Why Indians have to “lie” about their qualification? Case of Mukesh Ambani and its contrast with Steve Ballmer.

The former CEO of Microsoft and the current Chairman of Reliance Industries studied at Stanford at the same time. Both dropped out at the end of first year itself. However only one of the two friends went on to lie and announce that he had been awarded an MBA. Why did he have to lie… but then maybe in India, being a drop-out “was” looked down upon… Now things are definitely changing and it seems that he can easily correct his CV now…

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta reported in his article in 2005…

It was about as fancy a bash as Mumbai’s top brass could have organised. The venue was, of course, a five-star hotel. Those invited included the cream of corporate captains from the city. The distinguished guest for the evening to speak on the topic ‘Unlocking Innovation’ was the CEO of one the best known companies in the world, Microsoft Corporation. To introduce the speaker, Steve Ballmer, was his classmate from the Stanford University’s School of Business, Mukesh D. Ambani, who is the Chairman and Managing Director of India’s largest privately-owned company, Reliance Industries Limited. The main sponsor of the event was cnbc-tv18, a television channel in which a Reliance group company has an equity stake.

The evening began with Mukesh Ambani introducing the ‘towering figure’ of Ballmer who is a ‘household name all over the world’. He started by stating: “Steve and I were part of the same class at the Stanford University School of Business. Steve went on to configure one of the greatest innovation-led enterprises of all time, Microsoft. I came back to India to help my father build Reliance, virtually from nothing to a $ 23 billion corporation with global standing today.” 

“As CEO of Microsoft, Steve has infused in the organisation a creative blend of energy and discipline. I am not surprised. Even at Stanford, he displayed outstanding qualities of leadership and creativity. In all our study groups, Steve always took charge. But what impressed me the most about him was his human qualities, his ability to connect with all his classmates and build a rapport with each and every one of them.” 

The 47-year-old elder son of the late Dhirubhai Ambani heaped more fulsome praise on his Stanford University classmate by extolling his high energy levels before it was time for Ballmer to walk with a springing gait and come up in front of the arc lights to the resounding sound of orchestral music before making his presentation before the elite gathering. “Wow,” he started. “That was quite a bit of music and video there.”

Ballmer then said how it was an honour and a privilege for him to speak with those present about innovation, not only from the vantage point of a corporation that applied it but also from the point of view of organisations that applied technological innovations. “But before I dive into it,” said the balding Microsoft CEO, “I want to put in one piece of information that Mukesh left out of his very wonderful and kind introduction.” 

Before he dropped a bombshell, Ballmer said: “I hope he (Mukesh) won’t mind.” “But in our class in Stanford Business School, there were exactly two people who dropped out at the end of the first year, me and Mukesh,” disclosed Ballmer with a beaming smile to a round of loud applause from those present. He didn’t stop there. As the clapping subsided, he quipped: “So I’m not sure what qualifications we have to speak with you on innovation, but we’re going to anyway.” More applause followed.

A senior executive of the Reliance group, who now happens to be firmly in the camp of Mukesh Ambani’s estranged younger brother Anil, was to later remark: “Some of us didn’t know what hit us at that time. Frankly, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, whether to believe Steve Ballmer or to treat it as a joke.”

Subsequently, this executive spent some time surfing the internet scanning the university’s alumni list of MBA students. He couldn’t find the name of Mukesh D. Ambani in the list, although it was noted elsewhere that he had once addressed a gathering at the university. “I then decided to ask Anilbhai about whether Steve Ballmer was correct or not and he confirmed that his brother had indeed not completed his two-year MBA degree course but had dropped out after the first year,” this executive said.

The surprise that the Microsoft CEO’s off-the-cuff remark caused to this unnamed executive was not atypical. After all, the head of the giant corporate conglomerate  has, from the time he returned to India from the US in 1981, always been claiming he holds a MBA degree from Stanford University instead of stating that he merely studied there. The ‘fact’ of his holding an MBA has been explicitly stated time and again in various official documents such as annual reports of companies in the Reliance group, including the group’s flagship Reliance Industries Limited. 

True Lies: an excerpt from RIL’s annual report that claimsMukeshAmbani is a Stanford MBAis3



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