Telenor way of working in INDIA

Yesterday was the Capital Markets Day 2010 at fornebu,Oslo where Telenor's Head of Asia, Sigve Brekke, very adeptly fielded an onslaught of analyst questions on Telenor’s reasons for continuing to do business in India. The crowd of media and analyst listened with rapt attention, waiting for Telenor’s justifications for believing it can succeed amidst such fierce competition and multiple barriers. But according to Sigve, Capital Markets Day wasn’t about convincing these analysts that Telenor was right. His goal for the day was simply to inform analysts where we’re at and what we’re doing in India.

He said some of the very key and important points about India :
- Short term goals are important to achieve than talking about the long term planning.
- Meeting People and understanding their expectations is better than making descision with top executives only.
- Indians need details and then they work hard(hectic) to achieve target.

Sigve agreed to sit down with WoW to share a few of his thoughts on Uninor and how Telenor plans to succeed.

Q: Why wasn’t it important to “convince” the analysts today?
Today was not about convincing all the analysts that they were wrong, but rather to tell them what we are doing. Convincing is something that takes time, delivering the figures month after month for a long time to come. We will continue to hear the skepticism, as we heard with all of our other business units. What do you think they said about Grameenphone 13 years ago? It’ll be the same comments and questions until we start delivering.

Q: Why is Uninor such a unique challenge, in comparison with all the other challenges that Telenor has faced over the years?
First of all, it’s much bigger. Setting up an operation in such a huge country is something that we’ve never done before. Also, the business model is quite different. We are outsourcing more than we have done in the past, transitioning into more of a sales and marketing machine rather than a traditional telecom operator, which is unique. Lastly, we are seeing much more pressure from the shareholders, the market and the media. We have started new operations before where we have quietly built things up, quietly adjusted mistakes. This is different.

Q: Have shareholders ever been so openly critical of a decision that Telenor has made before?
No. They are really following us on a daily basis. For example, when we entered Pakistan, we had two to three years to get our act together and update the board and the shareholders. In India, we are in focus every day, so the attention from the outside world is much greater…even within India.

Q: What are people in India saying about Uninor?
In India we are the newcomer. But we are an interesting newcomer. We are a newcomer that is there to stay. It’s Telenor’s global presence and the power of the Telenor Group that makes Uninor interesting. This is quite different from what we have seen in the past. Most of the attention we get from competitors, the media and the government is the result of Telenor’s well-known global success moving into India.

Q: Most people have heard the stories of how you spend most of your time traveling throughout India and talking to people on the street. What do you gain from these experiences?
Meeting the people on the streets is the way I do my job. The Indian market is so competitive that you can’t wait for market analysis; you need to literally have your fingers in the market at all times in order to react quickly enough.

I’m also out with the people to encourage other employees within Uninor to do the same, making us a true marketing organization.

Finally, it’s also about building our brand. In most Asian markets, the average person never meets the top executive, they only read about him or her in the newspapers. But meeting with partners, retailers and customers really makes a difference.

Q: Does this street-level method of working really help you focus on key issues?
Yes. In India it’s really your ability to pinpoint and fix the smaller issues that makes you a successful company. Things happen so fast in this market and if you only focus on the bigger issues, you may lose out. This way of working is not unique to Uninor. All of Telenor’s Asian operations are working in the same way.

Q: Why is it so important to set such short-term goals in India, rather than focusing on the bigger picture?
You need to set very, very short-term goals and very, very short-term measurements. These measurements are broken down on a daily basis. That means daily monitoring of our progress for the day, looking at how we did, how many subscribers we gained. Then we have “war rooms” every afternoon to look at our problems and get them fixed.

Q: How are the Uninor employees reacting to this very reactive style of doing business?
In Asia, employees are really used to this style. They are used to being driven by details and they are familiar with hectic work situations.

Q: What are the three things that you’d like employees to take away from today, regarding Telenor’s status in India?
First, Telenor is not going to give up India. This is what Telenor’s soul is all about, working in emerging markets and dealing with this kind of daily competition. We have been doing this for 15 years, in 12 other operations already. India is just number 13. We will be long-term. We will not give up.

Secondly, it’s all about delivering results. The only way we can convince the skeptics is to show them results. We cannot convince them with future stories and future targets. Rather, we must show them step-by-step that we are getting there.

Finally, our business is all about people. People are the reason behind our competitive attitude, behind our attacker mindset. They drive our customer focus. We focus on people, and this is our competitive advantage.


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