Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharti Group can be labelled as the most ambitious telecom entrepreneur in India. Sunil a former student of Harvard Business School, graduated from Punjab University. The son of a parliamentarian, Sunil did not want to follow his father’s footsteps. He had shown an interest in business even from his teenage days. So after graduation, Sunil got together with his friend and formed a small bicycle business with borrowed capital in the1970s. But by 1979, he realized that this business would remain small. So he moved out of Ludhiana, spent a few years in Mumbai and in 1981, was running an import and distribution operation out of New Delhi and Mumbai.
By 1982, Mittal had started a full-fledged business selling portable generators imported from Japan and that gave him the chance to involve himself in activities like marketing and advertising. Things went smoothly until the government banned the import of generators as two Indian companies were awarded licenses to manufacture generators locally.
Sunil Mittal got interested in push button phones while on a trip to Taiwan, and in 1982, introduced the phones to India, replacing the old fashioned, bulky rotary phones that were in use in the country then. Bharti Telecom Limited (BTL) was incorporated and entered into a technical tie up with Siemens AG of Germany for manufacture of electronic push button phones. By the early 1990s, Mittal was making fax machines, cordless phones and other telecom gear.
The turning point came in 1992 when the Indian government was awarding licenses for mobile phone services for the first time. One of the conditions for the Delhi cellular license was that the bidder have some experience as a telecom operator. Mittal clinched a deal with the French telecom group Vivendi. Two years later, Sunil secured rights to serve New Delhi. In 1995, Bharti Cellular Limited (BCL) was formed to offer cellular services under the brand name AirTel. Within a few years Bharti became the first telecom company to cross the 2-million mobile subscriber mark. The company is also instrumental in bringing down the high STD/ISD, cellular rates in the country by rolling the countries first private national as well as international long-distance service under the brand name IndiaOne. In 2001, the company entered into a joint venture with Singapore Telecom International for a $650-million submarine cable project, the countries first ever undersea cable link connecting Chennai in India and Singapore.
Always on the move and making an impact and excelling in whatever he did, this clear thinking risk taker has changed the face of the Indian ICT space. For his contributions he has been honoured with several awards. He was chosen as one of the top entrepreneurs in the world for the year 2000 and amongst ‘Stars Of Asia’, by ‘Business Week’, he received IT Man of the Year Award 2002 from Dataquest and CEO Of the Year, 2002 Award (World HRD Congress). He is the member of National Council of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), Chairman, Indo-US Joint Business Council, Member, Advisory Committee constituted by Ministry of IT. Mittal has to his credit the breaking up of the 100 year old monopoly of state run companies to operate telecom services in India. Now he heads a successful empire focused on different areas of business through independent Joint Venture companies with a market capitalization of approximately $ 2 billion, employing over 5,000 people and still growing. Bharti Foundation has funded over 50 schools in Madhya Pradesh and also donated Rs 200 million to IIT Delhi for building a Bharti School of Technology and Management.
In spite of his deep involvement in work, Mittal the man, is calm, seldom ruffled and very down to earth. He says he achieves a sense of detachment and peace with regular practice of yoga. He is thankful for a supportive family including a daughter and twin sons, with whom understandably he doesn’t get much time to spend. His brothers Rakesh and Rajan are with him in the business.
He is a pioneer, a dreamer, an achiever. Ranked 125th in the Forbes list, Sunil Bharti Mittal is not a man to rest on his laurels. Whenever the next big revolution is happening, he is there busy being a part of it. What inspires and drives this trailblazer? We hear it in his own words.
Practice is the real thing, rest is all theory. I didn’t go to a B-school, instead learnt lessons on the streets and at every opportunity, tried to assimilate, gather and absorb some of the practices that were required to create an enterprise.
I dream BIG. Everything beings with a small step, but you have to dream big to take a leap. I graduated from Punjab University. After graduation, I along with my friend formed a small bicycle business with borrowed capital in the 1970s. But by 1979, I realized that this business would remain small. I moved out of Ludhiana, and tried other things so that I would be noticed.
Trust your reflexes. In 1982, I had a full-fledged business selling portable generators imported from Japan. This gave me a chance to be involved in activities like marketing and advertising. Things were smoothly until the government banned the import of generators as two other Indian companies were awarded licenses to manufacture generators locally. Then I made it a point that whenever the opportunity knocks on the door next time, I will be ready for it. The turning point came in 1992 when the government was awarding licenses for mobile phone services for the first time. I took that up immediately.
Recognition is momentary. You have to move on to achieve more, take more risks and be mentally alert. Being featured in the Forbes, or receiving the IT Man of the Year Award did make me feel great. It was a momentary high. Right now I just have competition here in India, but I have to work hard to that I am the competition from India for the world.
Everything comes at a price, even a smile. A boy of 8 or 9 years selling roses at the signals can make anybody feel worthless. How could I sit back in my chair and just run my business when the next generation of this country still hasn’t made its foundation? You can dream of a beautiful India, but you have to wake up from your dream to make it beautiful.