Saturday, May 15, 2010
G. Ramprasad, CEO, Tata Teleservices Ltd.
An Interview with G. Ramprasad, CEO, Tata TELESERVICES LTD.
Markathon: Share with us some unforgettable moments in your corporate journey right from being a Branch Sales Manager at HUL to now being the CEO of Tata Teleservices Limited.
G. Ramprasad: One of the most unforgettable moments was – receiving a call from my ex boss from HUL, a full one year after I’d left the company. He thanked me for the system and process improvement initiatives I’d started off, which resulted in that region achieving superlative performance! This vindicated my strong belief that a manager’s worth is truly known when he/she is not on the scene, but the legacy is paying rich dividends for the business.
In Parryware, where I joined in 1999 as Head of Marketing, a key product, Cascade Range of sanitaryware, was declining. It was a significant contributor to the profitability of the business and newer, cheaper competitors were making a lot of headway. There was a lot of clamour in the system to “cut costs” and thereby reduce price. However, Cascade was then relaunched with better features. The better features meant HIGHER costs and the price was also taken up accordingly. Backed by a strong communication support, the relaunch was a resounding success and Cascade was once again put on the growth path. So, the principle of “investing” back in a product and improving the customer benefits (also called “features”) and charging a higher price for this, is a stronger and more sustainable platform than just taking the easier route of chopping costs and dropping price.
Yet another unforgettable moment has been the recent Tata Teleservices resurgence. In Tamilnadu, Tata Indicom has had a sea change on the customer services front. From an operator which was considered a laggard, it has bounced back over the past one year or so to attain a leading position. Even though the market position is still below potential, the change on the customer service front signals a clear shift in trajectory. Here, the principle has been – when all else seems lost, latch on to the straw of customer service, which can turn into a lifeline and, in due course, a bridge to success. This is especially applicable in a “services” business.
Markathon: Telecom sector is presently “the” sector to be present in and there are numerous players entering the fray. Is there a demand for so many players? Or is it just a temporary bubble?
G. Ramprasad: The telecom business still has a lot of juice! India is still one of the relatively lower penetrated markets at about 50 %, even though it’s got the second largest number of wireless connections in the world with over 600 million subscribers (and growing by about 15+ million per month!). Further, broadband is still only 8.75 million and that’s a huge area waiting to explode. Already India is very big on mobile internet traffic, next only to the US. These figures indicate the potential that’s still waiting to be tapped and also the way the future of this business will move. From a preponderantly voice dominated revenue, there will be a shift towards data and value added services. This has its own momentum and will drive the business in a different way. Government departments have started a lot of e-governance initiatives, which will entail the use of internet in a much bigger way and this will be a focus for telecom companies.
Markathon: Tata Indicom has highlighted the advantage of voice clarity in its ads stressing upon of the “Advanced Digital Network”. You have also tried to connect to people through “Suno Dil ki Awaaz” campaign. How did you wish to position Tata Indicom in this hyper competitive market and how successful have these campaigns been in doing so?
G. Ramprasad: In the current scenario where most telecom networks are badly congested, Tata Indicom’s excellent network is a strong advantage. Over the past five quarters, Tata has been rated the “least congested network” by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) through independent surveys. Going forward, Tata Indicom will be the brand for the Prepaid Mobile Services, Tata Photon for the Data services and Tata Walky for the fixed wireless category. This will enable the business to address different segments of customers and different market opportunities through clearly positioned brands.
Markathon: To what extent do you see value added services as a significant factor in consumer’s decisions of selecting a mobile service operator today?
G. Ramprasad: Without doubt, Value Added Services are critical in a consumer’s decision to select a mobile service operator. The proliferation of “smartphones” is testimony to this. The rapidly falling costs of mobile handsets and the simultaneous increase in the handset features will aid this process. Technologies are also evolving rapidly. Social networking is catching on very fast and this is an important driver of mobile usage. Mobile is now used for banking transactions, information exchange, and even entertainment (mobile television is a popular service from Tata Photon). Customers are willing to pay for all this as it’s literally helping them live life by pressing buttons! From a financial angle, better VAS penetration can make the difference between profit and loss in a hyper-competitive market
Markathon: Tata Photon data cards have also been a success story for you. What is your assessment of the potential of wireless data cards market in India?
G. Ramprasad: Tata Photon + has been a huge success and coupled with the boom in the sale of laptops, more and more people are opting for mobile internet connectivity. CDMA technology lends itself to superior data access and this makes Tata Photon + a preferred choice for those looking for mobile internet access. Broadband internet access has been limited by the viability and feasibility of laying wires. Hence wireless technologies will certainly play a key role in India for the burgeoning requirement of internet access.
Markathon: You have recently joined hands with Olive, Blackberry and Samsung for promoting Tata Photon. What has been the thought process behind them and what future growth strategies are in the pipeline?
G. Ramprasad: As mentioned in the earlier point on Value Added Services, it’s imperative for a mobile operator to offer differentiated service of value to the customer. Olive Netbooks have Tata Photon+ integrated, offering High Speed Internet Access (HSIA). Select models of Samsung (Corby) have Tata Photon TV – a high end value added service. Blackberry, of course, is a must for the corporate executive. These are all intended to drive the data usage, which will be the key factor for revenue growth. Alliances with device manufacturers (smartphones, netbooks etc.) will be a key element of the strategy.
Markathon: With so much of money being pumped in by multiple telecom operators for buying the spectrum for 3G services, what are your projections about the return on this huge investment in the long run in such a competitive sector?
G. Ramprasad: While it’s too early to comment on this, companies in India will certainly bear in mind the experience of earlier 3G auctions in the US and Europe, when companies overbid in the auctions and couldn’t keep their commitments or went under due to the burden.
Markathon: In your corporate life, you have been the driver of a business resurrection, expansions, formalising systems etc. How crucial do you think your MBA education was in performing such tasks? Do you think there is anything that a present day MBA graduate lacks?
G. Ramprasad: The MBA education arms you with a good perspective of business and a variety of tools and techniques. This has certainly helped me in my career. Of course, learning is a never ending process and I continue to try and keep myself updated on the current
developments in thinking on management.
With regard to what should be the focus for today’s MBA graduate, the GEE would be a lot more important than ever before. GEE is – Governance, Emotional Quotient, and Entrepreneurship.
These are not “subjects” in an MBA program, but are critical for today’s business leader. Whether as a manager in an organization or an entrepreneur with an own business, these factors are critical. It’s not that an MBA “lacks” the GEE, but needs to be very conscious of these aspects and develop knowledge, skills and competencies for a high level of GEE.
A brief elaboration of each of the elements of GEE:
Governance: with the recent turmoil in the financial markets which have hemorrhaged the economies of entire nations, the need for high order of integrity and probity is of paramount importance. Abiding by governance requirements in both letter and spirit is therefore critical for business leaders. Apart from legal compliance, a high level of moral and ethical behaviour and approach is a pre requisite for a top order business leader.
Emotional Quotient: In these tumultuous times, with tempers and emotions running high, the ability of a business leader to maintain equanimity and poise is essential.
Entrepreneurship: A business leader in a large corporation is also required to be entrepreneurial in order to grasp and leverage emerging opportunities, as also face up to challenging situations – much like an owner-run business.