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Nita Ambani

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Nita Ambani

Keeping pace with Nita Ambani is close to impossible. But if you ask her, it is just this frenzy and the love for making a difference through her work that keeps her going. The first lady of corporate India dons many, many hats; most of her ventures have been sensational hits. But ask her how, she, measures success and she will tell you that it is through seeing her children grow into humble and compassionate individuals. Read More

Nita Ambani


Keeping pace with Nita Ambani is close to impossible. But if you ask her, it is just this frenzy and the love for making a difference through her work that keeps her going. The first lady of corporate India dons many, many hats; most of her ventures have been sensational hits. But ask her how, she, measures success and she will tell you that it is through seeing her children grow into humble and compassionate individuals.

GJ: What makes you most proud as a mother?

NA: When Akash and Isha joined Brown and Yale, they stayed in a dorm. They shared little rooms. Isha was in a bunk-bed. They did everything that any other child would do there including common toilets and bathrooms, eating at the canteens and not once have they said that we would want to do anything differently. I think, as a mother, I thought that was big. And also, their friends that came back– Isha was elected president of the Asian Society – not many of their friends even knew their background in India. Then Isha took up a job after she graduated from Yale at McKinsey. Every Monday morning there was a flight she had to take and she would wake up at 3.30am in -14 or -15 degrees and take a flight to Milwaukee which was even colder and more frozen and work there and come back. I don’t think she even complained once and, I think, she just wanted to contribute and learn as much as she could. So I think, most importantly, all three of them are highly compassionate human beings. They are kind, they value people, respect people and that makes me very proud.

GJ: You have spoke about a lot middle class values… can you tell us a little bit more about the values that you hold dear to yourself and that you have tried to inculcate in your kids?

NA: First and foremost respect for elders – that is something that is non-negotiable. When you grow up in a middle-class family where we were 11 of us cousins in the same house with uncles and aunts and you imbibe the culture of being non-judgmental, of being supportive, of sharing and of loving and care. I think all those are so important to share all that you have is to be compassionate and understanding. You live so closely you understand each other and are compassionate about what the other person is thinking or feeling. We didn’t have luxuries in life but we had adequate comforts. Sometimes, those also were difficult. But I think, there was this unconditional acceptance which is a wonderful place to be in.

GJ: It said that children are the greatest teachers for any parent. Any lessons that you must have learnt from them that’s enhanced your own personal journey.

NA: Oh, the lessons you learn the most when you have three young kids is patience. People say you look so calm and you are juggling so many things – I say when you have three kids in three years, your patience kind of… Besides that, for me, spirituality and religion mean a lot. I just count my blessings for being blessed, for being a mother, and that’s what having these three has meant to me because very early in my marriage I was told that I couldn’t have children and for me, the most emotional part is that you count your blessings everyday because God has given you a chance to be a mother.

GJ: Every mother has some very significant dreams for their children. Are there dreams that you have for your children that you would like to share?

NA: It’s very important that we have raised our children with the values we thought are important in life and in whatever they do, we need to know that they are happy. The purpose of all of us doing so many things is that we create happiness for ourselves and happiness for others. If they can do that and give their earnest best and have a sincerity of purpose in all they do, I will be happy. And do it with honesty and as my father-in-law said there is a very fine line between being clever and crooked and never cross the line. I always told my children that.

GJ: You have successfully handled so many projects while being a hands-on mother. What has given you immense satisfaction throughout your journey?

NA: I don’t know about projects but I think, if I have to say what gives me maximum happiness, I would say being a mother to my children. I think that’s paramount to me. There is nothing more worthwhile in my life and there’ll never be! So, I guess raising my three marvellous children has given me the maximum happiness and the maximum joy. I think, after that, its education. I was a teacher when I was 21 and just the feeling of going to a school and entering a classroom and seeing a blackboard and young eyes seeking knowledge – to see the innocence, to see them enjoy learning – this is something that drives me. I think that is something I am very passionate about.

GJ: You spoke about education being so important to you and Dhirubhai Ambani International School was one of the first big projects you took up on this front. What propelled you to start the school?

NA: You are taking me back to history now... I think 30 or 31 years ago when the proposal came for Mukesh from my father-in-law and I had gone to meet him in his office completely overwhelmed... you know, a young girl of 20 or 21 is called by Dhirubhai Ambani to meet him! I was wondering what could it be and when I realised it was for his son, I just said one thing – that I would like to continue working and that’s what I did. I did what I wanted to do and as a teacher, I taught for many years under my maiden name. Not many people knew I was Mukesh’s wife. Except the Principal, no one knew.

