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In this one-of-a-kind episode of the Zinnov Podcast – Business Resilience series, two stalwarts from one of the most diversified, multinational Indian origin conglomerates, Reliance Industries, share a glimpse inside their 20 years of “Period of Excellence” at Reliance.
“When you are building something revolutionary, you may look delusional to those around you.” – Lauris Liberts
The oldest company in the world, Kongo Gumi, has been in existence since about 578 AD – around 1500+ years or so – based in Osaka, Japan. Now, that’s a company built to last. And one of the other companies that has been on the right track and withstood the test of time is Reliance Jio. It has revolutionized the Indian technology and business landscape, brought the Internet to pretty much every household in the country, and has been on an exponential growth journey to leaving its indelible mark on India for generations to come.
In this special episode of the Zinnov Podcast – Business Resilience series, two luminaries from one of the most diverse, multinational Indian origin conglomerates, Reliance Industries – Anish Shah, President, Jio Platforms and Kiran Thomas, President, Jio Platforms, converse with Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner, Zinnov, and discuss the nuances of building such a massive platform, the struggles they have encountered, the leadership lessons that anyone can take note of, and what the future holds for Reliance Jio and beyond. Tune in to find out all about it from the two leaders who work closely with Mukesh Ambani, Chairman, Reliance, day in and day out.
Praveen Bhadada: Hello and welcome to the all-new episode of the Zinnov podcast Business Resilience series. I am Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner at Zinnov, and I will be your host today. Today, we are bringing you a special episode with two luminaries from one of the most diverse multinational Indian origin conglomerates, Reliance Industries.
First up, we have Anish Shah, who’s the President at Jio Platforms. Anish has been an integral part of the company’s journey so far, having worked at Reliance over the last 20+ years. Not only has he helped scale Jio to what it is today, a massively successful telecom player, but also has been instrumental in shaping the future of technology over the next few years.
Our second guest is Kiran Thomas, who’s also a President at Jio Platforms, where he has served various Reliance entities in a multitude of roles. Kiran is another core member of the Reliance team, where he has helmed multiple projects to fruition over the years.
Welcome Anish and Kiran to this podcast. It’s great to have you both today with us.
Kiran Thomas: Thanks for having us.
Praveen Bhadada: Awesome. So let me get started by asking a little bit about your career over the last 20 years. We’d like to call it the ‘Period of Excellence at Reliance’. Give us a little bit of a sneak peek into this 20+ years of journey. And more importantly, what made you commit such a big portion of your career to one company?
Kiran Thomas: Normally our careers have mirrored each other so much, that usually Anish does the introduction for both of us. So maybe Anish would like to do that. And then maybe I can just chip in as needed.
Anish Shah: Thank you very much once again. Kiran and I started our careers together. In fact, he’s slightly older than me in Reliance, otherwise I am older. So he started his career in Reliance, in Jamnagar, when the refinery was being constructed. And that was the time he came out of college, was working with Tata Unisys, and from there he moved to Reliance industries. He was there for almost 20, 25 years plus. In between, Kiran had gone to do his MBA from Stanford. Then he came back and joined Reliance once again.
I had joined InfoComm in 2001 and that was a time both of us came together. I have been all along in the technology area. Initially, the charter was to build InfoComm. And it was a massive thing in 2001, building a CDMA network and then putting up the fiber. I was engaged doing a lot of work with partners, especially AT&T and Nortel. There were many companies whom we had brought in for building technology solutions. Kiran was looking at the business part of InfoComm.
It was exciting as for the first time we were bringing the CDMA services, and in those days, it was very disruptive. As phones were costly and the services were probably not affordable. I think the initial business model of how to crack was Kiran’s brainchild. In fact, he was working hand in hand with Mukesh, Manoj Ambani and all of us.
Both of us then moved to retail together, in 2005. The charter was to build the entire plan before launching services in 2006. So for almost two years, we were learning and building the vision and, identifying the execution plan for how should we go about venturing into retail.
