"It was a matter of having conviction in someone and the feeling of working together." Manoj Kohli on working with Sunil Mittal
Often described as the telecom man, Manoj Kohli is the chief executive officer (international) & joint managing director of Bharti Airtel. He heads the international business group of the company and sits on its board. Prior to his present assignment, Mr Kohli held multiple roles as CEO & joint MD, president & CEO and head of mobile services business at Bharti Airtel.
Education: Manoj Kohli is an alumnus of the Delhi University, from where he got his bachelor degrees in commerce & law. He acquired an MBA degree from Faculty of Management Studies, New Delhi. Mr Kohli also attended the executive business program at the Michigan Business School, US, in 1993 and the advanced management program at the Wharton University of Pennsylvania, US, in 2005.
Professional career: Manoj Kohli started his career in 1979 with DCM Ltd, where he initially led human resources operations. Later, he acquired leadership positions in the foods, chemicals and fertilizer businesses and assignments in engineering projects, including Shriram Honda. The stint with DCM exposed him to different types of industries. “DCM has given good managers. At one point of time, it had people like Ashok Soota and Rajendra Pawar. The focus on processes, reports and performance made it a great place to work,” Mr Kohli had said in an interview. Various assignments at DCM saw him shuttling between Daurala, Kolkata and Hyderabad. That was what working in six different companies, yet being part of the same group, entailed. He left the company as vice-president, responsible for the air conditioning & refrigeration business unit (now known as Tecumseh & Daikin), after a stint of around 17 years. He subsequently joined AlliedSignal/Honeywell, where he was executive director in charge of its new industrial park and operations in India.
Mr Kohli left AlliedSignal/Honeywell to work with Escotel as its executive director and CEO. He was with Escotel for five years before handpicked by Sunil Bharti Mittal.
Life at Airtel: It is learnt that Mr Kohli and Mr Mittal sat across the table during a meeting of the Cellular Operators Association of India as representatives of Escotel and Bharti Airtel, respectively. Mittal, who has an eye for talent, asked Kohli to join his company in 2002. Kohli agreed as he was looking to work with Sunil Mittal. "It was a matter of having conviction in someone and the feeling of working together," Kohli said in an interview with Outlook.
Mr Kohli joined Airtel at a time when other companies were falling like nine pins and those managed to continue were under severe pressure. Even the Bharti management was trying hard to put up a brave face. “It was a challenge for an underdog. We had to fight hard and be smart enough to outdo others,” he said.
While Sunil Mittal is often billed as the poster boy of the Indian mobile revolution, it was the relentless work and strategy execution of Manoj Kohli and his team that took the brand Airtel to every nook and corner of the country. His upbringing in by-lanes of Old Delhi helped him understand the way common people think. It is his close proximity to grassroots that shaped many tariff plans at Airtel, including the ‘Lifetime Incoming Free’ scheme, which he conceptualized along with his colleague, Hemant Sachdev. With Aitrel establishing its brand in India and focusing on deeper penetration, Mr Kohli has been assigned with new challenges of expanding the company’s footprint globally. Manoj Kohli was instrumental in Bharti’s acquisition of the Africa operations of Zain Mobile of Kuwait at a consideration of $10.7 billion in 2010. It was “the largest-ever cross-border deal in an emerging market and will result in combined revenues of about $13 billion.''
Professional affiliations: Manoj Kohli is the chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)’s national committee on telecom & broadband. He was member of the board of GSMA in 2008. He has been the chairman of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). He was adjudged the ‘Telecom Man of the Year’ and ‘Telecom Person of the Year’ by Media Transasia and Voice & Data, respectively. He is a member of the academic council of the Faculty of Management Studies and has been honoured with the ‘Best Alumni’ award by SRCC, Delhi University.
Personal preference: Manoj Kohli has passion for peaks. He heads for the Himalayas whenever he finds time from his busy schedule. His ultimate dream is to climb the peaks in the Tasmanian ranges of Australia. Unlike many top-rung corporate executives, he likes to spend weekends with the family if professional engagements do not interfere. An avid reader, Mr Kohli used to finish two books in a day during his student life. Naturally, he does not get enough time now-a-days, but as the adage goes: ‘Old habits die hard’. Listening to music is a habit he still continues, albeit with some compromises. "My family wants the latest hits and I am more of an oldie fan. Most of the time, the kids have the upper hand."
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