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My basic philosophy is to have fun at work and work while you have fun: Gurdeep Singh

Chief operating officer of Aircel, Gurdeep Singh is the new poster boy of the Indian telecommunications industry, having successfully moved Aircel from a regional player to a national player. Today, Aircel is operational in eighteen circles in the country and holds the record of launching services in eight circles in a span of thirty to forty days. His management style is reflected in the growth of the company.

Singh is responsible for the pan-India operations of Aircel. In addition, all marketing, sales, customer service, IT, Aircel business solutions and network functions of the company report to him. He holds a Masters degree in Management Studies from BITS, Pilani. Aircel already claims to be numero uno in four circles: Chennai, rest of Tamil Nadu, Assam and the Northeast; and at the second position in Jammu & Kashmir.

He is the man behind the emergence of the Aircel brand in the country. In a career spanning twenty-five years, Singh has worked for industries ranging from consumer durables to telecommunications. Prior to joining Aircel, he was working with Vodafone as operations director, and was responsible for central India operations.

Here we delve into his likes and dislikes in a free-wheeling interview. He talks about his hobbies, childhood dreams and leadership styles among other things:

What were your dreams when you were growing up?
My father was a mechanical engineer, and used to work on a shop floor. He was working for the Indira Gandhi Canal project, and his work involved extremely rigorous physical labour. While I was growing up, I decided to never ever to take up a job which involved physical labour. As a small boy, I dreamt of a white collar job. It was for this reason that I decided to go in for management, and not to do engineering.

What are your hobbies? What do you like to do in your spare time?
I read a lot, mostly management and business related books. Currently, I am reading, `Eating the Big Fish’ by Adam Morgan. It is about innovation, and I had to especially order it.

I also love to watch Hindi movies, and watch all kinds of Bollywood movies. At times, I watch as many as three movies in a month. I especially like Aamir Khan movies, and find Aishwarya Rai very graceful. Of the recent movies, I enjoyed Oye Lucky and Dev D. I also like to watch reality shows on television.

How do you maintain your work-life balance?
My weekends are totally devoted to my family. I don’t like to work on weekends, and spend my time with family and friends. I am extremely close to my family. My son is doing engineering in the US and my daughter is in the 10th class. I am also very fond of Hindi movies, and catch up on latest releases on the weekend. I also like to swim regularly.

What would you say is your leadership style?
My basic philosophy is to have fun at work and work while you have fun. Thanks to technologies like Blackberries, laptops, etc, now everybody is connected all the time, so work is all pervasive. Hence, it’s all the more important to have fun while working.

One has to realize that people love their freedom, and like to have their space. At Aircel, we like to use our mistakes to learn from them and increase our productivity. We practice an open door management. We also encourage our employees to have a bit of an entrepreneurial streak in them.

I try to remember that I lead a group of leaders. Once you realize that, your attitude automatically changes. You yourself begin to work very differently. I like to work in a collaborative style.

We are an extremely open company, and have quarterly key performance indicators (KPI). We like to have `open meetings’ or informal style meetings. It is a highly interactive style of functioning. The senior management is quite accessible to the employees, and it helps in developing the culture of the company.

Any special project for employee development?
In this context, I would like to mention that our employees are our biggest strength, and we take special care to develop them. We are coming up with Aircel Academy in Gurgaon, which will conduct courses for the development of the employees. Our stakeholder, Maxis also has something similar. The academy will be spread over 20,000 sq.ft and will house a 104-seater auditorium as well.

We have a very young and a vibrant team and the average age of an employee is around seven years younger vis-a-vis industry standards. In such a scenario we have to cater to their skill sets, talent and attitude.

How do you motivate yourself and the team?
I strongly believe that one has to motivate one’s own self. Besides, the organization and the boss you work for should inspire you to do your best. We are extremely fortunate to have good shareholders who inspire us to do our best and give us enough freedom.

What are the challenges you faced in moving from a regional player to a national player?
The challenge right now is to scale up and ensure that the organization develops the bandwidth. We are also extremely conscious of the culture of the company, and want to build Aircel into a respectable brand. We would like to position Aircel as the brand of the future-a mass iconic brand of the next decade. In the current year, we are going to concentrate on branding and rollout of services. It is a challenge to scale up and ensure that the organization develops the bandwidth which is equivalent of a national player.

What would be your message to the young generation?
While growing up, it is important for an individual to identify the areas they want to work in and then excel in it. They should also be open to partner with other people. I find that the new generation is far more receptive to new ideas, and is willing to experiment, which is very important. The young generation should realize that there is really no shortcut to hard work. I also strongly believe in learning from others and here I would like to mention that they should be willing to cooperate and honestly adopt instead of just copying from others.

Gagandeep Kaur & Baburajan K

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