From the Viewsroom

The Mukesh Ambani show makes a case for AGMs that are not stuffy

Venky Vembu | Updated on July 17, 2020 Published on July 16, 2020

Annual General Meetings of companies in India are typically mind-numbingly tedious affairs where, for the most part, the shareholders who do turn up earn their 15 minutes of ‘fame’ by making hagiographic ‘speeches’ and asking inane questions of the board members. That is, when they aren’t stampeding for refreshments and freebies. We don’t get to see the airy informality that characterises the annual shareholders’ meeting of a Berkshire Hathaway, where legendary investor Warren Buffett plays the ukulele and sings along with cheerleaders. For most Indian tycoons, running a company and enriching shareholders is deadly serious business.

The AGMs of Reliance Industries have on occasion broken the mould. In keeping with the image of a company that, under its founder Dhirubhai Ambani, started the ‘equity cult’ in India, with millions of middle-class investing and profiting from the stock market, its AGMs have always been ‘spectacles’, held in public venues. And although the company’s 43rd AGM, on Wednesday, had to be held online, as a concession to the realities of a Covid-wracked world, it was no less a spectacle.

Live-streamed on several platforms, it was watched by an estimated 5.5 lakh people across 473 cities in 41 countries, a viewership and reach that would do rock-star shows proud. Mukesh Ambani and his team — and his family — unveiled big-money plans across many of the conglomerate’s verticals, but it was the company’s digital forays that made for much feel-good viewing, almost as much as at an Apple product launch. It also channelled a masterly event-management discipline that is some time missing even in our showcase performances.

Those with longer memories will tell you that there is much in Reliance Industries’ history, dating back to Dhirubhai’s time, that opens it up to criticism that it leveraged its proximity to power, irrespective of the political formation. That is an ongoing debate, and is unlikely to be settled soon. But the ‘Ambani show’ on Wednesday was in many ways a ‘shareholder showmanship’ event that makes a case for AGMs that are a lot less stuffy.

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Published on July 16, 2020
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