Ambani, the only Indian to feature among top 50 CEOs, is in the same league as Steve Jobs of Apple, Yun Jong-Yong of Samsung Electronics, Russian energy firm Gazprom's Alexey Miller and John Chambers of Cisco Systems.
He is also ranked number two among the top 10 emerging market CEOs with Miller at the top.
K V Kamath of ICICI Bank is the other Indian in the list of Top 10 Emerging Market CEOs. He is ranked at number 9.
The Harvard Business Review said it ranked CEOs of large public traded companies in a study conducted over 2000 CEOs worldwide. The entire group represented 48 nationalities and companies based in 33 countries.
It put Ambani in the list of "up-through-the-ranks leaders" along with the Samsung boss.
"Among the up-through-the-ranks leaders on our list are Yun Jong-Yong, who joined Samsung straight out of college and worked there 30 years before becoming CEO, and Mukesh Ambani, who joined RIL in 1981, when it was still a textile company run by his father. These CEOs may not all be household names, but here's an objective look at who delivered the top results over the long term," HBR said, ranking Steve Jobs as the top CEO in the world.
Jobs, it said, delivered a whopping 3,188 per cent industry-adjusted return (34 per cent compounded annually) after he rejoined Apple as CEO in 1997, when the company was in dire strait.
From that time until the end of September 2009, Apple's market value increased by USD 150 billion.
He was followed by Yun Jong-Yong, who ran South Korea's Samsung Electronics from 1996 to 2008. "Yun is an example of a leader who has stayed out of the limelight. During his tenure he capably transformed Samsung from a maker of memory chips and me-too products into an innovator selling digital products such as leading-edge cell phones."
"CEOs who were promoted from inside the company tended to have stronger performance than those brought in from the outside," said HBR.
Several CEOs that were "most respected" according to other reviews were nowhere in HBR's top 50. These include Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase,
Satoru Iwata of Nintendo, Sam almisano of IBM and Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil.
Many other celebrity CEOs also failed to make the cut. They include Carlos Ghosn of Renault-Nissan, Sergio Marchionne of Fiat, John March of Morgan Stanley, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric, Daniel Vasella of Novartis and Robert Iger of Walt Disney.
"Some of these well-known CEOs have not necessarily done poorly; the re just not among the top performers in the world according to the total shareholder return they have delivered so far," HBR said.
The likes of Jack Welch, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison and Bill Gates do not find mention in the list as HBR considered CEOs who assumed the job no earlier than January 1995 and no later than December 2007.
"On an average the top 50 CEOs increased the wealth of their shareholders by USD 48.2 billion," it said. They delivered a total shareholder return of 997 per cent during their time in office. That translates into a spectacular annual return of 32 per cent.