In the West, many sit in office with golf sticks but not with their CEOs: HR experts on Ambani's open office

Nov 08, 2015, 08:01 IST | Shantanu Guha Ray

Human resource veterans say, by moving from cabin to open desk, Mukesh Ambani is reordering Reliance corporate culture beyond recognition

What makes India’s richest man just like you? The desk he sits at.

Chairman and MD of Reliance Industries (RIL), Mukesh Ambani, as of three days ago, is operating from a desk in an open office on the seventh floor of P22 Building at the Reliance Corporate Park, in Navi Mumbai. It’s from here that the conglomerate will deliver its 4G services, branded Jio.

Mukesh Ambani at his desk beside Manoj Modi in the open office of Reliance Jio Infocom in Navi Mumbai where he and 70 top leaders will now operate from
Mukesh Ambani at his desk beside Manoj Modi in the open office of Reliance Jio Infocom in Navi Mumbai where he and 70 top leaders will now operate from

In a country where corporate tycoons like MF Husains on the walls of their luxurious gated working spaces, Ambani, says Chandan Chattaraj, human resource veteran and currently President HR of the UFLEX Group, “is dismantling walls to usher in transparency, ensure confidence and guarantee seriousness”.

The move, that seeks to tell his 17,500 staffers, “I am one of you”, is being termed a trail blazer in the country’s human resource industry that has, for generations, remained tumultuous due to management-labour friction, recently seen in the tea gardens of Assam and Bengal that produce half of the world’s chai.

“Tycoons dismantling barriers is unique,” says Prabir Sen, a top data scientist, based in Vancouver. “The West has not done it; it is a new trend, and different from CEOs sharing meals [with staff] in the same cafeteria.”

Sen says he is optimistic that the HR transformation will help RIL transform its corporate culture, once synonymous with white shirts and black pant executives.

The idea, it’s believed, came from his daughter Isha, 23, director at Reliance Jio Infocomm together with her twin, Akash Ambani. Both are educated in the US: Akash went to Brown University, and Isha to Yale, following which she was business analyst at Mckinsey for a year. Akash added value to the idea by pushing for a 24-hour cafeteria that serves healthy food.

The children, say sources, were in many ways, responsible for shaping the white, grey and ochre decor, even creating corners for chatter and cubicles for serious conversation.

Chattaraj shares that many leaders in the West sit in their offices with golf sticks, cookie jars and hamsters, but not with their CEOs. “He is bridging a generation, not a gap,” says Chattaraj of Ambani.

Giving Ambani company in the gargantuan hall on the seventh floor will be his old associate Manoj Modi, who incidentally sits beside him, and Akash and Isha.

Ambani, who has retained his position as India’s richest person for close to a decade, has also encouraged his staff not to keep long hours after sunset.

“There is another advantage — you always work more when your boss is around, at least in India,” says Sen, whose human behaviour study won him a top award from the Singapore government
last month.

Interestingly, the News-week magazine had once reported that Reliance employees call Ambani, “The Boss”.

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