That was the time I always wanted to see how I could be involved in transforming children’s lives through education because I think it’s a key and after that, when the first polyester plant was being put up at Patalganga, Mukesh gave me an opportunity to put up a school for the employees’ children. That was the first school that I put up in Jamnagar and then I realised soon afterwards that in a city like Mumbai, most parents send their children for international education abroad. Then I thought why not set up an international school here and now that I have had enough experience in putting up schools, why don’t I do this. When I spoke to Mukesh’s father and Mukesh, they said if that’s what you want to do and you are committed and have the confidence then why don’t you do it! It will take sometime to succeed because it is the first time an international school is coming up and things like that. But, that’s how my story with Dhirubhai Ambani School started 12 years ago. Just recently we completed 11 yearsof the school. That’s when a very close friend of the family came and told me you have made a very good school but it won’t get many children because it is so far away –who will come to Bandra and Kurla? It was actually in the midst of nowhere. By God’s grace,the school has received accolades for the education it imparts to children who come there.

GJ: You spoke about speaking with Mr Dhirubhai Ambani about the school when you wanted to start it… Can you further share some of your remembrances of your father-in-law and what are the memories that you carry?

NA: The first memories I have of papa is the phonecall that I had at home. I was probably 20 at that time. The caller identified himself as Dhrubhai Ambani and I used to read about the changes he made in the stock and share market and I thought why would Dhirubhai Ambani call me? And so I put down the phone thinking it was a prank call. Again the phone rings and again I think it’s a prank call and I put it down. The third time it rings and my father answers the call and he says that it is actually Dhirubhai Ambani and he wants to talk to you. That was my first experience of papa where it didn’t matter… there was no operator or anybody. He just picked up the phone and called me directly. It shows immense humility to do so and to have that connection with people.

GJ: You have gone through so many transitions and have had a magnificent evolution from getting married to the leading business family, to becoming a mother, to getting into education, philanthropy. You became the first lady of corporate India and today, you are a formidable brand in your own right globally. How does it make you feel?

NA: You don’t feel any different because you always remain the person you are and this is true for any person. So, I don’t think as a person, I feel any differently. I think, all that just gives me more strength to take on more things, especially, for social impact. I think, I get extremely motivou have expressed successful leadership across all projects… what keeps you so motivated to take up new challenges and stay so focused across?

NA: I think first and foremost, I love what I do and if it impacts and changes peoples’ lives and thinking, I feel it is worth the time. So, when football came to me, I didn’t know a thing. I didn’t know a thing about cricket and I jumped into it and now, it’s in my DNA. Same with football! But I just thought India deserves to have one more sport. Not just one, many more sports. We need to be a sporting nation. We are over 1.25 billion people and our young children should be given a chance to play different sports. And if I can, for football, kind of get little kids – lakhsand millions – to take up sports, kicking a football, probably think of that as a profession, then I think I have done my job well.

GJ: That brings me to your journey at the IPL… IPL saw your leadership come forth, from being a self-confessed novice to taking Mumbai Indians to number one position through successive seasons. What training did you go through personally to lead the team?

NA: I just jumped into it not knowing what I was doing. We were at the bottom of the table for the first two years. When Mukesh bought the team, I was completely against it. I said we had enough on our plate. I had just put up my school; we were working on the Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City for Infocom. There was so much happening – Jamnagar was getting stabilised. So I was like why do you need one more thing now? The first two years we didn’t do well. And I said let me once go and see what’s happening and I realised we need to bond as a team. For one year, before the season started, this was in 2009 – I think every day I used to watch cricket for two hours, only to understand the game. I didn’t know a thing! The only games I went to watch when I was young with my mother were the test matches when Pataudi or someone else would bat. So right from learning the nuances of different kinds of bowling to what has to be appreciated, I learnt on the job. Then, I started interacting with the team – sitting and talking to them - what makes them tick. We had these long conversations with Sachin and Harbhajan in the team. We bonded as a team and we reached the finals. For me, I cherished that journey. I cherish every moment that I learnt so much.

GJ: If you could tell us a little more about the learning you took from that experience so that we can learn from it.

