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Sunil Lalvani, Managing Director, BlackBerry India

June 26, 2013
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As a technology leader, BlackBerry will continue to focus on bringing to the market innovative products while keeping its eyes firmly trained on their utility, believes Sunil Lalvani, managing director (MD), BlackBerry India.

BlackBerry has been through some challenging times of late, but it is still incontestably a technology leader in the telecom sector owing to its innovation and creativity. Sunil Lalvani, MD, BlackBerry India, is aware of the competition and even more aware of the permanent flux in consumer preferences, but he says it is his company’s job to understand those preferences and satisfy them.

“Since the market has gone through radical restructuring and reorientation in the past few years, we have correspondingly positioned ourselves at the forefront of innovation and have launched various products relevant to market expectations,” he says.

Lalvani has some clear ideas about future trends, which he shares with tele.net. The most obvious, he says, is the evolution of smartphones into mobile computers. Its latest product, the BlackBerry 10, has been developed in line with this vision for the future where every mobile device will be a powerhouse of utility functions that will enhance the efficiency of the user.

“The BlackBerry 10 devices have the ability to enable and implement the Internet of Things in the true functional sense, and empower human to human, machine to machine, and human to machine communication,” he says.

QNX, which forms the core of the BlackBerry 10 platform, is already used in several mission-critical applications in areas such as air traffic control, space missions, transportation and infotainment, and has been deployed by several leading car manufacturers in North America.

For Lalvani, joining BlackBerry was about being a part of the exciting change taking place in a country where 650 million Indians own a mobile phone but less than 12 per cent of them use a smartphone.

He believes that smartphone-based mobility solutions can transform society by providing greater access to information in real time. Such applications could drive education, health care, and business process efficiencies in the daily lives of Indians.

His two decades of work experience in the industry has spanned leading IT companies such as Cisco, Nokia, SITA-Equant and Global Telesystems. In this period, he has worked with some “amazing” business leaders and people managers, who have significantly guided and influenced his career progression. One of his great role models is Ratan Tata, for his qualities as a leader and a gentleman. Lalvani has never met him but would love to. He admires Tata’s down-to-earth yet dignified approach and the way he balances this with the ability to take tough decisions when required.

“I would love to emulate his leadership style some day. However, the only commonality I have managed to achieve with him till date is our love for pets,” he jokes.

His eight years at networking giant Cisco, where he handled several cross-functional roles, taught him a lot because he had to perforce expand his knowledge and range of experience while simultaneously continuing to focus on what he enjoys the most – meeting new and existing customers daily.

Lalvani’s decision to move from Cisco into the world of mobility was prompted by simple market dynamics and the urge to contribute to society. He joined BlackBerry in August 2009 to lead its enterprise sales business in India. His responsibility was to engage with enterprise customers to differentiate the BlackBerry enterprise solution portfolio from the competition, and position it as the preferred enterprise mobility solution in the Indian market.

In May, he became MD of the company. His focus now is on driving the adoption of the next generation of mobile computing with the BlackBerry 10 in what is a key market for the company. “At present, my key focus is on delivering differentiated solutions for consumers and enterprise customers in India, providing a unique mobility experience that harnesses the full range of BlackBerry offerings,” he says.

In the past four years, Lalvani has been a part of all the highs and lows of the telecom industry. His market experience has taught him that having the best product or the lowest price doesn’t always guarantee a sale, unless the customer understands the end benefit.

Indian customers have a deeper understanding of technology than some of their peers, he says, and they are only convinced if they understand the specific benefit to them of a purchase. “This approach, coupled with the highest levels of work ethics, has always been my core strength,” he says.

One area of his management style that he needs to work on, he concedes, is a somewhat Manichean outlook. “I don’t maintain any shades of grey, and that has proved to be the undoing in certain competitive situations, or in situations that require diplomacy,” he says.

He enjoys being a hands-on leader because it widens his domain knowledge on mobility solutions and keeps him physically connected to technology adoption. But since taking over as MD, he has had to start delegating more than earlier.

Despite his success, Lalvani says he has never been overly ambitious because ambition often drives a hunger for success and that could have adverse effects on a person’s personal and professional life.

He prefers to focus on enjoying what he does and giving every task his best shot. He has been lucky in that his efforts – and his extensive travelling schedules – have always been supported by his wife and son.

His circle of friends is also supportive and close, with many dating back to his days at Campion School in Mumbai, a time that he recalls, without any reservation, as the “best time of my life”. In fact, he met up with his school friends very recently and they are currently all planning for their 30th reunion bash in Goa next year.

After school, Lalvani completed his engineering degree in electronics from TSEC, Mumbai, and obtained a postgraduate diploma in marketing management from Xaviers Institute of Management Studies. Throughout his career, his time has been almost equally divided between Delhi and Mumbai.

For leisure, he enjoys swimming – “I could swim 365 days of the year if I had my way” – watching comedy movies, listening to music, watching a Roger Federer match, and relaxing with his wife and son, during which time a strict rule is applied, namely, no television, no phones or other gadgets within a 10 mile radius so that they can connect and communicate without any distractions.

Physical fitness is top priority for him, which is why his daily morning yoga routine is a must. “BlackBerry has an extremely good work culture, with some excellent benefits for employees. So, if one is disciplined, one can have a healthy work-personal balance even on a typical workday,” he says.

Predictably, his day is full of conference calls. These are a necessity but he infinitely prefers being out in the field, meeting customers and partners to understand the ground reality and improve the company’s business model and customer focus.

On BlackBerry’s strengths, he says that from being a smartphone manufacturer, it has grown over the years to become a complete communications solution provider which provides not just smartphones but complete mobile ecosystems.

This transition, he adds, has been possible owing to its constant focus on research and development – new product design with utility as well as the creation and development of a vast variety of content and solutions for both enterprises and consumers.

“Reach was one of the deterring factors for our growth in India earlier, but we have successfully proliferated over the past one year and are now present in over 250 cities with 5,000 retail points across the country. In addition, we are developing localised marketing campaigns focusing on specific target segments to ensure a better connect with customers and drive strong awareness of our products as well as its differentiators,” he says.

While his hands are full right now, later in life Lalvani would like to share his learnings with the younger “smart” generation, which will experience the evolution of mobile communications to mobile computing.

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