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Sunil Tolani, COO, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Idea Cellular

August 31, 2011
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Sunil Tolani says he has been placed in a “box-office seat” – a vantage point from where he can see, think and contribute to the lives of rural people. His assignment as chief operating officer (COO) of Idea Cellular’s Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (MPCG) circle often takes him to villages like Jilela, Boki and Pipaliya-Chamaran. These remote villages, some with a population of less than 1,000,  now have access to mobile telephony. “I see young people in these places using GPRS and mobile applications. For example, farmers can access the latest mandi prices and weather forecasts through mobile handsets. I also see opportunities for  services like mobile banking in these areas,” he says.

The nature of his job ensures that Tolani is in touch with the real India. At present, 20.31 per cent of the rural population in the MPCG circle has a mobile phone.

Besides exploring and expanding rural services, Tolani is excited about 3G. Idea recently launched its Gold Standard 3G services in the circle and the response to this has been encouraging. “Now, we just have to keep building consumer understanding and improve the relevance of these services to the masses,” he says. Tolani expects 3G to bridge the digital divide, not only between the urban and rural population, but also between the rich and the poor. In anticipation of this, he is waiting for vendors to develop new applications and low-cost services in the areas of entertainment, m-commerce, financial inclusion, m-education, m-health, etc.

Prior to Idea Cellular, Tolani was working with Hindustan Unilever Limited. The company, he believes, helped him understand diverse business functions. It also taught him to be spontaneous and think freely. “I had just finished my MBA from IIM Bangalore when I joined Hindustan Unilever. So I was given the freedom to think and improvise in the field,” he says.

The lessons that he learnt at Hindustan Unilever have stayed with him and played a key role in his professional life. “They have taught me to be flexible in approach and lead as per the demands of the situation within the value framework,” Tolani notes.

Some of the other tools he has found useful in his profession and which he counts among his strengths are “passion for the task at hand, the ability to connect and learn from the field, to think on my feet and have a deep understanding of all business functions”.

Despite having a full plate professionally, Tolani makes it a point to take some time off to watch movies, listen to old Hindi songs and play table tennis. His favourite reads are The Alchemist and Straight from the Gut.

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