News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Meet Larry Summers’s Ex-Boss, a Billionaire with a Blood Feud

If you judge a person by the company they keep, then Obama's top economic advisor has some serious splainin' to do.

The best way to understand Larry Summers, the man who’s shaping America’s economy from his director’s chair at the National Economic Council, is to meet the people he hangs out with. Once you get to know Larry Summers’ crowd, nothing he does–no matter how twisted (like Larry’s suggestion to move all First World toxic waste to Africa) or deranged (Larry’s theory that women can’t do math) -- will surprise you. Whereas the famous “Six Degrees Of Separation” gives the false impression that it’s a small world and we all pretty much know each other, this “One Degree of Separation” will prove how totally alien Larry Summers and his crowd really are from the rest of us.

I’d like to kick this series off with India’s top oligarch, Mukesh Ambani, the only foreign boss who paid Summers to work for him in 2008 -- and by “work,” I mean “you agree to be listed on my board of international advisors, which requires nothing from you, and in return I’ll give you $187,000.”  Two years ago, Larry’s ex-boss Mukesh was the World’s Richest Man, worth $63.2 billion -- but since the meltdown, the Reliance Industry chief’s wealth has fallen to a mere $19.5 billion, dropping him to #7 of Forbes’ list. 

What sets Mukesh apart from most of the world’s top billionaires isn’t the 60-story tall, $2 billion house he’s building for himself and his family on a swank Mumbai suburb, or the $60 million Airbus 319 -- complete with master bedroom suite, entertainment center, and barroom -- that Mukesh bought his wife for her birthday a few years ago. No, it’s the insane blood feud that Mukesh has going with his billionaire younger brother, Anil Ambani -- culminating in a helicopter sabotage act that’s right out of a Hawaii Five-0 episode.

You may have heard of Anil Ambani -- he’s the Indian billionaire who saved Hollywood by signing billion-dollar deals with Spielberg and Dreamworks to take a piece of future blockbuster film projects. Anil used to be almost even with Mukesh, ranking #6 on Forbes’ list last year when Mukesh was #5. The competition is as fierce as it is petty -- after Mukesh bought his wife the $60 million Airbus, younger brother Anil bought his wife an $80 million yacht. But last fall’s financial crash has been rougher on Anil -- his net-worth fell from $42 billion last year to just $10 billion this year, placing him at #34 on Forbes’ list. So you can see why a guy like Larry Summers would choose Mukesh -- the wealthier, fatter, older brother -- over Anil, the sleek marathon-running jetsetter with the Bollywood starlet wife.

Mukesh and Anil have been at each other’s throats ever since their father–who built Reliance up from scratch -- died in 2002 without leaving a will. The two brothers immediately went to war over who controlled the company, Reliance, forcing their mother to intervene and broker a deal in 2005 carving up the assets into two separate Reliance empires. Mukesh, the older brother, got control of the petrochemicals part of the business, Reliance Industries. Anil got control of the telecoms and power-generation part of daddy’s business–Reliance Communications and Reliance Power.

You’d think they’d be happy with what they had, but then you don’t know Larry Summers’ ex-boss very well: The two have been conspiring to destroy each other ever since their daddy died, and it just keeps getting worse. Three years ago, when Anil was about to close a $50 billion buyout of the largest telecom firm in Africa and make his Reliance Communications one of the world’s largest, older brother Mukesh stepped in, invoked a right-of-refusal clause from the agreement they’d cut with their mommie, and killed the deal. See, Mukesh claims he’s the one who really started Reliance’s telecom business, and the thought that Anil might turn it into the next AT&T was something Mukesh could not countenance. So Larry’s ex-boss killed the deal, and another Indian oligarch swooped in and bought it instead.

See more stories tagged with: