Airtel chief Sunil Mittal says company has emerged strongly

“My professionals will not send me anything that will compromise the company’s governance,” said Sunil Mittal.

Bharti Airtel fought difficult battles and emerged stronger as a “very stable organisation”, after a five-year storm in the telecom industry that was marked by falling revenue and high debt, the company’s Chairman Sunil Mittal said on Tuesday.

In the last 4-5 years, it became clear that the industry’s revenue had collapsed even as expenses were high, he recalled.

“There has not been a single year when we have not spent $3-4 billion… And that is a lot of money… ₹ 20,000 crore plus every year relentlessly year-after-year this industry has had to spend and I am just talking about India,” he said.

Further, he said that the situation had necessitated raising more capital, which the company did.

Recalling the industry’s struggles, Mr Mittal said, “in the last 30 months, we have raised over $18 billion. We diluted heavily, we sold some assets and we wanted to ensure we have the money to keep on investing and fighting this very difficult battle.” Airtel has come out “very strongly” from the five-year storm to be a very stable organisation, he said, adding that it is under extreme pressure that test of a true institutions and character of an organisation comes into play.

“I must say with great deal of satisfaction and pride that despite facing some very difficult times, we stayed on course. That means not taking any short cuts, but playing for the long term,” Mr Mittal said.

“We were very clear that we will not take short cuts because we are going to be here in the longer term. We stayed the course,” the Airtel chief said.

To a question, the telecom czar said that large companies which get to a huge scale can possibly veer towards “professionally led and professionally supported or PP model”.

“When companies are young, growing and at mid-points, you need a very clear sponsor, who can take the call for risks,” he said.

Airtel is one of the most “professionalised” companies in the country, Mittal said, adding that the telco had emerged stronger from wave after a wave of adversity due to its robust organisational structure.

Airtel is completely managed by professionals who are best-in-class, he asserted.

“But when it comes to risk taking, I have my neck to offer… when the CEO of my company needs to take a risky decision, I will understand and put my neck in front of the shareholders, stakeholders, board etc. This combination is very powerful,” Mr Mittal said.

“The role of an entrepreneur in Airtel is becoming smaller by the day. Will we end up being PP or still stay as PE (professional led and supported by entrepreneur), let’s see,” he said.