Seduction of scale

Seduction of scale

Reliance's obsession with thinking big entices the brightest to India's largest private sector conglomerate.

Colossal. Number-driven. Growth machine. Talk to recruiters, HR experts and exemployees about the Reliance Group, and these are the words that are top of mind. That's hardly surprising since it is India's largest private sector conglomerate by market value and sales and its Chairman and Managing Director, Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian. Size surely matters and in the first perception survey of BT on the Best Companies to Work For, Reliance is the top-rated group as a preferred employer.

Although the Reliance Group is ranked #2 in our overall rankings, it does not make the cut because most respondents voted for the group and not for an individual company in the group. A section of respondents voted for flagship Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) as a core sector company, but an overwhelming majority voted for the group as an entity. It is, by far, the highest-rated group.

Mukesh Ambani's empire is spread across petroleum, petrochemicals, textiles, retail and a host of subsidiaries. The group's annual revenues are in excess of $28 billion. RIL is a Fortune Global 500 company. The group has an estimated employee strength of 60,000. The group's website puts the average employee age at 39 years.

According to the survey, Reliance was among top employers across regions — in the East, it was nominated the best even above the overall winner Infosys Technologies. The group fared well across all levels of education — it was in the top 5 across all segments of education. Non-graduates ranked it as their top-most choice. The group is ranked #2 on prestige and company reputation. Also, it is ranked next only to Infosys in career growth.

"A 30 per cent cumulative average growth rate over a long time span is no ordinary task. As an HR model, RIL is nonreplicable. Dhirubhai Ambani created an aura that made people work beyond their capabilities. Mukesh is carrying that tradition forward," says N.S. Rajan, Partner and Global Leader (HR Advisory), Ernst and Young. Adds E. Balaji, CEO, Ma Foi Management Consultants: "They have the unique ability to execute dream projects. The organisation's ability to set goals is unparalleled."

A sceptical view is that Reliance is a great name to have on one's CV, which means that employees are keen to do relatively short stints and then leave. Mukesh Ambani, for his part, has a clear vision for HR. As he had said some time ago in a public address: "HR no longer relates merely to packages and perks, incentives and facilities. It involves unshackling the latent energies of people. It involves generating the impulse for setting new benchmarks and then exceeding them."

Reliance's HR pull is not just the sheen of the brand and the might of its assets. Rather, it is its "work ethos", says Vivek Paranjpe, Group President (HR) and Advisor to the Chairman. "The ethos created by our founder continues. Dhirubhai Ambani always believed that ‘Give the youth a proper environment. Motivate them. Extend them the support they need. Each one of them has an infinite source of energy. They will deliver'."

Growth and scale on its own are the trimmings, and may excite at the junior levels. But, as Paranjpe explains, for top-notch professionals, the magnet is the challenge that lies in Reliance's large-scale initiatives—like building a world-class refinery or exploring and producing oil and gas. "Continuous growth, the diversity of businesses, thinking big and ensuring all the good ideas are heard create a right environment for people to work and in turn fulfill their full potential." In talent, the group seems to have a topdown approach. Top talent is hired first.

Take, for instance, Reliance Retail, which first hired presidents for all its verticals. By the time the first year of the retail venture was completed, it had on board 30,000 employees with virtually no hiring mandates or ads. Hiring methods are pretty unique. Those hired for the retail venture were asked to refer 10 others and list out five HR practices that they had seen. In no time, they had built a huge database. In fact, Reliance Retail had 500 HR professionals in place without expending a penny, reveals an insider.

"When the company hires talent, its employees are told they are a part of something that will change the world. The work environment is such that senior guys are in office at odd hours, yet RIL is able to retain them for the long term, thanks to its vision," says an HR consultant. A debacle like Reliance Retail, where the group had to resort to sackings, does little to impact the perception of prospective employees. After all, when the stakes are high—and they always will be at Reliance—the flipside of handsome compensation and huge opportunities will always be unpleasant and painful.