We traveled to international retailers and saw how they created their business model, what are the technology components, and services we have to build to make such a large retail, investment venture.
Of course in InfoComm, Kiran was doing a lot of business work. He then probably single-handedly started bringing all the international partners including Marks and Spencer to Reliance retail. So, he was instrumental in bringing all these partners, giving them the perspective of what is the kind of opportunity and how along with us can they conduct their business, in a large-scale manner. I think they believed in us. And that is the reason you see all our partnerships are very successful in India.
In 2008, when the financial crisis had struck, that was a time when we said that it is imperative that we do transformation of the business because a lot of things were changing. We started building the blueprint of what the transformation should look like, in the people, in processes, in technology.
In 2010, we were working in the transformation space, and there was an auction on the telecom side. And that was the time when Kiran was asked to start looking at the telecom business from a fresh pair of eyes, understanding what all the things we should do. Should we go to 3G? 4G? If we go to 4G, what kind of technology is required?
In 2012, 13th of March, I handed over all my work to the team who was managing transformation. And moved to join Jio along with Kiran, and built the entire foundation, framework for Jio. And since then, we have not looked back. We have not only built the foundation of Jio platforms and now we are completely into building Jio telecom.
Kiran Thomas: The only thing that I would add is, the reason why this has been such a phenomenal journey for us is there’s always something new that we are learning. Originally it was refinery for me, then Telecom, then retail which was completely different. Then coming to the transformation of core Reliance, which was a very different activity. Now with broadband and all the digital services that are building with Jio platforms, every day is like a new chapter, in your learning journey. So that has kept us, extremely connected to everything that is going on in Reliance. Many people have to go through dozens of companies to get this pan of personal development and growth. We were fortunate that we were able to do it within the same group. And our careers have tracked that growth of the company. And that has been the real reason why we have stuck to this company rather than visiting many companies to have such an experience.
Praveen Bhadada: That’s amazing. And thanks for walking us through the entire journey. Mind-blowing in terms of, how time after time you have taken up large initiatives and delivered outcomes for your company. And because of the newness of everything that you’ve done over a period of time, it makes sense for you to commit, such a big portion of your career to Reliance.
One thing I’m very curious to know, is how stressful or not so stressful is it to work with one of the world’s richest man, Mr. Mukesh Ambani? He has always been thinking of the big bang ideas. How does his office look like.
Kiran Thomas: So, I think there is a difference between pressure and stress that I want to first highlight. Pressure is what is coming from outside onto you. And stress is your reaction to the situation. So the pressure is always there because, you know, we take up ambitious projects. The vision is seemingly unachievable sometimes when you get started. And then along the way, there are all kinds of challenges. I mean, nothing worthwhile comes without its own associated challenges and obstacles, and you have to work on them.
The great thing about working with Mr. Ambani is that he’s always there to support. His style is that he will set the vision. He will empower you sometimes even beyond what you feel that you can accomplish on your own. He has the confidence sometimes in you more than you yourself have in yourself, because he’s able to see the capability and the ability to step up. Whenever there is something insurmountable, he is shoulder to shoulder with you to help you. Because he’s a very hands on leader that way. He’s not like, I give it to you and you see on your own. That’s not his style. His style is that he understands how to build new businesses. He understands where our challenges are, he understands how a leader should support or give that confidence to the frontline people, without worrying about anything else other than the goal that they are to achieve. So that has been the style that we have experienced with the chairman.
Anish Shah: I don’t think so it has been any time stressful. We are always eager to learn from him. There is so much to. We are fortunate that we can talk to him, understand from him, learn from him. Our organization is very flat, so we don’t have too much of hierarchies. And I think that is another one of the reasons that talking to Mukesh Ambani is like accessing you, or Kiran. I think that is what helps us to do what we are doing today.
