Luke Brenton, originally from Rangiora, New Zealand, is set to become the highest paid company employee in history. Sources suggest that a salary in excess of $500 million has guaranteed the services of Reliance Group’s new Chief Executive. Brenton was previously the managing director of Reliance’s Technology Division and masterminded the volatile takeover of Microsoft seven years ago, Brenton has made his mark by aggressively taking on competitors in the technology industry like China Mobile and Apple.
Brenton expressed ironic satisfaction at the appointment, stating “Of course I’m thrilled as the one chosen to put his head on the chopping block.” He didn’t elaborate but this was probably a reference to his predecessor, Max Mengstrom, who ‘resigned’ earlier this month after a record US 27 billion dollar loss last year for the world’s third largest multinational conglomerate. His successor, Brenton, can claim to have headed the only Reliance division that posted a profit in the last financial year.
Much of that success can be attributed to the technological innovations coming out of Brenton’s home city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The Indian-owned Reliance Group have owned 87% of the technology and entertainment precincts in Christchurch since 2017, when the then National government was forced to accept foreign investment after the 2011 earthquake rebuild stalled. Reliance now have a 69% stake in the technology, textiles and retail industries across New Zealand, compared to a 43% stake worldwide.
Brenton attributes his own success to his education and early opportunities in Christchurch. He completed a degree in Business and Technological Innovation at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) in 2024. This was four years after Reliance first started funding CPIT to create courses specifically designed to educate and train current and prospective employees for their business enterprises in Christchurch and elsewhere in New Zealand.
“I think it was a no-brainer for CPIT at the time,” remarks Brenton. “The rebuild was pretty much finished and they were looking for other stakeholders and areas of revenue to replace trades courses.”
Brenton reminisces on his time in New Zealand with fondness. “Reliance really looked after me…looked after all its employees actually. They paid for me to continue to study courses specific to my work at the time. I did short, block courses at CPIT. Later, when I moved to the New Zealand head office in Wellington, I did online courses through CPIT. The learning materials were very focused on the Reliance business model, but I was able to do some activities on the job, which suited me. They even gave me one of their first branded mobiles to use. I’ve had an Individual Learning Plan all the way through and access to personal mentors. They’re a great company!”
Of course, not everyone agrees that the Reliance Group is a great company. The announcement of Brenton’s promotion to CE has initiated another wave of protests both here in Dehli and in New Zealand. Protesters are angry at Reliance’s latest takeover of that colossus online shopping company Trade Me.
One protester in Dehli, who did not want to be named, complained, “They already have a monopoly on manufacturing and retail shopping – look at how many malls they own! Now they’ll control online shopping too. They’ll shut out the competition so they can keep prices high.”
Thousands of miles away in Christchurch, Juan Rodriguez, was also protesting against Reliance’s use of technology. He worked in Reliance’s technology innovation division in New Mexico before being relocated to Christchurch two years ago. Ten months ago he lost his job after complaining about breaches of the Privacy Act as a result of the information gathered from learning analytics used at CPIT.
“I worked on the learning analytic programme Reliance uses to collect data to support educational progress. It’s a great way to analyse learner interactions with content and identify issues early. However, I believe that Reliance were being unethical and exploiting the data for commercial purposes.” Rodriguez took a personal grievance to court but unfortunately lost his case.
Back in Dehli, Brenton makes no apologies for using analytics and sees the potential of data mining as the key to turning around the fortunes of the Reliance Group. He also sees an opportunity to help his native city and learning institution.
“When I was last home, I talked to the Chief Exec at CPIT about the future of the institution. They are now developing approved programmes of study for Reliance in a wide range of subjects. I’m thinking of developing that aspect, getting expert educators to collaborate to produce resources that can be taught in blended or online courses. CPIT could become a hub of educational innovation… within the values and control of the corporation of course.”