The customer is king--Airtel.

Author:Yedder, Omar Ben
Position:TELECOMMUNICATIONS - Dialogue with Manoj Kohli - Interview

The Indian telecoms giant, Bharti Airtel, created a worldwide sensation less than a year ago when it concluded a $10bn deal to purchase most of Zain's African holding. Driving the deal alongside the group chairman Sunil Mittal was Manoj Kohli, CEO international (right), who now heads the African operations from its Nairobi headquarters. He discusses his African experience with Omar Ben Yedder, Group Publisher.


Omar Ben Yedder: It is nearly a year since you entered the African market. What are your impressions so far?

Manoj Kohli: We acquired Zain in June, so it's been a year of learning and assimilation. We are getting to know the region, the company and our employees. We are learning the rules and regulations, and about the social and economic trends, so it's been a steep learning curve.

We're feeling very positive about our decision, which we feel was timely and has got us into this continent of the future at the right moment and with the right company.

We have taken long strides in terms of business and our business model, our branding and our leadership, in incorporating the Bharti philosophy, implementing the Bharti ecosystem, and in many other areas in which we have initiated action. So it has been extremely useful, full of learning and discovering many opportunities in each African country in which we operate.

OBY: In India you operate in one big market, whilst Africa is much more fragmented across a number of markets and legislations. What is your overall strategy?

MK: Our vision is very clean: to be the most-loved brand in Africa - in the daily lives of African people - by 2015.

We operate in 16 markets, some larger than others. We are used to managing a large business, and over the last decade, in India, we have successfully managed to expand it to 150m users in a country of 1.2bn people split into 28 states, with many states bigger than some countries in Africa.

So we are used to operating across different areas with different cultures, languages and customer behaviours.

India is a mix of many different cultures. So we have been able to acclimatise to Africa much more quickly, as we are used to operating across different spectrums. In Africa, we are dealing with different legislations and regulators, and that is where we are spending much more time, ensuring we construct a joint agenda in each country with each regulator.

I am happy to say that in the past six to seven months, we have managed to achieve a joint agenda in each of the countries in which we operate.

OBY: Where do you see your competitive advantage?

MK: There are several factors which determine our unique selling points (USPs). First is our brand, a vital part of our strategy. The brand is one of youth and innovation - bringing new ideas and new products which are affordable.

Second is the people DNA of...

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