’ to give ..when it comes to giving…:) Not even wealth… May be knowledge is another… but one who has hope can always acquire the necessary knowledge to realize his hope (or his vision).

  13. I was glad to see that most of the comments were supportive of Mukesh. It is his money, let him spend it. He is creating wealth for countless Indians and spending it in India. Bravo.

  14. I read the article and some of the comments and thought I should drop my 2cents! Well, first of all let’s not forget what Ambani family and RIL have done for the country;they revolutionarized every business sector they ventured into: to name a few Petro in the beginning telecommunications and now the retailing sector. They have generated immense wealth for themselves and for millions of shareholders across the country (I have to stress here that NO, I am not one of their shareholders nor I am benefited by any of their ventures directly).So, my question? here is what’s is Mukesh’s mistake now? to develop a company everyone is proud of and break into every sector traditionally owned by business families? and in the process make some money and want to spend on his family? I don’t see why it is so big of a issue when he is spending his own money. I am really sick of people who always tell go develop the slums instead or donate all the money. It will never end their poverty if someone is always dropping by to give money. So,for all those people who criticize anything I will just suggest to “GET TO WORK” and be a part of country’s success rather than pulling down everyone who wants make it big.

  15. I have read Mukesh and Anil were iving in a “chawl” in Bombay (Mumbai) with their parents when they were small. May be Mukesh is revenging his bitter experience of living in a Bombay chawl.

  16. i dont whether its right or wrong to build a 27 story home. but i do have to wonder what Mukesh’s dad Deru bhai would say about how the fortune he built from the depths of poverty is being spent

  17. I think that what the Ambanis have done for India is much more than what the self righteous babus and the dumb leftists have done or are doing.

    All these stories of corruption that we used to hear (actually they are still there), were because of the utterly foolish and unpractical regulations(they never stop the crime, but sure make criminals out of honest people) that we’ve had to live with.

    When Mukesh spends his wealth he is actually putting it back into the economy (i know even his bank would use the money, btu then how does it make a difference economically), so spending should not be ridiculed. Instead we need to condemn the regulations that have kept a country of immensely talented people poor for so many decades 9and still continue to do so, while patting each other on their backs for being considerate and living a “simple” life).
    Atleast Mukesh’s money is better then the millions that many of our politicians have (which stays out of the economy).

  18. Some of the cost is to make the building strong enough to cope with an earthquake registering 8 on the richter scale. It is also able to withstand a terrorist attack with RDX explosives.

    He’s doing a favor to the skyscraper-starved country.

  19. Bravo Mukesh Ambani! You’ve made the west take notice of you! India’s poverty will not change in a year or two or three… This grassroot problem needs grassroot solutions for which nobody in India is ready yet. Meanwhile the political rhetoric continues unabated, but solutions are evading almost 60 percent of the population. Meanwhile, let Mukesh do his thing and make himself and the rest of us proud. I only hope he is not evading paying taxes to build this massive palace. If he does, it still doesn’t matter because he will get off easy, unlike Ebbers Or Rigas. Why? Because Mukesh lives in India! And no CEO gets convicted here. They’re demi-Gods!!

  20. What amazes me that in a country where 50% of the people live under poverty, rich people do not use their wealth to do more for the poor. Well you are talking about India where corruption is pervasive both at the public and private sectors.

  21. People without money love to tell people with money how to spend their money.

    Why are less fortunate people so concerned with his display of waelth? It’s his money! Let him build his 27-story home. Not everyone in life aspires to “fit in” or be a normal person. Some people have the capability to do big things. I think that his house should be a source of pride for India. It shows that this country is moving forward and is aiming to compete with Western culture and wealth. If I were a billionaire, I would do something like this. Wealth is a thing to be shown with no sense of shame or guilt.

    What is the purpose of getting rich if you have to hide and cower in fear of people not liking you?

  22. As Lord and Master of his wealth, Ambani has every right to throw it around. We can only watch and comment. Has there been any official statement regarding the ‘why’ of the project?
    The Prime Minister’s statement is absolutely in line with the hypocrisy of all Governments. It has been traditional for the ministers to cut deals with Big Business for investment or contracts (with hidden kickbacks), and posture publicly about prudence. It is, again, a matter of rights. No one has the right to dictate to the owner of the money. Business should tell the PM: ‘Man your own problems!’

  23. You are just so jealous!!! Do you think that Bill Gates lives in a little shack. Does any of the places in Beverly hills look any less extravagant, to name a few of the opulent cities of the United States?….

  24. India would be very thankful for Mr.Ambani,if he consider reducing 5 floors in his 27 floor building and spending that money for upliftment of 5 suburb schools near Mumbai.

  25. “Many of the old maharajahs who ruled much of the country before independence (some continue to live as if they still do) deserved ridicule for their sumptuous lifestyles in massive palaces, with hordes of servants, women, cars and elephants to care for their every need.”

    Ridicule? For someone who commands hordes of servants, women, cars, and elephants? How about admiration!

  26. Ambani has money and he has a right to do what he wants. Why we should bother or worry.This new housing complex for him will employ more people temperoily and permanently

  27. I guess, your got the cost figure wrong. It is Rs 400 crore ( $ 100 mn) and not $500 m. In any case, Mumbai Mirror is a tabloid and their reports are to be taken with the seriousness they deserve !

  28. I had the opportunity of working in India for 5 years after being in the U.S. for 13 years.

    I worked at a so called multinational American bank run by Indians, the Indian way. The first year was a living hell ! Right from getting the basic amenities (like a phone connection) which did not materialize despite paying the tatkal fee to getting a birth certificate, one had to grease palms. At the office, this greasing was clearly evident by the presence of police constables at the bank’s administrative office each week waiting for their take. At another foreign bank, I was exposed to false expense reimbursement claims by Senior Executives.

    To pay your Income Taxes, I had to pay
    my chartered accountant. I have only mentioned a few of my experiences in the interest of being brief.

    The Indian system has gotten so putrid, that unless the government strictly enforces existing laws against grafting, with criminal prosecution, nothing is going to change. The legal system too needs an extensive overhaul. We have too many laws and too little enforcement.

    This is what is going to hurt the people and economy in the long run.

  29. While I hate the title of your blog (it promotes the stereotypical, west-centric view of India as a land of snake charmers, elephants and mysticism), I will say I agree with your comments to some degree that this type of house is ridiculou. Irrespective of wealth, a $500 million home is outrageous.

    I don’t think, however, that Ambani because he lives in poorer India should be held to ridicule more than any western businessman who has multiple houses, yachts, etc. Trump, Paul Allen, Larry Ellison, etc are all prodigious in this regard but because the contrast is not so steep, nobody cries out with indignation when they buy their ridiculous toys.

    Ambani can choose to do what he wishes and doesn’t have to carry the banner or be a symbol of India or Indian businessmen. He is one man whose made a foolish decision but nevertheless, just one man. While we may find his actions despicable or whatever, he shouldn’t be held to any higher standard than anyone else about ‘vulgar displays of wealth’.

    Lastly, I’d love to see him reconsider and apportion this money to some more worthy cause, but I’m not holding my breath.

  30. I just don’t understand what’s wrong with a rich person spending his wealth in his own country? Would people be more comfortable with him hiding all his billions in a bank? Or would they rather like him to spend this money buying villas in Europe? I think us Indians should be feeling proud that this man has earned so much money, and instead of hiding it, he is putting that money back into the economy of the country. Think about all the jobs that will be supported by this single construction and maintenance. Maybe he might even bring new technology from outside. Maybe he will make his own house 100 percent green.

    I think we need to change our mentality of looking at wealthy people from a prism of poverty and scarcity.

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