Visiting my relatives in India when I was young, I was always struck, even then, by the stories that were told about India’s bureaucracy. For example, we were told that to get a fixed line phone, people had to wait over 5 years after lodging their application. Given this was the state of India and in particular of her telecoms sector not so long ago, one of the statistics that astounds people today, unsurprisingly, is the take up rate of mobile phones in India – which averaged upwards of a couple of million handsets being sold every month!
Coming from quite a mature western European market, I’m totally flabbergasted with the competitiveness of India’s cellphone market. In addition her innovative ways of winning and keeping customers, such as with low cost price plans, energetic (but melodious) ring tones, value added information services etc. all are refreshing and provide great case study material in MBA schools all over the world.
But, often people outside of India (and outside of business schools) fail in recognising Indian brands and their successes fully, which was a prime motive in my writing my recently released book: India Inc: How India’s Top Ten Entrepreneurs Are Winning Globally.
My biggest regret is not that I didn’t write about Ratan Tata, Mukesh or Anil Ambani, but in fact that I didn’t include Sunil Mittal, the man behind the telecoms boom in India. He’s often credited as India’s poster boy for entrepreneurship as he’s created a phenomenal juggernaut of a company in Bharti Airtel. My reasons for excluding him, despite having met him over the past decade at many occasions, is that until recently he was totally focused on the opportunity India’s domestic market provides for Airtel – not that you can hold that against him – and my book looked at the international success of India’s corporate titans.
But, finally, all has changed. As of this week, Bharti Telecom owns Africa’s Zain Telecom and therefore makes his success an international one in the truest sense. His acquisition is second only to Tata’s purchase of Corus and provides Mittal with a growing footprint in an additional 15 countries and 150 odd million subscribers. It would be misleading to suggest that Mittal wasn’t interested in internationalising Airtel, as we all know of his failed negotiations with South Africa’s MTN over the past couple of years. But, I’m glad its finally happened.
What excites me, and many more, is his focus on Africa as it is here that I believe he’ll really be able to leverage his Indian experience to much gain. We hear of China’s love affair with Africa, but seldom do you hear of India making a beeline to some of the world’s most stunning countries and for this reason look forward to charting Sunil Mittal’s international success as much as India watchers have kept a keen eye on his domestic conquest.
Please don’t be mistaken, his rise hasn’t been free of challenge, controversy, or criticism and I don’t intend on sugar-coating his rise, but I fundamentally believe, above all, he demonstrates some phenomenal entrepreneurial traits that could teach the Bransons of our world a thing or two.