Nita Ambani is now the most powerful woman in Indian media

Just a few months ago, Nita Ambani stepped away from frontline business to focus on philanthropy. Now, the wife of Asia’s richest man is back with the biggest job in the ferociously competitive world of India media.

She will be the chairperson of the $8.5 billion behemoth that will be formed through the merger of Disney’s (DIS) media interests in India and those of Reliance Industries, the business empire controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani.

The 60-year-old’s new position comes less than two years after her husband set a succession plan in motion for the $236 billion conglomerate, which spans retail, technology and renewable energy. He plans to hand the empire to their three children.

Nita Ambani will not be steering the media giant alone. Uday Shankar, former president of Disney’s Asia Pacific unit, will be the vice chairperson of the joint venture and provide “strategic guidance,” the companies said in a statement Wednesday.

The Disney-Reliance deal is expected to be completed by late 2024 or early 2025, provided regulators and shareholders grant their approval.

Nita Ambani first stepped into the business limelight 10 years ago, becoming the first woman director on the board of Reliance Industries.

That appointment, made months after regulators urged listed Indian companies to improve gender diversity in boardrooms, was criticized by some analysts as tokenism.

She resigned from the board last August to “devote her energies and time” to the Reliance Foundation, which focusses on philanthropic initiatives of the group, the company said in a statement at the time.

Described as an “educationist, philanthropist, businesswoman” by the group, Ambani’s wife already has extensive experience in promoting sports and arts in the country. She is the owner of Mumbai Indians, a cricket team in the hugely popular Indian Premier League (IPL).

Sport will be key to the success of the new media venture. Disney India had been facing multiple challenges before the merger was announced. It was hit particularly hard in 2022 when it lost the digital rights to stream the IPL cricket matches to Reliance, resulting in the loss of millions of subscribers.

Trained in the Indian classical dance form of Bharatnatyam, she founded The Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai last year, which brought India its first major Broadway show, The Sound of Music, in May 2023.

Married to Mukesh Ambani since 1985, she is also a member of the International Olympic Committee and an honorary trustee of the Board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


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