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S.P. Shukla, President and CEO, Reliance Communications

November 15, 2008
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At every moment, life is a struggle between victory and defeat. S.P. Shukla believes that the key to victory lies in working hard. And hence, he has invested all of his time and energy into his work, in order to prove his mettle and achieve success.

An engineer and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, Shukla entered the telecom sector 27 years back. Since the beginning of his career, he aspired to be part of an industry where his technical, financial and marketing abilities were put to best use. Reliance ADAG not only opened up such an opportunity for him, but also afforded him the thrill of innovation.

A communications specialist, Shukla spent much of his time at Reliance Communications (RCOM) creating something new –­ whether it was the launch of the first SMS or the first prepaid service in India. He was instrumental in setting up Reliance Telecom Limited (RTL), the GSM arm of the Reliance Group, and helped it develop into a pan-Indian integrated operator. The first post-paid offering in wireless and the first prepaid service in CDMA were largely the result of his efforts.

Communications have come a long way, he observes, from the era of black-andwhite pictures. That was the era of man's first step on the moon. Today's picture is one of convergence, where one can gather almost any information on one's handset.

He says, "The moon landing took place when I was a boy and in those times, the event was of great interest to us. The hazy pictures accompanying the news articles added to the curiosity value. In fact, when TV first came to India, the broadcast quality was more like `narrowcast' as the signals reached only a particular point. Today, however, technology has advanced thousands of steps and continues to do so every day, with newer and better ways of communication making their debut," he observes.

Shukla's association with the group goes back almost 12 years, when he helped set up RTL. His strategic planning enabled the company to achieve cash break even in just three years. Both postpaid wireless services and prepaid services in CDMA were first-of-their-kind endeavours, which made the company very popular among the masses.

Shukla, however, does not allow past successes to dominate his resolve to do more. After these achievements, he continued to work on the launch of pioneering products in CMDA like the "Get started kit" and the "Handset change kit". The launch of data cards in India was another pioneering initiative taken during his tenure.

"The company's objective has always been to benefit ordinary people. And that is why we came up with a plan to offer cheap, affordable handsets with complementing connection tariffs," he says, describing the rationale behind the launch of Reliance's Classic handset range, which became a huge hit among lower-middle-class urban users and with the rural masses.

"We developed memorable price points: Rs 777 for a monochrome handset, Rs 999 for a coloured one, and Rs 1,888 for one equipped with FM radio. These were major initiatives by RCOM to make mobile telephony affordable for the masses."

So, what has Shukla's strategy been for managing the company's 45 million customers as president, personal business?
For one, he seems to know the pulse of the customer, having set up three mobile businesses virtually from scratch. And for another, he has followed a hands-on approach to work while delegating when it comes to geographical and functional barriers. His belief is that as the size of a company's operations grows, one needs to find an optimal balance between being handson and delegating.

Shukla prefers a people-centric style of management, which is in line with his belief that people are the biggest assets of any company. "People are the most vital cogs in any organisation's machinery," he says. "I believe in working closely with my team on every new venture and encourage an `open-door policy', wherein my staff are free to come to me at any time for any issue, whether professional or personal."

He explains: "It is important to remember that there is a fine line separating delegation and abdication, and that is what makes all the difference in the output. I delegate after having fully prepared the team or the person to perform. It works in the best interest of a fast growing organisation and I endeavour to move forward with this approach."

With the telecom sector growing at a brisk pace, work has been on a roll for him. He remembers the time when he moved from one project to another without any break, putting in every effort into making new initiatives a reality.

But Shukla believes there is scope for much further growth as India still has a large untapped market, especially in the wireless segment. "Wireless access will come to play an increasingly important role in providing internet connectivity in the non-metro environment. It will also become an acceptable medium of commercial transactions, and value-added services will become more segment specific," he notes.

"While the average revenue per user from new customers/recent mobile users is generally on the lower side till they get accustomed to using the mobile phone, older customers tend to increase their usage as they discover more applications in the instrument," he adds.

Given his hectic pace of work, Shukla says there is hardly any time left for the family. Still, he tries to ensure he spends as much time as possible with them and indulges in the rare luxury of going out for a family meal or movie. Listening to music is a great stressbuster for him, as is reading. "I have varied reading interests –­ from history and sociology to technology and new management philosophy," he says.

Despite the limited time he has for himself, he has no regrets about joining the telecom sector. If anything, the sector has been a source of immense personal and professional satisfaction for Shukla. It has ensured his overall growth and development. He says, "With convergence on the anvil, as well as new technologies and marketing opportunities, the telecom sector remains very exciting. It ensures that the management looks at the telecom scenario from a total perspective, and not just from a purely technical or sales perspective."

"Working for this sector gives me great personal satisfaction," he adds. "It allows me to serve the country and be a part of the nationbuilding efforts. Telecom has really revolutionised communication in India and added to the productivity of other sectors as well."

At RCOM, he feels proud of being part of a network that has created huge employment opportunities through its chain of over 2,000 showrooms, 3,000 distributors and 300,000-plus retailers, besides a host of vendors and service providers.

What, then, would be the next most exciting task for him? Ensuring successful convergence, making telecom accessible to the remotest parts of the country, and turning these regions into profitable business models, he responds. And RCOM, he believes, is well equipped to undertake this task given its proven project execution skills and economies of scale-based business models.

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