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Srini Sundararajan, President and Managing Director, Alcatel-Lucent India

March 31, 2015
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Srini Sundararajan has taken up his job as president and managing director, Alcatel-Lucent India, at a crucial time. The company is focusing on growth, innovation and transformation, and the South Asia region has a huge part to play in all these three dimensions.

His role, he says, is to navigate the very large South Asia unit, both for the success of the unit as well as the success of the company. Hopes of fast growth in India are high. Given the strategic direction given by its global parent, Alcatel-Lucent India is also looking to diversify its business by focusing on non-service provider segments such as the government, energy and transport.

“2015 is an important year for the industry with clarity likely to come in on key issues such as mergers and acquisitions and spectrum allocation, pricing and availability. Also, the Digital India programme is expected to start shaping into real deployment activities in the coming years,” he says.

On Digital India, he says the company has had discussions with the government over network for spectrum (NFS) for the national broadband initiative. Alcatel-Lucent India is taking part in some of the requests for proposal (RfPs). In the area of defence, Sundararajan says the government has already floated RfPs for NFS, IP and optics, and there will most likely be an RfP for wireless.

Another exciting area is ultra broadband access, whether it is through long term evolution (LTE) or gigabit passive optical network (GPON). This will bring the next big revolution in the industry. It requires significant upgrading of the network, including the routing and optics, and the laying of high speed/capacity fibre across the country, which is already under way both by the private and the public sector.

“For Alcatel-Lucent, these are our sweet spots, whether it is LTE or GPON or 100G or IP routing or the software that manages these networks along with value-added software, we are the world leaders in these domains and expect to have active participation in the transformation of the Indian telecom landscape,” he says.

Sundararajan has held several leadership positions in the company prior to taking over in his current role last April. Most recently, he was the India head of research and development (R&D) and country leader for the India Wireless Business division. He was also leading all the pre-sales efforts for the India LTE activities.

Earlier, he worked as vice-president and general manager for Alcatel-Lucent’s classic switching and signalling product lines, based at Naperville, Illinois, for several years. Among his other posts was senior product management director for CDMA, operations, administration and management (OA&M) and Wi-Max product lines for Lucent Technologies.

Sundararajan has over 25 years of telecom experience. His career began after he graduated in electrical engineering from IIT Madras, followed by a master’s in computer science and an MBA in finance from Illinois University. After completing his education, he worked as a technical manager in the computing, wireless and wireline business units at AT&T where he introduced several very successful products. He also worked as a member of the technical staff for 5ESS Switching Systems development in New Jersey.

Over a long and prestigious career, he has enjoyed many memorable assignments, although he says that “every role always has white spaces where the individual can expand the role to not only make it memorable, but also add significant value to oneself and the company”.

As examples, he mentions the time he had to introduce commercial hardware into a highly proprietary architecture and hardware-driven switching systems. “Instead of doing it in the traditional way, which would have been less risky, I introduced object-oriented methodology and programming to achieve this, providing an order of magnitude productivity improvement which enabled the team to get many accolades,” he recalls.

More recently, when he ran the R&D for the India unit, instead of only focusing on the day-to-day activities of the large unit, he pushed to move the unit from a project R&D culture to a product R&D culture, enabling much more value addition from the unit to the corporation as well as much upward movement for engineers within India.

While his achievements span a wide range, he personally is proud of his ability to connect with, coach and mentor people. It gives him great satisfaction to see people he has mentored grow in confidence, accomplishments and success. “As one of the early leaders of Asian origin in the US in my company, I had the opportunity to mentor a large number of people, many of whom I still continue to mentor. There is no bigger satisfaction or achievement than this,” he says.

He describes his working style as fairly down to earth. “I am a true believer in the ‘humble leader’ concept. I try to make concerted efforts to understand employees and customers. I view 360-degree communication as the number one priority for any leader,” he says.

As the leader of a large organisation, he is impressed by individuals who have the ability to move large numbers of people by their oratory. As a result, he is acutely aware of the fact that significant messaging and value should be the outcomes of the large organisational meetings held by the company. “The ability to get the key messages across convincingly and passionately is a major advantage for a leader,” he says.

Growing up, it was always his ambition to invent things for the greater good of society. As he progressed through school and IIT Madras and later the US, this desire only became stronger. “Working at Bell Labs, I learnt that inventions come in all sizes and all types, including process inventions. I am still passionate about this on a day-to-day basis and always ask the questions why, what and how,” he says.

On future trends, Sundararajan says that India’s telecom market is growing massively and continues to show positive developments and phenomenal growth year over year. But the focus predominantly, so far, has been on the most efficient voice communication systems. “Even though the capex spend had been somewhat subdued over the past few years due to a variety of reasons, given that we have been seeing an explosion in data traffic in various service provider networks during the past few years (similar to what we saw in the global markets), investments in networks and service enablement will take place at a much faster pace here as well. Adoption of state-of-the-art data-driven services will be a big driver for this in the coming years. This is no different from what is happening in the global arena,” he says.

The other change he expects is a government drive to modernise infrastructure and e-governance. This too is similar to what is happening globally. “For India, Alcatel-Lucent is deeply engaged with arguably the largest private sector broadband roll-out in the country and has been instrumental in laying the backbone of this network. Pretty much all the operators are transforming their voice-centric networks in order to be able to handle the large data explosion that they are seeing. We are actively working with most operators in this transformation,” he says.

Looking ahead to future challenges, Sundararajan says that the data explosion and the security and management of ever-increasing data traffic, where the demand is coming from a multitude of devices and places, are at the top of the list of key concerns of the market.

In addition, more and more critical applications are being served electronically, requiring even more attention to scal-ability, security, usability and availability of networks. “Innovation becomes a key engine to address these concerns, not only to cater to the needs of end-users but also to optimally utilise the limited resources available with providers,” he says.

Sundararajan’s wife of over 25 years, Rama, is also a part of the Alcatel-Lucent family. The couple has a son who is studying to be a doctor. For relaxation, Sundararajan enjoys listening to music, particularly Carnatic music, which he learnt for many years, as also Western classical and film music. He also likes sports and enjoys gardening.

“Apart from my hobbies, corporate social responsibility is a passion. The desire to give something back to society and to show that we care for it is strong, so whenever I get time, I keep myself engaged in social activities,” he says.

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