Praveen Bhadada: Makes sense. Lovely to hear. And I think I would define this as a culture of comradery, right? I think the bond that you all share and the fact that you’ve all worked together for the last 20-25 years, built a different kind of environment, everyone understands the working style, it becomes a lot easier for the organization to move forward in the same direction. And while that has always been the way that Reliance has operated, I’m also curious to know about the impact of challenges that the company has gone through in the last 40+ years of its history. There has been big crisis moments like the 9/11, the financial crises, even the current ongoing pandemic. But if you look at Reliance as a company, we truly believe that this is one company that has stood the test of time. So, my question to both of you is that what are the fundamentals of building an organization that is built to last?
Anish Shah: So, I think Praveen, it is always something which is part of our DNA which comes within naturally. We want to do a lot of planning before we get into any business. Once we are there in any business we are always ready to accept any kind of adversity, because we believe that in adversities is where there are opportunities. Whether it was a financial crisis or whether even the pandemic. Probably not many people are aware that when the refinery was on the verge of getting launched, there was a big cyclone, and most of the things which we were building got damaged. And in spite of that, we were able to launch the refinery in time. This is part of our DNA, that we want to work in a manner that we are able to ensure that even if an adversity comes, we are prepared. And at some point in time, this adversity is going to go away and we want to be prepared for things after the crises, rather than worrying about the crises. So looking ahead, always planning for something different, and identifying opportunities from adversities are part of our DNA, part of our acquisition plan. We always think about the worst case scenarios which can happen and create a plan accordingly. That has always helped us in all kinds of situations. Look at pandemic, if there was no Jio I don’t think many people could have survived. The kind of connectivity required, the kind of collaborative systems and platforms which are required for people to conduct their business, could not have been possible if there was no 4G, and if there was no Jio to make it affordable. This pandemic, there’s a lot of learning to make these adversities into better opportunities. Where we can really add value? How can we make our country more sustainable in such situations? And that is, part of our DNA.
Praveen Bhadada: Absolutely I think it’s quite visible in some of the scaled examples that we’ve also seen. In terms of what you’ve done for the popular show Kaun Banega Crorepati, or the kind of execution that you’ve done for the Jamnagar Sea Link, which I believe was built in two years.
So the question that comes to mind is how do you balance as leaders of such a large organization? How much time to spend on planning? How do you still maintain that disruptive pace of execution? Because a lot of what if scenario planning, I’m assuming takes a painstakingly long amount of time, right? So as leaders, where do you find the balance between the two
Kiran Thomas: The key thing is not trying to make something which is already being done a little bit better. That will only take you so far. Even with the best of planning, if you are incremental, your results will also be incremental. But if you want to be extraordinary with respect to results, some of the examples that you mentioned, right. Taking something like a Kaun Banega Crorepati and getting it done in a few weeks of work to launch such an ambitious product, or building hard infrastructure, which is where Reliance excelled in the previous decades. I think the key idea is to find something different about how to approach that problem. So if you don’t have a differentiated strategy and a differentiated model to begin with, planning will only give you incremental results. On the other hand, if you have a great differentiated model, but poor planning then your execution will be poor. So you have to put the two together.
In many cases, I think it comes down to two things –
One is technology because it gives you capabilities which traditionally didn’t exist, especially if you’re looking at cutting edge technology. So in the case of KBC, that was Cloud that we used effectively to build such a high scale system with a very small team, for example. And the second aspect is talent. The people who can come up with these creative ideas and people who can then have the determination to go through all the challenges of execution. So when you put talent and technology together, you get very powerful opportunities to disrupt and do things in a very different way as compared to how people have been, approaching it in the past. And in Reliance we have a word for it, we call it ‘10X’ improvement in something that we are doing. And sometimes we aim for 10X and get a 100 sometimes.
So the idea is to do something extraordinary that almost looks like a quantum leap. And if you think about it from first principles, the technology and the talent is really what got you there to begin with. And of course, all the other characteristics of determination, overcoming challenges. Trying to come up with creative problem solving, because we believe that when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Having the confidence to say that if there’s an adversity, there is much more ability for us. Do something differentiated. Our competition may not be able to follow us through that adversity gate, but we are able to go through it and succeed on the other end because of the capabilities that exist in the group.
