Satya Nadella, Mukesh Ambani talk changing landscapes of digital India

Nadella talked about India’s burgeoning digital potential, given its 560 million Internet users, 450 million mobile users. Photo: Kamlesh D Pednekar
Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani and Microsoft Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Satya Nadella engaged in a
fireside chat on Monday at the St Regis Hotel in Mumbai.

The chat was attended by 150 CEOs at the Future Decoded CEO Summit, and talked about the nuances of overhauling a business landscape, the progress telecom had made over the years, and the potential of India as a digital nation.

Nadella, who had earlier made a solo presentation to the audience, talked about India’s burgeoning digital potential and growing appetite for technology, given its 560 million Internet users, 450 million mobile users, and a start-up ecosystem that is the third-largest in the world.

He said 72 per cent of jobs for software engineers were outside the technology industry, thereby indicating that the defining capability for companies would hinge on how they built their own technology.

India, Nadella pointed out, has a youth population with 650 million residents under the age of 25, and an information technology industry valued at $180 billion, before getting Ambani on stage for a discussion.

Ambani lauded Nadella’s leadership style, built on trust, empathy, partnerships, and the philosophy that it wasn’t just about product or profit but about people and their continuous reinvention of capability which was the strength of an organisation.

“I’m very privileged you have committed to India on a scale that I never anticipated that a multinational will, and we’re very excited about the partnership that Jio and Microsoft will have. And I think, as we look at this decade, it will be a defining partnership. So, thank you for your commitment to India,” Ambani said.

“I think as we are speaking President Trump has arrived in Ahmedabad and the India he will see in 2020 is very different from the one that President Carter or President Clinton or even President Obama saw when they came. We have millions of people on the street and each one having their own personal experience with their phones with a network strong enough and I can say that mobile networks in India are better or on a par with anywhere else in the world and that’s a big change.” 

“The infrastructure in the stadium in (Gujarat) is better than anywhere in the world, and that’s the India as we start 2020,” he said.

“When you were joining Microsoft in 1992 the economy in India was $300 billion and today it’s Rs 3 trillion and fundamentally this whole progress in a certain way has happened on the back of technology,” Ambani said. The transformation was supercharged in 2014, when the prime minister gave the country a vision of digital India, Ambani said, adding he was privileged to play a very small role in it with the launch of his telecom company Jio.

“Just to share, pre-Jio we had what we called broadband with 256 kbps in India and post-Jio we now have 21 mbps as average speed on data across every single village in India. The pre-Jio data price was Rs 300 to Rs 500 and for the poor as high as Rs 10,000 a GB and post-Jio it’s between Rs 12 and Rs 14 a GB and what Jio has achieved in the last three years is 380 million customers who have migrated to 4G technology.”

Referring to how the landscape could be completely changed, Nadella asked Ambani what his ambition was in the context of what he could do for small, medium, and large businesses.

“Let me say that Reliance was founded as a start-up five decades ago with a table and a chair and Rs 1,000. It then became a micro industry and then small and medium and today you can consider us large — I have been again very fortunate in knowing Steve (Ballmer) and Bill Gates from my Stanford days when Bill was recruiting Steve and I have seen the growth of Microsoft since then. Every small business and entrepreneur in India has the potential to become a Dhirubhai Ambani or a Bill Gates and that’s what differentiates India from the rest of the world: The entrepreneurial power we have in our grass roots is enormous.”

Mukesh Ambani’s father, Dhirubhai Ambani, got started more than five decades ago with a dream and created what is today, one of the most amazing stories in business, and now that Mukesh Ambani was leading this organisation, what drove and inspired him and what would he like to see happen, Nadella asked him.

“I think that the opportunity that we have for India, really, is the opportunity to become the premier digital society. I think all the components are coming in. I have no doubt in my mind that we will become one of the top three economies in the world,” Ambani said. “Can we really be a pacesetter in terms of using our technology?”

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