NA: You know, sport is such a leveller. I think it gives our youth a chance to channelize their energy in a very positive way. It also teaches you how to win and lose gracefully. These are the lessons that are so important in life where everything is not about winning. And, I think the most important, it teaches you – as Sachin says –to respect the team, to respect individuals. Because no one person can make anybody win. It is always the team. So I have realised it’s so important to work well with the team. It’s not one person who can deliver anything. When you put up a team that works smoothly together and everybody is so motivated to win one magical goal that everything happens.

If I think about it now, I became part of the team. Day before yesterday I was at a dinner for Rohit and Sachin and Anjali were there and when you have cricket boys, they only talk cricket. So Anjali was like they will only talk cricket but you are so comfortable because you sit with them and talk cricket yourself. I said absolutely… I feel so much at ease. So I just thought that I became one of the team members. And we had this wonderful bonding camp where they shared experiences about what made them great cricketers. Again, there was no pressure to win. I just went in and said that enjoy every moment on the field and give it your best. And, if you give your best, I am going to be damn very happy and I think that’s what they did.

GJ: How different is it to lead a team, than lead a school, than lead a hospital – because you succeeded in all three.

NA: One is I think believing in every team member and empowering them. It is so important to empower your people and tell them to take decisions and tell them I am there backing you. I backed each of my people. It’s all right if you make mistakes. For me, getting all my teachers and giving them the confidence that they can go out and give their best and I am there backing them – this is something I enjoy. I enjoy a very participative way of working. I love nurturing.

GJ: We spoke about spirituality and hence, I want to ask you about your spiritual beliefs and practices that you hold dear and how have they helped you overcome the difficulties that you may have experienced?

NA: Something that Mukesh and I do everyday together is to pray. We don’t leave the house without praying. That’s something that my children do in their own way. I think belief in someone who is there looking after all of us and eventually, destiny pays a large role. All of us as human beings can do that much and then there are some things you have to leave to the Almighty. That’s where my belief comes from. Humanly I can do that much and beyond that, there is a supreme human being looking after all of us.

GJ: You spoke of Mr Ambani and that leads me to ask you… Mukesh Ambani is well-known for the business side but very little is known about him as a person. If you can tell us about the values he holds dear and how has he evolved since you first met him so many decades ago?

NA: Mukesh is a quiet person; he is a visionary... he thinks of all these grand ideas. When we talk, he is extremely emotional and he has actually raised the kids hands-on. So, there was a time when I used to be working late but he used to be home, looking after the kids. He has been an equal partner in my marriage so that he has given me the impetus and the roots that I have to go ahead and achieve what I want to. I don’t know,I have just seen the world of him! We are married for 30 years now and I get inspired every time I am with him. He has the floodlights in life. He talks about the big things, about the change, about taking people together… but, he is shy and a little bit of an introvert. He loves the family time. He is a fabulous son. I think all mothers and fathers want a son like him. He is a great friend to have. For me, it’s our friendship, our partnership together. We are friends more than anything else. We just enjoy being together. For the kids, at one time, he was a father and now, he has become their friend. They also look up to him. All three of them hero-worship their father. Mother, they kind of take for granted, but father, they absolutely adore.

GJ: Your mantra for a successful marriage.

NA: There is no single mantra (laughs)! I don’t have a mantra but there is something that I continue doing is that I would wait up for him for dinner, and he would wait for me. When we are in Bombay, we don’t have dinner without each other. That gives us time to bond and share our day. I think that meal times, the togetherness is something that… he still takes me for drives in the night, so, both of us spend twice a week probably going out on this drive, listening to good music and coming back. We bond over work. There’s so much to make a change, to make a social impact, there’s so much we can talk about our work – how we can make a change, what is good for India, what is good for people – those are things that are dear to us and I have three children!

GJ: How does it feel to be Mrs Mukesh Ambani?

NA: I don’t think I can be anything else besides being his wife. I was married when I was 21. All that I have experienced and all that I have is because I am Mukesh’s wife. I don’t think I know about anything else than being Mukesh's wife.

GJ: Being the first corporate lady of India and from such a successful business family gives you immense power. However, what does power mean to you?

NA: To make the change, to empower people. I think power cannot be brokered. Power is something that you lend to people and motivate them. The biggest thing is to empower people and give it away.

GJ: The amazing number of friends you have across fields and across countries has always been a talking point in social circles. What’s your secret to making and nurturing friendships the way you do? What makes you so good with relationships?