Praveen Bhadada: Absolutely brilliant points. I love your comment about business models and the fact that the dependence on tech and talent. Unless an enterprise has the combination of all these components, it’s very hard to imagine success. You talked about, quantum leap, and one of the quantum leap that the country has seen is of course, Jio, which I’m assuming is your favorite baby among all the other babies that you’re delivered for Reliance. And with almost 500 Mn subscribers you are indeed the top Telecom and digital technology leader in the country. First of all many congratulations for what you achieved in a small period of time.
I have a kind of an interesting question, if you really had the superpower to go back in the 2014- 2015 time period, is there anything that you would do differently around Jio? What were the scenarios that you were really blindsided with? Give us a little bit of a background in terms of what would you do different if time allowed you to go back.
Anish Shah: When we look back at 2012-2014, where we were doing a lot of planning. We feel that all our strategies, which we had at that point, were ahead of time. Honestly, if I go back, hardly anything I would have changed. Of course, if I had the power to get Cloud services which is probably now more prominently available and some of the core technologies like 5G, we would have done something different. But I don’t see anything which we would have done differently, rather I feel that we had done something ahead of time, whether it was, building the business model, identifying technology, the 10X experience. There were many industry firsts in the journey. Not many people initially thought that, KYC can be done through Aadhar and onboarding can be brought in less than 5 minutes. Not many people had thought that people are going to use 4G data service, and that was again, industry first, which we had thought about it. Experience wise, I think bringing mobile services, whether it was live TV or your cinema. Today we are talking of OTT products and OTT services, but five years back none of these were even available or affordable. We did things that actually built the foundation of what we call today’s mobile revolution.
Kiran Thomas: In fact, the planning work that we had done, it was in layers of scenarios that could possibly go wrong. Everything from technology to adoption, to product, to competition reaction. But finally, how things turned out has always been much better than what we were planning. For example, the pace at which the service was getting adopted. The prevailing wisdom at the time was, Indians will take decades to adopt data. What will they do with data? They don’t even understand data. They will not adopt technology. Proven completely wrong, right? Within six months, we had a 100 Mn people using Jio services. Content, how people have adopted content, how people have built applications on top of it. I think things have lined up for us as we have gone. And largely that has been because of the preparatory work that we did when we were doing the scenario planning and looking at all possible risks and how to mitigate. The teams have been phenomenal.
So very little to change, but like I said, we are that much wiser, much more capable today. And as people say, take the experience of age and the energy of the youth. You can carry everything from here, back into the past, obviously you will do much, much better. But in those circumstances with what was available around us, we did some phenomenal planning, which has also resulted in the success that you see.
Praveen Bhadada: I’m going to call you two ‘the bros of Jio’. I’m assuming you’re still in the planning phase because there’s lots to be done on top of the Jio platform, over the next 5-10 years, as you truly become the platform of the country. I’m assuming you’re still in that mode right?
Kiran Thomas: Absolutely. The thing about digital is it never stops. The digital is an area which is always fast paced, innovative. There’s a new opportunity always to take advantage of. Now we are talking about the age of AI and Machine Learning. There’s convergence happening all across, multiple technologies coming together, from life sciences to digital technology, to robotics, to drones; when you put all these things together, the possibilities are endless. like the price performance of solutions that you can build are endless, the domains that you can address are endless. Everything from retail to manufacturing, to healthcare, to education. But we have picked our few spots always. You should not get distracted by so many shining objects that you forget the few things you have to deliver on. In the short-term planning, there’s a few priorities that we are pursuing. Right now, Telecom still remains a very high priority, Retail, New Commerce is an area of priority where there’s tremendous growth that we are seeing. Manufacturing, Ford, Auto, that’s our core bread and butter, where we see a lot of opportunities.
There are a few things which really are in our wheelhouse that we are executing, but there’s always early exploratory work that we are doing, because once this is done, what next? So it’s always a question of execution and forward planning, they go hand in hand, especially with digital this will continue for decades to come.
