Isha Ambani’s degrees (yes, plural): A curious move for a billionaire heiress

Source: Sujit Jaiswal / AFP

Mukesh Ambani is the 12th richest person in the world and part of the number one richest family in Asia (worth 79.3 billion US dollars).

His generational wealth began with his father, Dhirubhai Ambani who went from being a gas station attendant to founder of Reliance Industries (the first privately owned Indian company in the Fortune 500).

The Ambani family is famous for its insane wealth. They recently made headlines for the red carpet launch of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC), which was dubbed the “Indian Met Gala” because of the international celebrities in attendance, decked in exceptional designer ensembles. 

When you think about the great wealth that the Ambani family has, you would assume a combination of nepotism and easy access would guarantee no one in the family will ever have to work again.

Still, everyone in the immediate Ambani family has a degree —  a qualification the rest of us non-billionaries scrape and struggle for to get jobs.

It begs the question, why?

The traditional life plan, although outdated, is one many Asian families still prescribe to: go to school, study at university for a degree, get a job, get married and start a family. Rinse and repeat. 

The thought process is that a degree is absolutely necessary to land you a good enough job which will help you sustain yourself and, eventually, a family. 

The assumption is if you don’t have a degree, you will not amount to anything professionally. With no career how could you possibly procreate and extend the family line (and honour)? 

But what if your family is wealthy? Working in the family business is almost a guarantee, which sets you up for a future of your choosing. 


Mukesh Ambani with his son Akash and daughter-in-law, Shloka Mehta. Source: Sujit Jaiswal / AFP

Then why do so many billionaires’ children, like the Ambanis, still go to university?

Mukesh Ambani has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Mumbai. He then went to Stanford University for his master’s degree but dropped out to join the family business

His wife, Nita Ambani went to Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai, graduating with a degree in commerce. 

Their children (and their respective spouses) also have degrees

  • Isha Ambani graduated from Yale and then Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Her husband Anand Piramal graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and pursued his MBA at Harvard Business School.
  • Aakash Ambani has a degree from Brown University and his wife, Shloka Mehta, graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
  • Anant Ambani went to Brown University, and his wife Radhika Merchant has a bachelor’s degree in politics and economics from New York University. 

According to Forbes, Mukesh Ambani has readied his progeny to take over the reins of the company. Akash is chairman of Reliance Jio, Isha heads the retail side of things and Anant is taking on the new sustainable energy business. 

These three, technically, could have easily been a part of the family company and learnt the ropes of the business on the job. 

So if their degrees were not to guarantee that they can make a living, what is the value of higher education for families with generational wealth?

To answer this, let’s look back to the exposé a few years back about wealthy celebrities bribing coaches to get their kids into Ivy League universities. 

Perhaps, like these same mega-rich folks, plutocrats want their kids to go to these schools for their reputation. It is a status symbol of sorts.

The Ambani children all attended Ivy League schools and enjoy the level of prestige and respect that comes with that qualification. 

Another potential reason to get a degree goes back to the Asian traditional life plan, where you are not thought to be successful unless you have a degree.

That piece of paper makes it official that you are a person of a certain calibre. 


Yale University is one of the Ivy League schools that plutocrats flock to. Source: Getty Images via AFP

The Ambani family is not alone in arming their newer generations with elite degrees.

Grandson of Hong Kong property tycoon, Adrian Cheng, attended Harvard University and John Riady of the Indonesian business dynasty graduated from Georgetown University, got his MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a law degree from Columbia University. 

These degrees not only give these millennial billionaires experience beyond their family business, it is also a great way to network with their contemporaries.

Making these connections could lead to better benefits in the future for their respective companies. 

Getting a degree could be what plutocrats see as the best way to further generational wealth and ensure that their family can carry on the business for many more generations to come. 

Oddly, some of these are the same reasons we mere mortals also go to university: to prove ourselves worthy; to meet the expectations of our parents; and to make connections that will secure our future.

The difference is, we don’t have a mountain of money to fall back on if we fail.