NA: Some of my friends go back to schooldays. So my best friend lives in the US and California – she is a dentist and we have been school friends from the time we were six years old. Dr Firoza Parikh has been a godmother to my children and is my soul sister. I have Swati Piramal who I have known since I was very young. I think, if you are true to yourself, and you are true to your friends and you know you are unconditional and stand by them –whenand what it doesn’t matter – friendships stay.

GJ: A lot of young adults there want to emulate you. What would your message be to them?

NA: All I would say is that there is no substitute to hard work. Make your best effort, chase excellence every day; don’t worry about the results, they will follow you.ated to do more things and I just wished there were 27 hours in a day.

GJ: How do you juggle so many roles and what’s a typical day like in Nita Ambani’s life?

NA: Some days back when I was at the Mumbai match at Navi Mumbai, Ranbir (Kapoor) asked me the same question and I told him, everyday is different and it depends on a lot of things. To give you an example, that day, I started off by going to school for 2-3 hours after which I came to the hospital for the next 4-5 hours and from there, I went to New Bombay for the football league. So, right from education to healthcare to sports– everything was completed in a day and that issomething I relish so much because that’s an opportunity to make a change, if I can, in various avenues.

GJ: Reliance University is your next big project. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

NA:It is still in the planning stage but this is something I want to do –a school for journalism, a school for theatre, a school for performing arts and also do technical, engineering and medical. I think children need to be given a choice; there can’t be compartments –thatyou have to either choose this or that. There needs to be an all-round development in children. So hopefully, in a few years from now, that dream will take shape.

GJ: How do you feel after the inauguration and successful running of the Reliance Foundation Hospital?

NA: As it is for all start-ups, it is the busiest time for us. All of us want to make doubly sure that things work smoothly for all the people who come here. So, it’s a very busy time at the hospital and most of us are sleeping for 2-3 hours at night.

GJ: You have expressed successful leadership across all projects… what keeps you so motivated to take up new challenges and stay so focused across?

NA: I think first and foremost, I love what I do and if it impacts and changes peoples’ lives and thinking, I feel it is worth the time. So, when football came to me, I didn’t know a thing. I didn’t know a thing about cricket and I jumped into it and now, it’s in my DNA. Same with football! But I just thought India deserves to have one more sport. Not just one, many more sports. We need to be a sporting nation. We are over 1.25 billion people and our young children should be given a chance to play different sports. And if I can, for football, kind of get little kids – lakhsand millions – to take up sports, kicking a football, probably think of that as a profession, then I think I have done my job well.

GJ: That brings me to your journey at the IPL… IPL saw your leadership come forth, from being a self-confessed novice to taking Mumbai Indians to number one position through successive seasons. What training did you go through personally to lead the team?

NA: I just jumped into it not knowing what I was doing. We were at the bottom of the table for the first two years. When Mukesh bought the team, I was completely against it. I said we had enough on our plate. I had just put up my school; we were working on the Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City for Infocom. There was so much happening – Jamnagar was getting stabilised. So I was like why do you need one more thing now? The first two years we didn’t do well. And I said let me once go and see what’s happening and I realised we need to bond as a team. For one year, before the season started, this was in 2009 – I think every day I used to watch cricket for two hours, only to understand the game. I didn’t know a thing! The only games I went to watch when I was young with my mother were the test matches when Pataudi or someone else would bat. So right from learning the nuances of different kinds of bowling to what has to be appreciated, I learnt on the job. Then, I started interacting with the team – sitting and talking to them - what makes them tick. We had these long conversations with Sachin and Harbhajan in the team. We bonded as a team and we reached the finals. For me, I cherished that journey. I cherish every moment that I learnt so much.

GJ: If you could tell us a little more about the learning you took from that experience so that we can learn from it.

NA: You know, sport is such a leveller. I think it gives our youth a chance to channelize their energy in a very positive way. It also teaches you how to win and lose gracefully. These are the lessons that are so important in life where everything is not about winning. And, I think the most important, it teaches you – as Sachin says –to respect the team, to respect individuals. Because no one person can make anybody win. It is always the team. So I have realised it’s so important to work well with the team. It’s not one person who can deliver anything. When you put up a team that works smoothly together and everybody is so motivated to win one magical goal that everything happens.