Praveen Bhadada: And just one quick comment that I love to get from you is around planning. If you think of Jio platform, right now we are living in the 4G, kind of at the cusp of 5G world. Are you already planning for 10G, 6G, 7G? How far do you go in terms of planning?
Anish Shah: We are always in a continuous planning mode, that holds true even now. When we were doing 4G, our foundation for 5G was already there. And probably that is the reason today when people are trying to struggle to even identify how to launch 5G, we are almost there. All of us are fortunate to be in this part of our life, where we can not only see 4G, but also 5G and probably 6G. Because the transformation, the innovation which is happening, the pace is accelerating. It took a lot of time for people to get from 2G to 3G and probably it was half the time to get from 3G to 4G and even lesser than that to get from 4G to 5G. I’m sure 6G is at the cusp. People are already experimenting. In fact, in our labs, some work has already started. We also have to see how it is relevant in what we are doing. Like what Kiran said, there’s so many exciting things happening everywhere. But then we need to also identify and pick our right areas where we think we can do something, which is materialistic to the country, to us, to whatever we are providing as a service.
So I think in all these areas, planning will continue to be on the forefront. But I also would say that it is not about planning or experimenting. It is about how well you execute. So, thinking ahead of time, for example, when we were building 4G, we started building our own 5G products. I’m very happy and proud to say that indigenously we are now building our own 5G products. Our teams were working even when we were rolling out 4G. Silently, there was a set of people who were identifying what we should do for 5G. So, whether it is the entire core backbone 5G or whether it is 5G based services or a use case which are related to different industries. We believe we are already there. Probably in few months, you might see a lot of things coming in 5G from us.
Praveen Bhadada: Awesome. And we of course are rooting for you both from the outside as well as from the inside for this platform to be massively successful. Best wishes from the entire Zinnov family to you.
I want to change gears and talk about your leadership style. The interesting thing is that you’ve been around Reliance for 25 years, and you’ve seen all kinds of talent profile that have come and work with you. And all of a sudden, we’re living in the phase of the great resignation phenomenon. Where if you don’t align on the purpose of the company, the talent pool is not really keen to work with you, even if you’re having money. So, I’m keen to understand how your leadership style continues to inspire people to work with, given whatever’s happening in the world today? How do you deal with the talent of today? How does it look different from what it was in the previous years?
Kiran Thomas: Like I mentioned earlier, what excited us to stay with the company and to have such a long career with the company is continuous growth. The fact that we were given phenomenal opportunities, phenomenal outcomes that we were wanting to make in the market, which is the purpose of the company. And it was articulated very well by our chairman. To say, what does it really mean to the country? For example, even our founder chairman. When he started InfoComm in 2001, he said, I want to make a phone call as affordable as a post card. That was the vision. But having a mobile phone was one of the things that qualified you to file a tax return. And he said, I want to make it affordable to the last man in the country. So that resonates, that connects. Once you go through one cycle of that execution, then you see the impact of what you’ve achieved. That gives you tremendous satisfaction and then like an addiction you want to do more of it.
The second thing is growth. When we were starting our careers in InfoComm the opportunities that were given to us, the tolerance, the patience while we developed into that role. And we were able to achieve what we achieved.
I think these are timeless things, right? I mean we focus on the difference between generation to generation. We have seen it play out in 60 years of Reliance. We have seen it play out when it was founded, how Dhirubhai Ambani used to motivate his team, and how he used to get results. How Mukesh Ambani is doing it over the last 30-40 years, that he’s driven the company. And the battle is now with us to do the same for the next set of leaders who are coming down. And the blueprint is simple. If the people don’t grow with you, they’ll find somebody else to provide them the platform to grow. In today’s world, it is highly competitive, especially in digital, the mindset of people have changed in the terms of their tolerance for risk, in jumping from company to company. The skills have very low shelf life. Whatever you have learned five years back, really doesn’t cut it. So the fact that you are with the company for 15 years is not what motivates you. We want to be on the cutting edge and developing your skills going forward. So those things you have to provide to those teams, provide them that vision. You have to be a little bit tolerant for failure. The real transformation that has happened to us over our career has been doing things with our own hands, to now enabling other people to do it. And being there as a support. That’s the support that we got from our leaders who came before us. We have to model that going forward and ensure those leaders further model it down. And that’s how we build depth in the company. And people feel empowered at the front lines and not a few people somewhere high up in the hierarchy.
