One of the world’s great business schools, Wharton, has just honoured one of India’s most successful businessmen, Dhirubhai Ambani, by naming an auditorium after him. The decision follows in the wake of a multi-million dollar donation made by Anil Ambani, a Wharton graduate. As a matter of policy, like most American institutions, Wharton encourages its alumni to give.
There can be little doubt about Dhirubhai Ambani’s acumen. But there was also a dark side to the man who created wealth for hundreds of thousands of small investors. He was rumoured to have purchased politicians, bureaucrats and journalists, wholesale. He was said to have got policies made and changed to favour him. He was alleged to have moved and manipulated the stock markets. He was accused of installing and bringing down governments.
Should a businessman with such a “colourful past” be honoured by one of the great business schools? Or is this a fitting tribute to the man’s genius? Was Dhirubhai only a reflection of the licence-quota-permit raj or was he a master crook who is being lionised and legitimised by postage stamps and multi-million donations? Is Dhirubhai a role-model for future Wharton graduates, or are the techniques he adopted common for business success?