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Newsmaker: Gopal Vittal

Sounak Mitra/New Delhi 18 Jan 13 | 12:10 AM

Bharti Airtel is not new to Gopal Vittal, having first worked with the company from 2006-08. Still, navigating the company as its CEO at a time when the industry is going through a shake-up may not be easy.

For Vittal, who will take over from the current CEO, Sanjay Kapoor, in March, reversing the telco’s shrinking revenues and market share will be among the first of the challenges. But his experience of having worked in the country’s largest consumer goods company, Hindustan Unilever, is expected to hold him in good stead.

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He rejoined Bharti Airtel in April 2012 as group director (special projects). Prior to that he had worked with Bharti Airtel as director (marketing and communications) from 2006 to 2008, reporting directly to Manoj Kohli, the current joint managing director and CEO (international) of the company. Vittal as CEO (India) will report to Chairman and Managing Director Sunil Bharti Mittal.

As CEO, Vittal will also be responsible for driving the data business, a segment expected to be the next big growth area for the telecom industry, especially with the launch of 3G and 4G services. During his first stint, Vittal made significant contributions towards driving revenue growth and market leadership.

For the past one year, Vittal, a marketing man, has worked across the Singtel Group in South Asia, Australia, Softbank and Silicon Valley to have a deeper understanding on the emerging trends in the data and Internet space. SingTel has about 32 per cent stake in Bharti Airtel.

During his stint with Unilever, Vittal played a key role in implementing and planning project 'Bharat', a rural marketing initiative by the FMCG company, and rose to become the executive director for its home and personal care division.

According to industry insiders, Vittal is a marketing expert and has to make a major transition in running the complicated day-to-day operations of the telecom company. However, Vittal's marketing skills and Kohli’s familiarity with dealing with the government will make a winning combination for Bharti.

Those in the know say that Mittals are planning to integrate the operations in Africa and India through a new structure with Manoj Kohli as its likely global CEO. The Bharti Airtel spokesperson, however, declined to comment on the issue.

Bharti Airtel’s market share has declined from 26.66 per cent in March 2010 to 20.62 per cent at the end of November 2012, according to data published by the Telecom regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). But, its revenue market share marginally improved to 28.98 per cent during the quarter ended September 2012 as compared to 28.06 per cent during the quarter ended March 2010, when Vittal’s predecessor, Sanjay Kapoor, took over as the CEO.

“He has an outstanding track record at Unilever and brings with him a wealth of experience in assimilating the consumer mindset, managing operations efficiently, winning with the customer, building brand and innovating to secure market leadership. Gopal spent his last year understanding the new wave of mobile telephony, in particular the data space and data experience. This will be extremely relevant and valuable for the next phase of Airtel’s growth," Sunil Mittal had said in a recent statement.

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