Born to a schoolteacher in a fishing village in rural India in 1932, Dhirubhai Ambani was brought up understanding the importance of education. As his family could not afford the school fees, he began trading yarn, and later, replenishment licences.

Despite India’s apparently insurmountable barriers to entrepreneurs, over the years Ambani found a way to turn his country's elaborate regime of production licensing into a tool to see off his competitors. He faced challenges along the way, such as the bureaucratic control of licences in India, but Ambani found a way to ‘play the system’ and in the process, built Reliance Industries, the largest company in India today. His business approach met with criticism and many accused him of undermining the state. In Ambani’s view, he had simply exposed India’s oligarchy and showed that entrepreneurs could make the system work for them.

Wilkin believes India today seems to offer a good environment for start-ups, but this is in fact deceptive, especially for small businesses making the transition towards medium businesses. Competition is hindered by bureaucracy, labour laws and infrastructure.

In order to succeed, Wilkin believes Indian entrepreneurs must focus on boom-sectors such as IT or pharmaceuticals. Alternatively, would-be entrepreneurs should learn from Ambani: find an advantage or a gap in the system that opens the doors to competition. This is the legacy of Dhirubhai Ambani.

The discussion was moderated by Alexandra Mousavizadeh, Director of Indices at the Legatum Institute.

About the Speaker

Sam Wilkin is a senior advisor to Oxford Economics, one of the world's foremost global economic forecasting firms. He is also a senior advisor to Oxford Analytica, a geopolitical analysis consultancy that counts among its clients more than 25 world governments. Sam is the author of a new book, Wealth Secrets of the 1%: How the Super rich Made It to the Top. The book was an editor's choice of the New York Times book review and an Amazon.com book of the month for August 2015 in the business and leadership category.