Anish Shah: I would like to add Praveen, that for us, attracting talent or our leadership style is a lot of things that we have learned from our leaders. What we continue to learn from them, and ensure that the teams are also following the same.
Second thing I would say is the kind of empowerment you get. Empowerment is not given, it’s something that you have to take. And, for doing that, you should have a lot of accountability. The good part is if you fail, there is no penalty for you in Reliance. Probably it is good that you fail. And if you fail fast, everybody will encourage you to see how you can get out of that. How can you really build things? And I believe that is one important thing you don’t have the fear of failure. But you should be always trying to do something different. Innovation is something which is always welcome. If you bring some innovative ideas, however simple it is, people are ready to listen. People are ready to accept. People are ready to make those changes and it can come from anywhere. I think these are some of the core principles, which is part of our leadership style.
In fact, both of us, we work at a grassroots level. We work with, people who are doing coding. We sit with people who are testing Automation. We also sit with people who want to try to design architecture. So probably in any part of activity we want to encourage people.
Praveen Bhadada: I absolutely love it. And I think the rumor has it that you pretty much know everyone’s name in the organization and that you also don’t have an executive assistant to work alongside. You’re pretty hands on. Are these rumors true?
Anish Shah: You’re absolutely right. Both, me and Kiran know people by name. In fact, sometimes I even know their family people because we work so closely that we know. And yes both of us don’t have any support.
Praveen Bhadada: Absolutely. That’s so amazing. Both of you are so down to earth in that sense. Let me turn the question the other way around, right? In terms of the leadership style, if you were to meet the future presidents of, whatever form and shape Jio becomes in the next 20 years – what would be that one piece of advice that you’d give to those future presidents? What should they do to achieve the kind of success that the both of you have achieved in your own careers?
Kiran Thomas: There are a few things which will be timeless for the group. There are 5 mantras of Reliance, which Dhirubhai left us which absolutely holds true today. He always used to say —
Bet with the country, what’s good for the country is good for Reliance. So always look at what India needs to go to the next level. You cannot be wrong, because the entire country will back you when you’re doing such a thing.
Invest in the businesses of the future, not in the past. That’s where growth will come from. Yes, you will have certain businesses which are historical that will have continuity. For example, even in our traditional oil and gas, energy business, the chairman just recently announced that probably we are going to be the first company in the world to go into renewable energy & new materials in such a big way. Ahead of any mandate, ahead of any commercial necessity, he is saying we will be investing to pitch there. Because we see the inevitable, the world is going there. We know it.
The two of the other things that I already mentioned, which is, focus on talent and technology. Because technology has really changed the world. If you look at the last 200-300 years every improvement in our life has come because of some technology somewhere. In terms of talent, don’t try to force fit into anything, build the talent appropriate for the present opportunity.
Then the final thing is always focus on adding 10X value and the customer proposition.
So, if you follow these 5 principles, you are unlikely to go wrong with respect to what you do.
Every person has a little bit of a different style, the details may vary, but these are, I would say the five things you should not get wrong. If I had to add one more mantra, it will be becoming voracious learners in what you’re trying to do. Because the world is changing so fast around you, that you need to take advantage of the changes and use it to its fullest potential. The reason why we are learning from our bosses even today is because they are learning constantly. That’s why we are always challenged to stay ahead.
I don’t know what is going to happen 20 years from now, we have no idea. But we need to have such principles and certain philosophies that will hold you through all those opportunities and challenges of the future.
Anish Shah: I think the only thing I would like to add is that you should be ready to accept challenges. If you have everything, but you’re not willing to take challenge. You are not a team player, then probably it becomes very difficult for you to reach to that level.
