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The secret of success lies in values and character, and the ability to prioritize in life: Manoj Kohli

Manoj Kohli, CEO and joint MD of Bharti Airtel, is credited with steering the integrated telecom operator to its present leadership position in the Indian market. Kohli started his career in 1979 and prior to joining Bharti worked for DCM and Escotel at various leadership positions. He is also the VOICE&DATA Telecom Person of the year 2009.

Besides, he is a member of the GSM Association Global Board and Cellular Operators Association of India. The company has recently crossed 100 mn subscriber base. For the first time the company has been crowned numero uno in our annual survey, V&D100. During his tenure Airtel has also launched its DTH services as well as services in Sri Lanka. Currently, Kohli is working towards building Bharti into the most admired brand in the country. In this freewheeling interview, we get an insight into his leadership style, likes and dislikes. Excerpts:

What would you say are your major strengths and weaknesses?
My biggest strength is that I have a strong vision and stronger values. I am extremely focused on my targets and am unwavering till I reach my goal. Besides, I have imbibed strong middle class values of honesty and humility. My background is such that these are part of my very personality. I have a consistent focus on implementation. Initially, I wanted to focus on making a world-class company in India and that’s what we did. However, where weaknesses are concerned, I can say that my biggest weakness is my impatience.

Manoj Kohli, CEO and joint MD, Bharti Airtel

How would you describe your relationship with Sunil Mittal?
I share a special relationship with Sunil. We have been working together for a long time now and the best thing about him is that he is a fantastic mentor. He is extremely calm and composed and doesn’t lose his cool easily. He is a very hands-on CEO and is extraordinarily sharp and focused. I can confidently say that he joins the dots much better and before anybody else does. He thinks ahead of everybody else and is able to come up with a different perspective.

How do you spend your spare time?
I like to socialize with my friends and family. Weekends are totally devoted to the family. We go out or spend time at home.

What would be your vision for the company?
We want to build Bharti into a center of excellence in the country. We have a vision that Bharti should be the most admired brand in the country and loved by more and more customers. Besides, it should be regularly targeted by top talent and benchmarked by more and more businesses. We feel that Bharti should inspire other entrepreneurs.

We would also like to dominate the three screens a consumer uses today: mobile, personal computer and television. Going forward, these areas will generate new revenue streams and m-commerce will also play an important role. Bharti is not going to be a pure play telecom service provider. We are also focusing on building a global business model.

What is your leadership style?
I believe I have a very open style of functioning. Actually it is the part of the culture at Bharti. We encourage entrepreneurial spirit and out-of-the-box thinking. At Bharti we make an endeavor to retain the spirit of the small company in spite of being a big company. I encourage empowerment and connection with other people. We offer a lot of platforms to the employees to come out with their ideas. In this regard, we also make an effort to keep changing the structure of the company regularly. Dynamism is very important. Besides, we are extremely non-bureaucratic and informal. Decision making is also fast. We retain the characteristics of a small company. Anybody can come and talk to the CEO of the company. Our biggest strength is our employees. We allow our employees to make mistakes but the important thing is that they should learn from them. I would say that we are very agile inspite of being such a big company.

Besides, we also focus a lot on innovation. In fact, I can safely say that innovation is in our blood and DNA. We are constantly thinking of innovating and how to improve our performance and how to be more cost effective. We believe in thinking out-of-box and believe in changing proactively and not reactively.

What is the secret to your success?
Values are extremely important to me. The secret of success lies in values and character and the ability to focus and prioritize in life. Success in life is substantiated by work and family. One also needs to be humble about success, humility is extremely important. Coming from a middle class background, humility is ingrained in my value system.

Do you have any regrets in life?
No, none whatsoever. I have achieved whatever I had set out to achieve. I wanted to create an Indian world-class company and we have done that.

Gagandeep Kaur & Baburajan K

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