There are only 2.5 players left in India’s telecom sector, says Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel

With only “two and a half players” in the highly competitive domestic telecom sector, the future of Bharti Airtel’s battle looks good now, its chairman Sunil Mittal said on Thursday.

Speaking at a CII event, Mittal said the company has gone through several ups and downs, including regulatory challenges and market competition, and is now in a better position in the market.

“The balance sheet is healthy, it’s strong. And we’re now down to two-and-a-half players for a country the size of India, so the future looks good. Now there will be another crisis? … Who knows, but this company is a lot.” has become stronger and the fight has become tougher,” Mittal said.

Noting that some of the main features are the constant focus on customer needs and customer satisfaction, he said, “We have been very strict on ourselves. I am my company’s biggest critic”.

Recalling the challenging times, he said it turned out to be a happy story in the end but there were moments in Airtel’s journey when the question was not when the company would fall.

“We had an existential crisis, the stock was listed a few months back at Rs 45, it was brought to its knees at Rs 19. Cash was running out, revenue was not growing fast and we went all over India. Mittal said.

“So the ship was clearly crumbling, every frontier was moving and it looked like things could go wrong. And that’s where you know one is reminded that if you have the right strategy It gives you the right platform to win, if you have the right technique,” Mittal said.

During that difficult period of 2002-2003, Mittal said that he managed to keep the team motivated.

“I said that if I can be the lightning rod of the organization, take all the pain and burn myself and leave the organization untouched, I think we will be able to win this great war going on. And the fact is from that time, a stock of Rs 19 became Rs 1,200 in 18 months,” he said.

According to him the situation again became challenging in 2008-09 when 12 new licenses were given. “From Docomo to Telenor, all the big players both foreign and Indian came, everyone came and again the market went through a big cycle but we were better prepared”.

Mittal said losses in the Supreme Court in 2005-06 and changes in spectrum auction norms were other major developments that affected the company’s balance.

“I wish we had lost this case in 2005-06, just because we won the case, they never paid the money and finally when we lost in the Supreme Court, it came back to haunt us. So it was a back – a break,” he said.

The events raised funds through a stake sale in the company.

“The balance sheet was stressed and there was a time, I said you have to thin yourself… This company needs to survive. Well how do I care if I have 40 percent or 26 percent? Come on Just let’s go and pick up the capital,” Mittal said.

Elaborating on the market situation, Mittal said the last three years have been “incredibly relentless”.

“India, by and large, has done very well because most companies have been able to scale up their supply chain and scale up their production when the need arises… so we have done remarkably well, I each I would say segment of our industry. This is why India today looks like a place where businesses are still thriving,” he said.

However, he added that while large companies are capable of handling challenges very well, medium to low-end businesses have certainly suffered.

He said that despite some issues, if there is any country which is well prepared to deal with tectonic changes and that is India.

According to him, earlier, ‘the eagle hovered over India and landed in China and Vietnam’, and hence India ‘missed the bus’.

The present government’s enthusiasm to promote Atmanirbharta, Digital India and other initiatives has now brought India to a sweet spot, especially when it comes to the manufacturing sector, he said.

He also said that technology adoption and innovation and disruption in large organizations is relatively difficult to deal with, as the success of Facebook, WhatsApp among other e-commerce companies has significantly changed the entire ecosystem.

He said that in order to keep pace with the changing times, existing businesses should adopt a futuristic approach keeping in mind the changes in consumer behaviour, market dynamics and other factors.

Given this approach, Bharti Group is also adapting to the changes and its new businesses which are seeing success include Airtel Bank, other apps of the company such as Wink and cloud services to MSMEs.

He also observed that solid partnerships play a vital role in building success stories and that companies that do not embrace change are bound to suffer.

He said that future technologies will present immense potential in upcoming products like metaverse, robotics, drone management, 5D virtual realities etc.

Speaking about building successful enterprises, Mittal mentioned that it is important to realize that one size does not fit all.

Identifying what works for a particular organization and matching it with partners and then nurturing those principles has proven to work well, he said.


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