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Munish Seth, president and managing director, Alcatel-Lucent India Regional Unit

May 01, 2014
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Some people could call the current telecom environment in India confusing, disturbing and uncertain, and justifiably so. Not Munish Seth. The president and managing director of Alcatel-Lucent India Regional Unit sees only opportunities, endless opportunities.

“Following the 2G, 3G and LTE (long term evolution) spectrum auctions, while the discussions pertaining to the airwaves are over, the issue is that an adequate amount of spectrum may not be available. The question is, how can that spectrum be monetised to offer digital content. Given that 60 per cent of the population is below 25 years old and has high demand for data – from email to gaming on different smart devices – this presents a huge opportunity. Voice is, of course, incidental in the WhatsApp and Facebook generation,” he says.

The next phase will be about offering high speed and high quality data services anywhere and on any device, he says. “We are talking about the experience, which is what the user is demanding,” he says.

As a high-tech company that has participated, for example, in the signalling for the Delhi Metro, Alcatel-Lucent’s role in the next phase of growth will be important. The company is focusing on bringing in new-generation 100G networks and next-generation IP technologies. Seth says that so far, the industry has been focused on basic connectivity, that is, how many base stations they are installing, etc. “No one is bothered about how much DSL speed they can put up at customer premises. If you go by data, 80 per cent of mobile users connect to the Wi-Fi network at home, which is backed by a DSL or GPON. Once you get high speed access coming in through 3G or LTE or DSL, you need to transfer those bytes to the internet quickly, which is where IP-fication comes in. Or, how do you transform your network from legacy SDH, TDM to IP? Once you have IP, you need big highways on optics and that’s where 100G comes in. And we are experts in all this,” he says.

The company’s other special area is consulting and bringing in its global expertise for building networks to India. The company’s managed services offering moves away from traditional scale management to transforming networks as platforms for experience innovation.

Seth speaks with the experience of 23 years in the industry, beginning in 1990 when he graduated from the Delhi College of Engineering and then did his MBA. His first job was in R&D, in the process control industry where he worked as a hardware designer and system engineer.

He moved to the telecom industry, joining Alcatel and then later Lucent, where he spent a long time. Wanting to explore his entrepreneurial bent, he moved to a small company, called Tekelec (which was later bought by Oracle), and spent a couple of years there before rejoining the newly merged Alcatel-Lucent. He worked with the company in various roles such as chief technology officer (CTO) for India, then CTO for Asia Pacific and then, four years ago, took over his current position.

At every stage of his career, the moment he has stopped feeling excited that “there is something new to do today” on walking into the office, he has looked for new challenges. Every job has involved new challenges and new learning, whether it is new processes, new problems, new markets or new technology.

Every project he has worked on has enriched him, to the point where, if asked to single out assignments that were special, he says it’s impossible because all of them were satisfying and special in their own way. “If I look back, there is nothing I regret. I have pretty much done everything I wanted to so far,” he says.

Telecom is not the sort of industry an adolescent tends to dream about. His dream was to become a pilot. But his mother was not keen on anything that could be too risky. In any case, he soon realised that his real passion lay in technology. A geek from a young age, he used to spend a lot of his time on the internet learning. Then process control software “happened” to him, he says dramatically.

“I asked myself, why am I doing this? But when I put my head down and imagined the software code I wrote churning out big nuggets of steel, it gave me a kick. You suddenly realise that there is something you can give back to society. Just as now, in my current job, there is a wider objective – of taking India to a different level, connecting Indians, working on the vision of everyone having 20 megabits at home, developing the potential of the connected country. So that’s what I am personally passionate about, the idea of contributing to a bigger change,” he says.

Seth may be passionate about his work but he is not a slave-driver. In fact, he says his management style is fairly relaxed, thanks to his “great” team. “Typically, I put a functional team together and let them solve the problems. They pull me in if they need arbitration. I like to stretch them to do a bit more,” he says.

It is the people around him who keep him motivated. Even when, on some days, he feels he does not need to go into the office and despite having a functioning office at home, he still feels he is “missing” something and has a strong need to meet his staff and have conversations.

“First, you learn something from talking. Second, you probably unblock something in the employee’s mind just by chatting over a cup of coffee. We have a young and energetic team. We keep refreshing it, getting talent from outside, rotating jobs so that people keep going up in the food chain. All this energises me,” he says.

Seth’s parents are the source of his inspiration, along with his wife and friends. He admits this is a clichéd response but he can give no other response because it is the truth.

“All of them teach you in their own way. At times you just learn from your kids, the simplicity with which they approach a problem. Or a casual comment your wife makes that clarifies some problem in your mind. Or it can be someone in the lowest ranks of the company who walks up to you and has the courage to say they want to speak to you. So, my inspiration comes from everywhere,” he says.

Seth’s childhood was certainly not deprived, but nor was it easy. He is still in touch with his teachers at Manasthali, now Bhatnagar International School. His physics teacher is now the principal. He says that he remembers his teachers because they are the “gurus who have made you what you are”.

A Delhi denizen to the core, he says he is not keen on being out of the city, not even in Mumbai, where he worked for some years after getting married. He often visits his old house in Delhi as a way of remembering his origins and keeping himself grounded. He has also kept his first salary slip for the same reason. “It reminds me of how, though I might be where I am now, I was once a junior employee,” he says.

Seth and his wife have a son and a daughter who are currently in high school. Since he travels about a fortnight every month, he makes sure that he packs in as much time as he can with his children in the remaining time. But they are so used to his long hours that if he ever shows up at home at 6 p.m., they ask if everything is all right.

As for “switching off”, he says the reality is that gadgets make it almost impossible. Even if he can switch off from the office, he can never do so from his customers because they must be able to call him at any time. Nonetheless, over the years, he has learnt how to keep some sort of a balance. So, for example, he no longer sends emails at midnight.

The principles that guide Seth’s behaviour are based on passion for his customers and team, his desire for simplicity, the urge to do something for society and to strive to be honest at all times, even if the discussions with the teams and customers are difficult at times. “In fact,” he says, “they respect you for it.”

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