STL MD on why sustainability is key to company's long-term resilience
In the fast-paced world of digital connectivity, Ankit Agarwal, MD of STL, a leading Indian multinational optical and digital solutions company, is excited about the opportunities it presents. He firmly believes that the industry's future lies in digital connectivity, with 5G taking centre stage and fiberisation being the key to unlocking the company's dreams.
As the demand for data continues to soar with emerging applications and use cases, Agarwal is convinced that strategic capital allocation, unrivalled client experiences, and user-centric solutions are crucial to capturing growth opportunities.
In this exclusive interview, we delve deep into Agarwal's leadership priorities, his perspective on the evolving digital connectivity landscape, the company's efforts towards promoting sustainable growth, and much more.
Here are the edited excerpts.
As a leader, how do you see your role evolving to drive success in our rapidly evolving industry, particularly in the midst of economic uncertainty? What steps are you taking to ensure the company remains at the forefront of technological innovation?
As a leader, I am always striving to stay ahead of the curve in our rapidly-evolving industry. By cultivating a culture of learning and innovation, my team is empowered to push the boundaries of what's possible. First principles thinking is key to our success, and I am committed to benchmarking our work against outcomes. My own hunger for personal development drives me to learn something new every day.
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The future of our industry is digital connectivity, and I am excited about the opportunities it presents. Despite potential challenges, I am confident that broadband connectivity will continue to grow, with 5G taking centre stage and fiberisation as the key to realising our dreams. Through investment in R&D, we will develop innovative solutions that give us a competitive edge.
Overall, my vision for leadership is to continue to foster a culture of learning, innovation, and forward-thinking.
As the world becomes increasingly dependent on digital connectivity, what do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges facing your company in 2023 and beyond?
The connectivity landscape is continuously evolving due to emerging applications and use cases such as the rise of Chat GPT. To build networks that cater to the future, it is crucial for service providers and infrastructure builders to anticipate the data demand generated by these use cases in the next decade. Optical fiber is crucial for high-speed broadband, fiber to the home, and data center connectivity. Although planning the roll-out of new infrastructure and networks during the current economic climate is challenging, it is necessary to meet future data demand.
Telecom network infrastructure spending is on the rise in countries like the US, Europe, and India, with operators expected to invest over $500 billion in 5G from 2022 to 2025. FTTX is also becoming ubiquitous, and global telecom companies are prioritising fiber investments in network buildout. This presents a significant opportunity for us to tap into strategic growth and become one of the top three optical fiber companies worldwide.
We are committed to allocating capital to capitalise on these growth opportunities, providing unparalleled experiences for our clients, and ensuring end-users reap the benefits. However, we must also recognise that the financial uncertainty experienced by global markets may temper the post-pandemic bounce in fiber consumption.
How is STL leveraging its expertise in optical fiber to support digital transformation and drive inclusive, resilient, and green growth in the global market?
The digital revolution is steering the economy towards inclusive, resilient, and sustainable growth. Businesses are adopting digital networks to improve customer experiences and stay competitive, while governments are using technology to bridge the digital and economic divide and create connected cities and villages. This convergence of data, technology, and governance is accelerating socio-economic transformation at an unprecedented pace. It's remarkable to see the Indian Government actively supporting local manufacturing and research and development in this space.
STL is playing a crucial role in creating a new architecture that supports digital transformation. We are building methods for high-speed fibre deployment and creating a talent pool to support this global network modernisation. With innovative optical products like Celesta - a high-density ribbon cable, and Multiverse fibre - India's first Multicore fibre with 4X capacity, STL has become a global leader in the optical space. We have also launched 5G Cosmos, an Atmanirbhar, patented solution that can connect every tower, small cell, and node in the country.
How is STL integrating sustainability into its business operations, and what strategies is the company implementing to promote resilience while also driving innovation in the digital networks of the future?
As a company, we are deeply committed to sustainability and are constantly striving to achieve our sustainability goals. We are also working with our customers to help them achieve their sustainability objectives and build a greener internet. One of our proudest accomplishments is becoming the world's first optical fibre and cable manufacturer to attain the Zero Waste to Landfill certificate for our Indian and overseas plants, ensuring that ~99% of industrial byproducts are recycled back into the production cycle.
In addition, all of our India operations have the Zero Liquid Discharge certification, making our optical solutions some of the most sustainable across India and Europe. We have also been at the forefront of initiatives such as building water-resilient communities, promoting low-carbon agricultural practices, preserving biodiversity, and providing environmentally friendly livelihood opportunities. These initiatives are carried out in partnership with state and local governments, NGOs, NPOs, communities, and our employees, and we are proud to have touched the lives of over three million people, restored over 1.4 million cubic meters of water in communities, and planted more than 150,000 trees.
Looking toward the future, we have committed to becoming a carbon-neutral company by 2030 as we continue to drive the digital networks of the future. We are constantly accelerating our efforts towards net-zero manufacturing and sustainable network-build strategies.
How is STL adapting its workplace policies and culture to the new normal of flexible work arrangements?
STL's "Return to Work" policy is closely aligned with the needs of the business, with the aim of transforming billions of lives by connecting the world. Our gratitude goes out to all our employees who worked tirelessly at our plants and project sites to keep the world connected, often at great personal risk.
Our plants and project sites have been operated with 100% on-site attendance, while most of our offices follow a hybrid schedule of three days in the office and two days of remote work. Many of our employees have returned to pre-pandemic office routines. We are pleased to see that the creativity, innovation, and culture that were present before the pandemic continue to flourish in our offices.
The actual workplace provides the warmth and connection that fosters collaboration and builds relationships. We are thrilled to see our staff's enthusiasm and drive to welcome this positive change, especially those who joined us during the lockdown. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that the pandemic has redefined the concept of "normal." As we transition from work-from-home to a post-pandemic future, we are committed to creating an empathetic and revitalising workplace for our employees, which we call "STLers.
This interview is part of an exclusive series that featured CEOs and MDs of top organisations sharing their perspectives on the ever-evolving business landscape and the future of work. Browse all the interviews here!