Praveen Bhadada: Absolutely. I think the way you both articulated, it’s almost like timeless lessons. So, absolutely great bundle of advice that you’ve given to young aspiring leaders.
One of the rumors that we hear in the market, is that you are great negotiators. So, despite ruthless competition in the market, despite you being master negotiators, vendors are still wanting to continue to work with you. So what’s the mantra there?
Anish Shah: I would say that negotiation is an art and science both. You should have the skills of doing it. First of all you should step in the opponent’s shoes to really understand what he or she is trying to do in terms of billing. Whether it is buying systems or software, or negotiating for services or doing a partnership. I think one of the things is how do you convince the opponent. You should be prepared to either convince or get convinced. We always find a way. We believe that there is always a way, when there is a will. Apart from that, I’m sure there are many books which explains the art of negotiation, but I believe these are very simple things, which always helps.
Praveen Bhadada: Yeah. And I think it’s important for our audience to know that you are actually very supportive of the partner businesses as well. So it’s not just their relationship and engagement with Reliance as a company, but both of you as individuals have also gone above your roles and charters to really help these partners be successful, outside of the Reliance ecosystem as well. That truly talks about the leadership style and your approach.
Anish Shah: Again, this is something which we have learned from our leaders. We always want to work with partners. We believe that we are there because of partners. We always believe that as an individual or as a company, we will not be able to achieve, unless we have support from the partners. We should never step over them. It is always reciprocative. This simple mantra has really helped us.
Praveen Bhadada: This has been a brilliant conversation. I can go on. I think, there’s so much to talk with the both of you. And there’s so much to cover that one-hour time is typically less to do this. But I’m cognizant of the time that you all have as well. But before I let you both go, we typically do a segment with our guests where we try and get to know a little bit more. We do a few rapid fire questions. So, whatever comes to mind, you can just let me know.
Are you a morning person or night person?
Anish Shah: Definitely night person. In night probably I believe there’s a lot more we can do, especially silent hours are great. So we can do our own study. Otherwise throughout the day, we are either in meeting or calls, but, night time gives us the opportunity to learn. Also catching up on news.
Praveen Bhadada: Okay. Perfect.
Kiran Thomas: Yeah night-time absolutely. I think it also comes a little bit from having to logically close out something before you can sleep peacefully. So sometimes there are things running in your mind that you want to get to a logical closure. Then we have family towards the later half of the evening. So you get to sit down peacefully and to digest everything before it is forgotten and out of your mind.
Praveen Bhadada: Perfect. So outside of work, what is your favorite pastime? What do you like to do?
Anish Shah: Relaxing using music. I love music. So, when I’m doing nothing, music is the way I get relaxed. Of course, I don’t play much, but I like to listen. Of reading books as well. And then surfing the net and doing something where I can learn something happening globally. Those are probably my pass time.
Praveen Bhadada: Okay, perfect. Kiran sir, how different is your pass time?
Kiran Thomas: I grew up playing basketball, so that still remains a little bit of a pastime for me. Of course I’m not able to play competitively. Age has caught up a little bit. But just being on the court by yourself, shooting the hoops, it takes your mind away from a lot of pressing worries. And the satisfaction of seeing the ball go in, feels you have accomplished something. It also keeps you fit.I was starting to pick up tennis before COVID started. I had dragged Anish also to the court after work.
Anish Shah: After office hours there will be at least a 45 minutes session of Tennis. Because of him, I also started learning tennis.
Praveen Bhadada: I was wondering how are you breaking the bro code. Because you’re doing everything together. So the favorite pastime has to be something similar.
Kiran Thomas: If we talk about the other way around, Anish forced me to learn the guitar. So that makes a bit of you know picking up each other’s hobbies and keeping it interesting. But I think basketball and sports has always been kind of the outlet outside of work.
Praveen Bhadada: Okay. So what’s the background behind people calling you Bhai?
Anish Shah: Of course I come from a Gujrati background, so that is natural. And then I think it has also become very colloquial. And I don’t mind as long as they call me and I’m able to respond, it’s fine.
