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Urs Pennanen, Head, India Region, NSN

March 15, 2010
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Getting Networked

Can any country possibly be more different from India than Finland –­ with its population of 5 million, its snowrich and dark winters, and its midnight sun summers? Urs Pennanen, head of India region, NSN, has always loved the special quality of nature in Finland; the water, snow and landscape have a majestic tranquillity that imparts a "kind of peace" to its people. As a young boy growing up in Helsinki, the Finnish capital, he lived so close to the sea that he used to ride his bicycle to the coast almost every day.

Yet, he is enjoying the contrast with India. In response to a question about how he is coping with the noise levels in south Delhi where he lives and Gurgaon where NSN is based, he jokes: "Is there noise?"

He is revelling in the newness of India and all the travel he has been doing, a lot of it for work as NSN has 170 offices, an R&D centre in Bangalore, factories in Chennai and Kolkata, to mention only a few, but also to explore the country with his wife, Maarit Salolainen.

A textile designer, Maarit works as a senior lecturer at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, and has worked as design director in several European textile companies. "She is fascinated by Indian textiles. She has been to villages, meeting women embroidering and weaving beautiful fabrics. She is an expert on textiles and it's very interesting for her to see a living crafts tradition in India. This living tradition has vanished from Europe," he says.

As for Urs, he was delighted to be posted here six months ago. The Indian telecom industry excites him for several reasons: the revolutionary impact it has had on the country's social and economic development, on people's lifestyles, on people's ability to earn or improve their earnings, and the sheer scorching speed of expansion.

"More than 100 million Indians got connected in the past year. I find that amazing. The applications are equally amazing, from allowing people to reach each other to giving weather forecasts to farmers, and from mobile health and education to mobile banking. I'm very glad to see how these applications are changing people's lives for the better," he says.

Urs believes that India has a powerful contribution to make to the global telecom vision of ubiquitous connectivity. "I am excited to be part of India's journey towards 1 billion subscribers. It's mesmerising to see a bit of the global vision turn into reality every day here in India, and even more humbling to be reminded of our responsibility in building for the future," he says.

After leaving the Technical University of Helsinki with a master's in industrial management, Urs moved to Bonn in Germany with his family to work in the Finnish Ministry of Trade and Industry, part of the Finnish Embassy, where he advised on exports. Later, they moved to Austria.

He joined Nokia Networks as accounts manager 16 years ago while in Germany and subsequently held several managerial roles in Central European countries. This was the era when mobile phones had just entered the European market and the industry was growing very fast.

In 2002, he became vice-president, operations solutions marketing and sales, at the company headquarters in Helsinki. In 2006, he was promoted to vice-president, services sales, and a year later, was appointed head of the sales, operations and business software unit at NSN till 2009.

During these years, he travelled extensively and interacted closely with customers all over the world. It was something he enjoyed, despite the stringent new security measures, because it was crucial for him to meet his customers. "When you are travelling, you meet a lot of people in different countries, and this is what I enjoy a lot. The offices and hotel rooms are always the same, so maximising time with customers and colleagues has always been my priority. And, if you are lucky, you get to try the local cuisine over dinner," he says.

Urs has tackled many challenging assignments over the years, so much so that it is hard for him to single out any one posting or job that really stands out. But in the midst of visiting different countries, sites and offices, he is always awestruck by the sight of an actual network operations centre facility, which he describes as "the heartbeat of telecom equipment".

"You know, sometimes corporate life seems a bit abstract. But when you walk past the security measures and step into an actual operations centre, it's an incredible feeling and a stunning sight to see the network functioning. That is very inspiring and I am glad that two out of three NSN Global Network Operations Centres are in India," he says.

Those in the industry who know him describe Urs as a steadfast and passionate leader, extremely self-motivated and goal oriented, with a deep understanding of the telecom industry and committed to customer satisfaction. Fully empowering his teams and always being there for them describes his personal leadership style.

These personal characteristics mesh perfectly with the values and work culture of Nokia and now NSN. He describes his 16 years with the company as a "truly amazing experience".

"There is so much commitment, so much passion, and wonderful people who are easy to work with. The company is well organised. We operate with clear responsibility at all levels in the organisation but there is no feeling of hierarchy," he says, "because everyone understands their responsibilities. The quality of team work you get is astonishing."

He says he is very impressed by the level of professionalism in India where the same NSN values prevail. "Everyone in the organisation has the same importance," he notes. "My responsibility may be different from your's but that does not make me a more important person."

Urs says it is these NSN values that have made the company's work culture distinctive. "We are very passionate but very humble too, and customer focus is our first priority. Our other values are winning together, communicating openly and innovating. That is the `how' part of what we do and I strongly believe that focusing on the how is fundamental to achieving our goals."

In September 2009, he was appointed head of India to lead one of the company's tier I markets. NSN has a significant footprint in India with a workforce of over 13,000 people, who support business with more than 10 operators, connect more than 150 million subscribers and give the company the leadership edge in wireless networks and managed services.

"I am keen to learn more about the Indian market," he says. "The past six months have felt like six years because I have learnt so much. The innovative drive of our customers has especially impressed me a lot. The Indian telecom industry is exciting not just because of its speed and scale of growth, but also because it has been pioneering new business and operational models for several years, particularly in terms of coping with low ARPUs," he says.

What excites him enormously is the advent of 3G in India. "Wherever it became available in the world, in every market, regardless of ARPU levels, the uptake was tremendous. India is ready for 3G and price levels of all needed technology, including handsets, are at such a level that it can become a mass mantra. Millions of people will benefit from 3G technology."

Urs keeps fit by going to the gym two or three times a week. In his spare time, he enjoys listening to classical music and intends to learn Indian classical music as well. His two children are grown up and lead independent lives, but they visit India as often as possible.

He and his wife love Indian food. The family is keen on hiking, nature watching and nature photography, a habit inspired by his father-in-law who is a passionate environmentalist and nature photographer.

"We have some wonderful shots of kingfishers in the Kerala backwaters, an area we visited recently," he says. "Nature is very important to me, which is why, whenever I can, I like to travel and see this country."

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