If I think about it now, I became part of the team. Day before yesterday I was at a dinner for Rohit and Sachin and Anjali were there and when you have cricket boys, they only talk cricket. So Anjali was like they will only talk cricket but you are so comfortable because you sit with them and talk cricket yourself. I said absolutely… I feel so much at ease. So I just thought that I became one of the team members. And we had this wonderful bonding camp where they shared experiences about what made them great cricketers. Again, there was no pressure to win. I just went in and said that enjoy every moment on the field and give it your best. And, if you give your best, I am going to be damn very happy and I think that’s what they did.

GJ: How different is it to lead a team, than lead a school, than lead a hospital – because you succeeded in all three.

NA: One is I think believing in every team member and empowering them. It is so important to empower your people and tell them to take decisions and tell them I am there backing you. I backed each of my people. It’s all right if you make mistakes. For me, getting all my teachers and giving them the confidence that they can go out and give their best and I am there backing them – this is something I enjoy. I enjoy a very participative way of working. I love nurturing.

GJ: We spoke about spirituality and hence, I want to ask you about your spiritual beliefs and practices that you hold dear and how have they helped you overcome the difficulties that you may have experienced?

NA: Something that Mukesh and I do everyday together is to pray. We don’t leave the house without praying. That’s something that my children do in their own way. I think belief in someone who is there looking after all of us and eventually, destiny pays a large role. All of us as human beings can do that much and then there are some things you have to leave to the Almighty. That’s where my belief comes from. Humanly I can do that much and beyond that, there is a supreme human being looking after all of us.

GJ: You spoke of Mr Ambani and that leads me to ask you… Mukesh Ambani is well-known for the business side but very little is known about him as a person. If you can tell us about the values he holds dear and how has he evolved since you first met him so many decades ago?

NA: Mukesh is a quiet person; he is a visionary... he thinks of all these grand ideas. When we talk, he is extremely emotional and he has actually raised the kids hands-on. So, there was a time when I used to be working late but he used to be home, looking after the kids. He has been an equal partner in my marriage so that he has given me the impetus and the roots that I have to go ahead and achieve what I want to. I don’t know,I have just seen the world of him! We are married for 30 years now and I get inspired every time I am with him. He has the floodlights in life. He talks about the big things, about the change, about taking people together… but, he is shy and a little bit of an introvert. He loves the family time. He is a fabulous son. I think all mothers and fathers want a son like him. He is a great friend to have. For me, it’s our friendship, our partnership together. We are friends more than anything else. We just enjoy being together. For the kids, at one time, he was a father and now, he has become their friend. They also look up to him. All three of them hero-worship their father. Mother, they kind of take for granted, but father, they absolutely adore.

GJ: Your mantra for a successful marriage.

NA: There is no single mantra (laughs)! I don’t have a mantra but there is something that I continue doing is that I would wait up for him for dinner, and he would wait for me. When we are in Bombay, we don’t have dinner without each other. That gives us time to bond and share our day. I think that meal times, the togetherness is something that… he still takes me for drives in the night, so, both of us spend twice a week probably going out on this drive, listening to good music and coming back. We bond over work. There’s so much to make a change, to make a social impact, there’s so much we can talk about our work – how we can make a change, what is good for India, what is good for people – those are things that are dear to us and I have three children!

GJ: How does it feel to be Mrs Mukesh Ambani?

NA: I don’t think I can be anything else besides being his wife. I was married when I was 21. All that I have experienced and all that I have is because I am Mukesh’s wife. I don’t think I know about anything else than being Mukesh's wife.

GJ: Being the first corporate lady of India and from such a successful business family gives you immense power. However, what does power mean to you?

NA: To make the change, to empower people. I think power cannot be brokered. Power is something that you lend to people and motivate them. The biggest thing is to empower people and give it away.

GJ: The amazing number of friends you have across fields and across countries has always been a talking point in social circles. What’s your secret to making and nurturing friendships the way you do? What makes you so good with relationships?

NA: Some of my friends go back to schooldays. So my best friend lives in the US and California – she is a dentist and we have been school friends from the time we were six years old. Dr Firoza Parikh has been a godmother to my children and is my soul sister. I have Swati Piramal who I have known since I was very young. I think, if you are true to yourself, and you are true to your friends and you know you are unconditional and stand by them –whenand what it doesn’t matter – friendships stay.

GJ: A lot of young adults there want to emulate you. What would your message be to them?

NA: All I would say is that there is no substitute to hard work. Make your best effort, chase excellence every day; don't worry about the results, they will follow you.