The story of Sunil Bharti Mittal is an epitome of transparency, passion and compassion, the three guiding forces that enabled the organization to revolutionize the telecom sector in India, while keeping a constant eye on customer satisfaction.
Being at the forefront of the telecom revolution, Bharti Airtel is all set create another landmark with the launch of its 3G services. The largest mobile services provider in India is now able to offer its customers the widest 3G network in India, in keeping with its core value of customer orientation.
Aptly compared to the story of David fighting Goliath, the story of Airtel’s journey is an example of a rather small organization, taking a revolutionary approach, to emerge as a leader in the telecom industry, and placing a significant footprint on the global business arena. The story of this telecom giant and its architect Sunil Bharti Mittal is an epitome of game-changing moves, as rightly expressed in “In Search of Change Maestro” by Pritam Singh and Asha Bhandarker. Fearlessly questioning established business models, Bharti Airtel today is a marketing company, which has outsourced most of its activities, including technology. A step abhorred by many players, today the Bharti Airtel model is adopted by many who want to stay in contention.
What began with the purpose of manufacturing India’s first push button phones in collaboration with Siemens in 1985, Bharti Airtel is today a result of Sunil Mittal’s discovery of what the telecom sector had potential for. From a small beginning, Bharti Airtel has emerged as a gigantic player which is looked upon by the world for its innovative business models. The world’s 5th largest mobile phone operator is undoubtedly a reflection of Sunil Mittal’s game changing capabilities. It is astounding how he closely studied each opportunity to turn it to Bharti Airtel’s business advantage.
In Search Of Change Maestro’s unique approach in its empirical study revealed some of the most intriguing traits of this forward looking thinker. There are eight dominant themes which give a detailed insight into what went into the creation of Bharti Airtel, and the mindset and approach used by its architect:
Entrepreneurial Architecture: The stakeholders at Airtel emphasized Airtel’s attempt towards evolving an entrepreneurial architecture which is matchless. Their approach is to continuously question the existing system and process, in order to find a better way of doing things. They constantly strive to redefine paradigms to evolve new business models which are more efficient, cost-effective, customer centric and afford Airtel its competitive advantage. This, in turn, empowers every employee to introduce newer ways of things to meet the company’s goals. The interviews during the research brought out a strong emphasis on Airtel focusing on ‘what they do best’ and outsourcing everything else to those ‘who can do it better’. Sunil Mittal emphasizes the DNA of Airtel’s entrepreneurial culture to always seize the opportunity, and move steadily for growth. Marketing being their core competency, the company focused their strategy on marketing, branding, and positioning, quite explaining Airtel’s clear communication strategy in the market today.
Entrepreneurial Innovation: The crux of this theme is to ensure a continuous emphasis on the mindset of the organization and its people to encourage innovation at every level. Telecom being a highly competitive industry, Airtel rightly understands its need to propel everyone to achieve the best in everything they do. As its employees affirm, Bharti Airtel survives on its ‘Intraprenuerial’ approach where every employee seeks to evolve to achieve more. The employees’ clear understanding of this fact, is reflected in Bharti Airtel’s growing market share, even in the global front. Described best as nimble-footed, and a company that abhors bureaucratization, many employees explain it better when they say “we have a small company’s soul and we move with lightening speed”. Sunil Bharti also propounds the concept of Creative Destruction: Create – Destroy – Recreate, which is an active ingredient in Airtel’s DNA.
Mega Vision with Winning Streak: More than merely establishing a mega vision, Bharti Airtel showcases an equal passion to achieve. Their vision is to become the number one in the globe, and they constantly strive to increase the distance between them and their competitors. Employees credit Sunil Mittal for his passion and drive as reason behind their undying energy to achieve more, continuously.
Customer Always: A strong proponent of the belief that the customer is at the heart of business; Bharti Airtel has always based business decisions with a primary focus on addressing customer needs and affordability. The brand ‘Airtel’ has been built over a short span of just over a decade, and they were able to do so because of their efforts towards continuously focusing on connect, trust, and strengthening the relationship with their customers.
People Power: Sunil Mittal’s clear thought has built Airtel on the slogan “Employees first, Customer Always”. When interviewed, employees said they are excited to work at Airtel because of its caring, friendly, and helpful, nature. Most specifically, employees are eager to work in the company because they say their MD makes them feel special, respected and valued. Such a scenario is unheard of as most CEOs would otherwise find it difficult to touch the lives for his people at every level. But the emphasis on people power and people emphasis at Airtel makes it worth the stay for all.
Performance Excellence: Along with empowerment, Bharti Airtel stresses upon clear and sharp accountability for all. Constant challenges and stretched targets create an environment for performance excellence. Bharti Airtel’s Balanced Score Card Systems takes into consideration top line growth, market share growth, brand score, people motivation etc, which ensure a holistic approach aimed at continuous performance par excellence. Sunil Mittal empahises on the need for speedy execution without losing focus on quality.
Ethical Governance: Following Gandhi’s principle of Satyammeva Jayate, Sunil Mittal expounds the belief within Airtel’s system. 21 interviewees expressed that the one factor that distinguishes Airtel from the rest is its culture of extreme transparency, and ethical approach, in their actions. Ethical governance is a cornerstone at Airtel, and every member of the company knows they must not promise to the customer what they cannot deliver. Whether it is employees, customers, or some other stakeholder, Bharti Airtel believes in keeping a strong social conscience with the spirit of giving back to the society through the Bharti Foundation, which focuses on uplifting educational facility in the rural areas.
Mosaic Culture: Airtel has a mosaic culture given its diversity in gender, race, religion, industry experience or global exposure. The success of Airtel has been in their ability to create convergence in thinking and approach among diverse people so that they move together towards the larger organizational goal. Important factors that govern their practices include a win-win approach, respect for people, establishing co-partners, and valuing good ideas, while being upfront and adopting ethical practices.
8 Pillars of Bharti Airtel’s Success
• Entrepreneurial Architecture: Continuously question the existing system and process, in order to redefine paradigms to evolve new business models which are more efficient, cost effective and customer centric
• Entrepreneurial Innovation: Nimble-footed and abhors bureaucratization; Airtel’s key DNA ingredient is constructive destruction: Create – Destroy – Recreate
• Mega Vision with Winning Streak: Mega vision with equal passion to achieve
• Customer Always: Basing business decision with a primary focus on addressing customer needs and affordability
• People Power: Employees First, Customer Always
• Performance Excellence: Constant challenges and stretched targets create an environment for speedy execution without losing focus on quality
• Ethical Governance: Strong social conscience with all stakeholders; employees, customers, and the society at large.
• Mosaic Culture: Create convergence in thinking and approach among diverse people so they can work together towards the goal.
i. In Search for Change Maestros, Dr. Pritam Singh and Dr. Asha Bhandarker, Sage Publications, 2011