Company’s chairman Sunil Mittal on Tuesday said Bharti Airtel fought a tough battle after a five-year storm in the telecom industry and has emerged as a “very stable organisation”.
Speaking at an event organized by the All India Management Association (AIMA), the Airtel chief said a turning point in his life came in 1992 with the first mobile license against very tough odds.
In a free-wheeling chat with Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise, Mr Mittal said that his leadership lessons early in life have placed him in a good position.
Mittal said, “My professionals will not send me anything that compromises the governance of the company. I will never ask them anything that compromises our governance.”
In the last 4-5 years, it became clear that the industry’s revenue had fallen even though spending was high, he recalled.
“There hasn’t been a single year when we haven’t spent $3-4 billion… and that’s a lot of money. And I am just talking about India,” he said.
Furthermore, he said the situation required raising more capital, which the company did.
Recalling the industry’s struggles, Mittal said, “In the last 30 months, we’ve raised over $18 billion. We diluted heavily, we sold some assets and we wanted to make sure we had continued investments. Have money to keep and fight this uphill battle.” Noting that Airtel has emerged from a five-year storm “very strongly” as a very stable organisation, he said it is under immense pressure that a true institution and the character of an organization is tested.
Mittal said, “I want to say with great satisfaction and pride that despite facing very tough times, we stayed on the right track. That means playing for longer durations, not just any short cuts.”
When the industry was “attacked” in 2016 in the form of strong competition, some took short cuts and short-term decisions to survive rather than be motivated by the vision of a sustainable business.
The Airtel chief said, “We were very clear that we will not take short cuts as we are going to be here for the long term. We stayed on course.”
Responding to a question, Telecom Caesar said that large companies that reach out to scale could potentially lean towards “professional leadership and a professionally backed or PP model”.
“When companies are young, growing and at midpoints, you need a very clear sponsor, which can take calls for risk,” he said.
Mittal said Airtel is one of the most “professional” companies in the country, adding that the telco has come out strong from wave after wave of adversity due to its strong organizational structure.
He emphasized that Airtel is completely managed by professionals who are best in class.
“But when it comes to taking risks, I have my neck to offer… When the CEO of my company needs to make risky decisions, I will understand and turn my neck to shareholders, stakeholders, the board, etc. This combination is very powerful,” Mr. Mittal said.
Not letting go of entrepreneurial instincts has been the bane of many family-owned businesses, he added.
“The role of an entrepreneur in Airtel is getting smaller day by day. Will we continue as PP or still as PE (backed by professional leadership and entrepreneur), let’s see,” he added. .