Article: In conversation with Bharti Airtel's architect Sunil Bharti Mittal

Leadership

In conversation with Bharti Airtel's architect Sunil Bharti Mittal

Looked up to by many as the man who questioned 'the constant' to find out better business models, Sunil Bharti Mittal dared to redefine the age-old telecom model and emerged a winner. Here is a snapshot of a detailed conversation with the man himself, on Bharti, life and more, as told to Dr. Pritam Singh, Author – In Search of Change Maestros
 

My brain is constructed in a different way, I go through logic rather than a formula

 

If you keep your eyes and ears open, and if your quest is to see the future, there is enough in the present, that can foretell the future

 

Sunil Bharti Mittal – The game changer, in conversation with Dr. Pritam Singh

Looked up to by many as the man who questioned ‘the constant’ to find out better business models, Sunil Bharti Mittal is a game-changer who dared to redefine the age-old telecom model and emerged a winner. His new approach of co-partnership and virtual integration are unique approaches in the telecom sector which has seen great success. The quantum growth that Bharti Airtel has witnessed in little more than a decade has been possible only because of the high passion and round-the-clock alertness of Sunil Mittal to take advantage of every opportunity that came his way. Personally, his high value centricity along with his belief in ethical governance, best described by the authors, is reason for the sustainable growth that Bharti Airtel enjoys today. The man reeks of excellence in every task he takes, which percolates through all levels in the organization. This ensures that every Bharti Airtel employee works with a self-credo of performance excellence, making the Airtel brand a global Goliath. Here is a snapshot of a detailed conversation with the man himself, on Bharti, life and more, as told to Dr. Pritam Singh, Author – In Search of Change Maestros

Dr. Singh: How does Sunil Mittal describe Sunil Mittal?

Mr. Mittal: I am very passionate about my work. I am highly transparent, sometimes even at the cost of having setbacks because I am too transparent. I am not a trained professional, or a scientist, or a doctor or a mathematician, I am even not an economist, but I am an entrepreneur with a very logical mind. My biggest bug during my study days was my mathematics exam, and today the only person Akhil (Gupta) would like to discuss his business models is with me because, and I can’t tell him that how I have reached the conclusion, but I can tell him where he is going wrong or right or what you are missing. He is amazed that I was not comfortable with mathematics during school, which is actually a big enigma. My kids feel the same way. Even when they were in school and they would come to me with their mathematics problems, I gave them the answer and when they asked me to explain how? I said I can’t tell you that but that’s your answer. So my brain is constructed in a different way, I go through logic rather than a formula.

Dr. Singh: How would you describe Bharti Airtel as a company?

Mr. Mittal: I think ‘passionate’ would be on top of my mind, along with ‘compassionate’. A high degree of compassion inside, which comes in various forms – care for the longevity of our people, the weaker managerial cadre, and more importantly, the society. We are a very compassionate company. In some sense, we think of ourselves as in area of public sector, rather than the private sector, in terms of our approach. I would best describe Bharti Airtel as passionate, compassionate, and performance-oriented with a high degree of transparency, sometimes to the point which even hurts us. We are a ‘team of stars’ which is trying very hard to be a ‘star team’.

We have great individual excellence, which is an upstart mentality where everybody is firing in their own way. They are energetic, goal-oriented and when pushed to a corner, they emerge as big fighters. We are very heavy on customer orientation and even touchy when a customer comes back to us saying he is not satisfied with our services. And at last, if I may say, for us, stock price profitability is not a goal, it is an outcome. The goal is really to build businesses which serve the customers, so when the stock goes up and down, it does not bother us. I don’t know how much of this matches up with what else you have heard, but that’s my point of view of how I see Bharti.

Dr. Singh: One thing that everyone at Bharti Airtel says – ‘we are capable of enfolding the future into present’. What does it reflect?

Mr. Mittal: I believe if you keep your eyes and ears open, and if your quest is to see the future, there is enough in the present, which can foretell the future. Most of us don’t want to see the future as very big, and therefore don’t. We brought such transformational change with our IT and Network Services outsourcing.

Dr. Singh: Manoj(Kohli) and Akhil (Gupta) both said that you question all the proven models of business, how did you do it?

Mr. Mittal: We exploded existing business models out of necessity, and this is one example. I knew we will collapse, so Akhil and I started building something. Of course it is risky and we went to the Board twice. Everyone said I had gone mad to give my heart out to outsiders? Again I said this is not our heart, our heart is our customers. There was resistance from my CTO, and my CIO, and I said you’ll not touch Akhil now, I am protecting him on this one, and we have to go forward. We went to the Board, and again there was resistance. I said I have rarely done this, I offer you my neck. If this model fails, I’ll resign.

Dr. Singh: So everyone came around because of your personality and power of persuasion?

Mr. Mittal: I think it was bit of both, one is I would have never made a statement like this; I think the conviction was palpable on the table, and if there was any resistance that should have gone away because of my overpowering position in the company, and finally, I am the largest shareholder in the company. So they knew that if I am taking this risk, it is not just a professional risk, but also a personal risk that I am taking, and I am ready to bet on that. It was a very difficult transition, and that to my mind was boldest decision we had taken.

Dr. Singh: Can we say your style is reflective more of the wisdom of logic, than the technique?

Mr. Mittal: Yes, you put it quite right. Numbers just rise from the table, and come up to me saying, “I am wrong here, pick me up”. So I have a very logical mind, which means that if there are things you are presenting to me, and one is not connecting with the other, I will not have to go through tables, and all that will straight away come to me. To me, therefore, whether it is numbers or arguments, you hit me back with your logic, I give you my logic back and we can fight on logic until we finally come to a very good understanding of our decision. I am personally very compassionate; one of the accusations against me is I don’t take away the weak links in time and that sometimes hurts the company and I am aware of that. I am getting better in it but I have not fixed it.

Dr. Singh: You say you have always been a dreamer. What do you dream these days?

Mr. Mittal: I think it is more about the public sphere, about India, and where this country is going. But something that holds me back from not chasing these dreams is the responsibility that I have here. It’s a fairly large job now of not only carrying the good work with Airtel, but also to build new businesses. My personal dream is international acquisitions. I’ll still say I am a dreamer, but I am not dreaming much of business, although if you ask me describe myself, I’ll describe myself as a dreamer.

Dr. Singh: To what extent has your father influenced your thoughts?

Mr. Mittal: A lot. He was a very intelligent man, and very rarely do you come across people who have such earthly wisdom, and are very sophisticated in their simple logic. He would be very comfortable in his khadis, sitting with heads of states at the UN Disarmament and talking with world leaders. When I was 18, just out of college, he would tell me that if I can give five years of my time now to my dream, it would take care of the rest of my life. I never forgot this, and I did give those five years. While all my friends were in movies, dating, and travelling, I was just on my scooter, working hard. He didn’t live to see beyond my initial success, but he always knew that I’ll be successful.

 

What Makes Sunil Bharti Mittal a Change Maestro
1. An entrepreneurial game-changer, a dreamer with a global vision
2. A powerful strategic thinker with excellent business sense
3. Outstanding connect with people, constantly respecting their dignity and empowering and enabling them
4. Highly result-oriented, with emphasis on the speed of decision making
5. An excellent integrator of vision, passion and action
6. Created Bharti Airtel where entrepreneurial innovation, customer centricity, performance excellence, and ethical governance are a way of life
7. A value-based individual who is driven by passion and inspires people to dream big
8. Demonstrates traits of a complete leader for achieving competitive advantage, and building a global telecom giant
 

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