Will Manoj Kohli bring cheer to Bharti Airtel?

2014 will be different for Bharti Airtel as the company has decided to bring its old war horse Manoj Kohli to India. Manoj will continue to lead international operations and would focus on strategic issues such as in-market consolidation, towerco issues, global partnerships, global sourcing and regulatory aspects. Additionally, Manoj will be responsible for the business development, mergers and acquisitions and strategic matters.

Let’s first understand the problems which needs to be rectified in Bharti Airtel. First, the employee morale is extremely low as Airtel’s strategy is not clicking. Second, data strategy is not taking off as per expectation as the company has already spent a lot in 3G and 4G licenses and infrastructure. Third, international operations are not shaping as per expectations and things are getting delayed. Fourth, we haven’t seen any innovation from Bharti Airtel from a long time. Fifth, the company needs to focus on optimizing its resources so that one can reap benefits both in short and long term. Sixth, the company needs to counter Reliance Jio which is coming up as a big competitor in data services.

With employee morale at an all time low, Bharti Airtel needed somebody who can do employee hand holding. One is also seeing lot of churn at top and middle management level. Multiple restructuring exercise has also not been successful for Bharti Airtel. Even Gopal Vittal’s acceptability is a big issue as he has to first deliver results to command respect. On the other hand, Manoj Kohli comes with lot of HR experience which will be handy for him to take corrective steps. Manoj also has good man management skills which is required when the market is on a downhill. Even Africa experience on HR front will be helpful in group strategic matters and can be replicated in India.

3G and 4G licenses have been burning lot of cash for Bharti Airtel as 3G is slow to take off and 4G has still not started in a big way due to lack of eco-system and viable business model. Manoj doesn’t have any great experience with 4G so this is a grey area which needs to be tackled. In the short term, 3G needs to be tackled and Manoj has been instrumental in running/launching 3G services in 12 African countries. A fresh perspective by Manoj Kohli will help in bringing a change in data services strategy which can start as a pilot and depending upon the success can be replicated in other markets.

International operations are not moving as per plan and things are getting delayed. Manoj has put in place, an ex-MTN person who will look after African operations.  Christian de Faria will lead the growth agenda across African markets and build key skills and capabilities within the organization whereas Manoj will focus on strategic issues and see which all market to consolidate and which all market to exit internationally so that company can retain its leadership tag in the Indian market.

Bharti has been number one operator in the country for many years thanks to many innovations that the company started. It was the first company to take up outsourcing as a strategic business model in all fields be it network, IT, call center, and saw huge success. With business model shifting from voice to data we haven’t seen any new innovation from Bharti Airtel. The company needs to come up with one or two innovations which will help in changing the business dynamics. The innovations can be worked around mobile money, data services, M2M and others.

The company needs to undergo transformation from voice to data and earlier the change the better it is for Bharti Airtel. Airtel employees need to reoriented with respect to data to get desired results. Even the company needs to optimize its resources so that rising  dollar doesn’t impact its bottom line. Manoj’s experience can be handy here as he will try to master the data piece.

To make a mark in data services, the company needs to come up with a counter for Reliance Jio which is planning to start services in FY 2012-13. Knowing the fact that Bharti’s cash situation is not upto the mark and the company has to spent a lot in license extension, refarming and 4G services. It would be challenging for the company to increase its market share in 3G and 4G services.

It would not be easy for Manoj Kohli to energize Bharti employees and bring cheer to Bharti Airtel but if he can perform this time, Bharti will be able to retain its number one position in Indian telecom for another decade.

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