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Bimal Dayal, chief operating officer, Indus Towers

March 31, 2014
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With 3G uptake poised to accelerate and 4G ready for large-scale commercialisation, the telecom industry is entering an interesting phase in which the tower industry will play a pivotal role, says Bimal Dayal, chief operating officer, Indus Towers.

For this change to happen – change that will make the industry even more relevant to society and transform people’s lives – the old ways of doing business will have to be challenged, from the way networks are rolled out, the way sites are built and engineered, and even the way sites are powered.

“My strong belief is that the telecom sector and the tower industry will undergo a sea-change in the next three to five years, and will become much more efficient, elegant and transformational.

“Given the above, one has to identify these trends and make the infrastructure available to customers at the right time, place and now, height as well. This is a key role of a current-day leader,” he says.

With global mobile data traffic set for an elevenfold increase by 2018, at a CAGR of 61 per cent, the need for rolling out higher order technologies has become a necessity. The Indian market is poised for stronger growth in mobile data usage and will see 4G being pursued aggressively by multiple players. This will bring in innovation across the spectrum as well as greater productivity in society at large, he says.

“There will be a need for an increasing number of sites around hotspots and city centres, which will pose a challenge as well as an opportunity,” says Dayal.

Indus is ready for the challenge, he adds, deriving its strength from its three pillars: strong customers, a supportive partner base and a good team of professionals. He acknowledges that there is a long way to go, saying the team has just made a “humble” start, but he stresses that they are laying the foundations for a great company. “We are not there yet,” he says, “but in our minds we have a strong belief and intent to be there.”

That said, the company has made significant progress. In January this year, it announced that it had achieved a tenancy ratio of more than 2 on 112,615 towers in 15 circles across the country. In comparison, it had a tenancy ratio of 1.28 in 2008, the year it began operations in the country.

Another achievement was deploying 20,000 green sites across its circles in 2013. This was part of the company's Indus Towers Green Sites Project, under which it declared six cities – Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Palanpur and Gandhinagar – as “green”. The initiative aimed to reduce diesel consumption at telecom sites by utilising grid power and non-polluting backup sources. With this initiative, diesel purchase by the company has come down by 15 per cent.

Indus Towers has also deployed other innovative technological solutions at its sites. These include temperature-controlled telecom equipment with 15,000 free cooling units to allow heat transfer at times when the ambient temperature is low (winters and night time), which results in lower air conditioning needs, thereby reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.

His vast experience helps hugely. From negotiating deals to customer fulfillment, he understands the industry, commercially and technically. In addition, he has ample experience of handling large teams. Put together, he feels the combination is unbeatable.

After graduating in electronics and communications engineering from Delhi University, followed by an LL.B, Dayal was fortunate to land himself a job with Tata Telecom in 1987. At the company, he was groomed as a leader and enjoyed the opportunity to work with some fine professionals in the industry.

The company gave him exposure to the business enterprise segment across geographies. In six years, he travelled across India, worked in three metros and got to know “our great country”.

But when he realised that Tata Telecom was missing the cellular revolution, he joined Ericsson where he continued to work for the next 12 years, overseeing the entire range of manage and operate functions, including planning, operations and maintenance, roll-out, deployment and network assurance. While he was with the company, he worked in various countries in Asia and Scandinavia. In Sri Lanka, as country manager and managing director of Ericsson Telecommunications Lanka Private Limited, he successfully steered the company to become the country’s number one player in the telecom infrastructure segment. This was followed by a short stint with Qualcomm, which introduced him to the world of handsets and applications.

In 2009, he joined Indus and has been a part of the drive to transform the company into a process-driven one with high regard for values and ethics. “We realised that for a company of scale that is spread across geographies, it is important to have the highest level of alignment and purpose. This differentiates the good from the great. Our vision and values are not mere words but our guiding compass. All our processes have been woven around our mission. Besides this, we gave ourselves a higher cause with the tag-line ‘Putting India First’, which always reminds us of the hierarchy of India, the company and then us,” he says.

Dayal’s goal is to construct an “institution of scale not experienced by any other company in the world”.

In terms of honing his management style, he says his years at Tata Telecom were important because they were the formative years of his career. He learnt not just from his bosses but also from his teams. Dayal believes that learning is a continuous and everyday affair, which is enriched by drawing on diverse sources. “The day one stops learning, degeneration starts,” he says.

His management style developed further after he attended courses at Harvard, Columbia Business School and London Business School. Over the years, he has developed strong themes in his management style, which he calls “situational”.

“I believe in positioning the right person for the right job and then supporting individuals to achieve their own and the company’s goals. However, if the situation warrants, I get very hands on and both the styles can co-exist, depending on the area and the situation,” he explains.

The values that underlie his behaviour towards other people stem from what he calls a “humble upbringing” in a family that had very high levels of personal integrity and responsibility.

At Indus, he is responsible for the revenue and costs for all the telecom circles the infrastructure company operates in. He is also responsible for safety, quality and technology.

Asked to describe a typical day, he says that each day is special and “pre-allocated”, with a focus on strategic issues for the company and operational challenges for the customer. Dayal likes to keep his ear close to the ground and for that, he tries to make field visits at least twice a month, if not more often. “During these visits, the stress is on the man behind the equipment as much as the equipment itself,” he says.

Dayal is a early riser and has recently developed a love for long distance running. When he has time, he enjoys a game of golf with his friends. In return for his family’s support and patience, he makes sure that he gives them his undivided attention when he is at home.

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