(Bloomberg) -- Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, has lured more than $10 billion of investment for his India-based digital platform business in a month, even as the economy struggles under the world’s most stringent lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
New York-based KKR & Co. on Friday became the latest private equity firm to invest in Jio Platforms Ltd., the telecom and digital services holding company controlled by Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd., the Mumbai-based company said in a statement. The private equity fund will pay 113.7 billion rupees ($1.5 billion) for a 2.3% stake in Jio.
Ambani has been selling stakes in Jio in support of a vow to bring net debt of more than $20 billion to zero at his oil, retail and telecommunications group before March 2021. The deals with U.S.-based giants from Facebook Inc. to Silver Lake and General Atlantic bolster Ambani’s plan to shift away from oil and petrochemicals toward faster-growing consumer businesses.
“Reliance Industries is positioning itself as a global technology company with international technology and private equity players lining up for a Jio Platforms stake,” said Sudeep Anand, head of institutional research at IDBI Capital Market Services Ltd. The sales are also “another step toward achieving a zero net-debt company by calender year 2020,” he said.
While global giants including Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. have also made big bets on growth in India’s consumer markets, the companies have faced challenges in scaling their models online in India, where restrictions protect small retailers. Ambani has vowed to build an e-commerce business that works around the barriers by recruiting so-called kirana shops as partners.
KKR said Friday its investment in Jio is it’s largest in Asia and that Ambani’s goals played a big role in a quick decision.
“The business model is scalable to meet the demand of aspiring Indians,” Sanjay Nayar, head of KKR’s Indian business, said in an interview, adding that the PE firm completed the deal in 10 days. “We invested in Mukesh Ambani’s entrepreneurial vision backed by a world class management.”
The fund has also put money into technology-driven companies like enterprise solutions provider BMC Software Inc., ByteDance Ltd., owner of the TikTok social video platform, and Indonesia-based ride-hailing and food-delivery giant GoJek.
Ambani’s success in drawing big, seasoned tech investors to Jio comes despite a sharp drop in economic growth caused by the pandemic and uncertainty about how much damage will be done before the deadly pathogen is under control. The willingness of investors to bear those risks underscores Ambani’s appeal as a determined, capable empire builder and the prospects for using Jio’s roughly 400 million wireless phone users as a springboard into digital services.
Jio Platforms combines the conglomerate’s digital assets with its wireless carrier, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., into a holding company aimed at becoming a top e-commerce and payments operator in India’s vast consumer market.
Started in 2016, Reliance Jio is now India’s largest wireless carrier. The operator stormed past rivals by building a nationwide 4G network, then offering free calling and data services at prices established competitors with older networks could not match without losing money.
(Updates with comment from KKR from sixth paragraph)
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