Praveen Bhadada: So extending that colloquial logic KT sir what kind of funny names have you been called?
Kiran Thomas: We try to add the suffix appropriate to that person’s, culture and origin. So anybody from Bengal would have ‘da’, or someone from the North will have ‘ji’ added. They tried adding Anna to my name, but it didn’t quite fit. So people call me Kiran or KT and I’m pretty happy with that.
Praveen Bhadada: What does the chairman’s office call you? What does Mukesh bhai like to call you?
Kiran Thomas: So, there are two things, in spoken communication he calls us by our first name. Sometimes he adds a Bhai to it. In written communication he writes initials, which is kind of a style in Reliance. So KT etc. This way it’s easier for the secretaries and other people to figure out who he is talking about. But in the spoken conversation, it is pretty casual, like Anish bhai and then he would call him Mukesh bhai and it goes back and forth. So, it’s a very egalitarian type of a very loving and symmetric type of addressing pattern.
Praveen Bhadada: Wonderful. So, if you were made the chairman of Reliance for one day, one thing you would prioritize? What is that one thing that you’re going to really focus on in that one day?
Kiran Thomas: Probably, if I was the Chairman, I would love to learn a lot, more than me trying to change a lot. Because there are parts of the company, which we know, and I’m sure there’s a depth to the company, which we don’t. And as a chairman, you have that vantage point. So certainly there’s an opportunity to use that one day to its maximum potential. Otherwise a company like Reliance has great momentum already, and the vision, team, execution is great. Probably the maximum use would be for me to plug into that a little bit more using the vantage point of the chairman. So maybe it’s more what Reliance can offer to me, rather than what I can offer to Reliance.
Praveen Bhadada: Awesome. On that humble note, my final question to both of you is if you would define Jio in a single line in 2025, how would you like to define Jio 5 years down the line?
Kiran Thomas: I think the vision that we were given is creating a digital society first in India and then find a global audience as well. So we will continue to drive that agenda of creating that digital society, everything from connectivity, solutions, Cloud, AI/ML. Making a tangible difference to the lives of people, companies and so on within India. We would succeed if the country as a whole prospers. And the reason why this vision got created is because we have the 4th industrial revolution going on globally. And whoever is having those digital skills and capabilities, will progress rapidly.
So we believe we should be able to overcome a lot of the challenges and bring broad-based prosperity. At the same time if Jio as a company is taking those solutions, invented and proven in India, and then reach out to the World. We will start creating value even outside the Indian boundaries. Which is what other developed countries have done. They’ve always reached out and become more global. So, if we can help India become more global, and we can also become more global, that would also be a metric of success, with respect to value addition.
Anish Shah: I think you summed that very well. I would say, by 2025 Jio will be global. Jio will be having a lot more in technology services and platforms. I definitely see Jio to be a large scale global company. We aspire to be that by 2025.
Praveen Bhadada: Best wishes to both of you. As Indians we would be really proud to see an Indian brand conquering the world and in the process delivering tremendous value to people. I think Jio and the Reliance family has all the ingredients, the leadership, the technology prowess, and access to the ecosystem to make that happen. I think for me personally, this was a conversation that was truly insightful. We learned how instrumental you’ve been in Reliance’s journey so far and what the future holds, like you talked about global expansion, how the future looks for Jio and the Indian tech ecosystem over the next few years.
I’m truly hopeful that our listeners will find this special episode very insightful, enlightening, and more importantly fun. Both of you really opened up and I really thank you for sharing all the perspectives and insights with an open heart. This is going to be a big experience for our audience. And I’m pretty sure they’ll take a lot of learnings and lessons as they themselves become the leaders of the future.
Anish Shah: Thank you very much, Praveen. I think, it has been a pleasure to answer some good questions which you raised. I think this was very memorable for us. Thank you.
Kiran Thomas: Thank you.
Praveen Bhadada: Thank you everyone for tuning into this episode of the Zinnov Podcast – Business Resilience series. We’ll be back with another episode soon with another illustrious guest. Until then, take care and stay safe.