Mr. Sunil Bharti Mittal
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One of the main driving forces behind the cellular revolution in India, Mr. Sunil Bharti Mittal is the chairman and Managing Director of Bharti Group, which owns India's largest GSM-based mobile phone service, Airtel worth $9.5 million. Ranked as the sixth richest man in India, Mittal today heads the USD 5 billion Bharti Group. Forbes magazine ranks him among Asia's self-made billionaires with a whopping net worth at some USD 11 billion.
Born on June 15, 1950 in Ludhiana, Punjab, Mittal graduated from the Punjab University and with a degree in Bachelor of Arts and Science. He reclaimed the surname Mittal much later in life. His father Sam Paul Mittal was a parliamentarian but Sunil did not want to follow the beaten path and do something different.
As a teenager Mittal always had an inclination to do business. After his graduation he teamed up with his friend to form a small bicycle business with borrowed capital of Rs. 20,000. By 1979, Mittal sensed that the business would remain small and therefore moved out of Ludhiana to Mumbai.
By 1982, he had started a full-fledged business selling portable generators imported from Japan which gave him a good platform to involve himself in marketing and advertising. Things were going smooth until the government banned the import of generators as two Indian companies were awarded licenses to manufacture generators locally.
As luck refused to part away Mittal’s lucky break came in 1992, when the government began issuing licenses for mobile phone services for the first time and he clinched a deal with the French telecom group Vivendi for the Delhi cellular circle. On his trip to Taiwan Mittal got fascinated by electronic push button phones and in 1982, introduced them to India, replacing the old fashioned, bulky rotary phones.
The year 1986 witnessed the launch of Bharti Telecom Limited (BTL) 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.
In 1995, the Bharti Cellular Limited (BCL) was established and the brand ‘Airtel’ was launched. The rest as they say is history. With the introduction of Airtel mobile phones in Delhi, Mittal prides himself on a string of firsts: "the first push-button, the first cordless, the first answering machines, the first fax machines". 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 USD 650-million submarine cable project, the countries first ever undersea cable link connecting Chennai in India and Singapore.
‘Airtel’ as a reliable phone connection surpassed its contemporaries with its unbeatable star power which includes the likes of Sharukh Khan, R. Madhavan, A.R Rehman, Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Vidya Balan and Sharman Joshi.
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 USD 2 billion, employing over 5,000 people and still growing strong.
Airtel has over one million outlets and recharge stores. With annualised revenues of Rs 38,000 crore for 2008-09 and profit before tax of Rs 15,000 crore, Airtel is among the most efficient money machines and by 2013, Bharti will be a trillion-rupee group.
At the age of 55, Mittal can be rightly called as the ‘Ring King’ because in a business where he is competing with Tata, Birla, Ambani and Vodafone, he is the biggest. Given the lead of 25 million, even if Airtel stood still, it would take the nearest competitor nearly 12 months to catch up.
Mittal is engaged in the transformation of telecom into a lifestyle business, ranging from calls to games, from movies to music, making a big play for the Indian mind-share with Bharti Airtel Triple Play, Telephone, Broadband and TV, on a single line.
In 2006 the Bharti group forged a deal with the US retail giant Wal-Mart, which is the largest company in fortune 500 listing, to start a number of retail stores across India. He is now eyeing the African and South Asian markets to build a global empire.
Labelled as the most ambitious telecom entrepreneur and a clear thinking risk taker Mittal has changed the face of the Indian ICT space and 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 has won a number of awards including the Asian Businessman of the Year by the Fortune Magazine in 2006, the Business Leader of the Year by the Economic Times in 2005 and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004.
Mittal 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, and Advisory Committee constituted by Ministry of IT.
On charitable front the 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. It was set up in the year 2000 with an aim to bring education to small towns, villages and remotest areas of the country.
The foundation started the Satya Bharti School Programme in 2006, to forward its efforts. Mittal has so far helped 30,000 underprivileged children, helping them through their educational needs. The foundation has established over 200 schools on its 2009 list of the world's top 25 philanthropists.
In spite of his deep involvement in work, Mittal comes across as a person very calm, seldom ruffled and down to earth. A yoga practitioner he keeps himself fit by walking an hour in Lodhi Gardens and plays golf and tennis in his free time. Music for him means ghazals by Jagjit Singh.
About the management model that he emulates Mittal says, “Tatas are one organization we really admire. They never compromise. If we can have that image, we'd be happy. However, Tatas are very slow in responding to market needs. But you pick up the good points, put a very entrepreneurial soul into it and institutionalize. Entrepreneurial, say, like the Ambanis. That's the kind of blend we're trying to give our operations. While there's no substitute for hard work, its vision that makes success. We'd like to be the preferred choice of customers in whatever we do."
About his successful innings he says, "Right from the beginning ours was never a trading or money-making mentality, but of wanting to be recognized in our field and to establish a corporation. We did things never tried before in India. We are very fair to the people we work with (suppliers, buyers, staff). We wanted to prove that even with meager capital we could do bigger things. Now a corporation, we are working to make it an institution.”
A pioneer, a dreamer, an achiever Mittal is not a man to rest on his laurels. With the vision of making Bharti group as the premium Indian conglomerate and expanding their business over the globe, Mittal is heading further. And whenever the next big revolution is happening, he will always be there busy being a part of it.
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