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Dinesh Verma, Managing Director, India and SAARC, Juniper Networks
There are many things that Dinesh Verma wants to do at Juniper but if he had to confine himself to just two, it would be these. First, gain the market relevance that is proportionate with the company’s solid and respected brand as an industry leader in automated, scalable and secure networks. Earlier, it’s been said that the company’s strategy somewhat lacked coherence but for the past two years, it has been focusing on getting at least a 15 per cent market share. “Having put our strategy in place, now is when we will see the upswing. We are doing extremely well globally and want to replicate that in India,” he says.
Second, Verma aims to create a line of succession. “By the time I leave, I want to have identified and nurtured at least a couple of possible successors, who can continue the work rather than our having to look outside the company,” he says.
The conversation for tele.net takes place at the Juniper office in New Delhi. It is located in an office block in Jasola called by the bizarre name, Non-Hierarchical Commercial Centre – the kind of name that rolls easily off a rickshaw-wallah’s tongue. No one in the area, naturally, had heard of this grand-sounding building but they knew the Copia Suites that are located inside, so that helped in finding the Juniper office on the fifth floor. Verma’s manner is frank and cordial. Though he has worked with many of the top IT and telecom companies in the world, he has not been touched by pompousness.
Juniper is already a strong player with telecom service providers and he plans to continue building on that strength. The company will introduce new technologies for these providers. On whether this is the perfect time for someone like him and a company like Juniper, given the government’s thrust on Digital India, Verma nods. “I absolutely believe in this programme. It’s going to be complex to work out and you have to have the right teams and strategy, but it is real. It’s not an empty slogan. Networking is the building block for every communication – for data flow, for audio, for video, for convergence. The basic crux of Digital India is that you connect everybody and empower everybody. I see a lot of opportunities for us to play in this space,” he says.
He is watching closely what the central ministries and state governments are doing on Digital India. In defence too, he says a lot of modernisation is under way. Some networks are over a decade old. Juniper is going “on the attack” in both the defence and government sectors, because it feels it has a lot to offer. Anything to do with the government is usually painfully slow, but Verma says that under the current dispensation, he has seen decisions getting faster and becoming more transparent.
“The PSUs are moving faster. From design to award of a tender used to take about 10 months. Now it’s more like three months. The onus is actually on us and our friends in the industry to keep educating them about new technologies and how they need to upgrade their skill sets. We have to handhold them to make them more aware so that they progress from where they are and align themselves with the new technologies in order to be future-proof for the next five to seven years,” he says.
This problem – keeping up with changes in technology – is a global one, he believes. Everyone is struggling to keep pace with developments and to re-skill their staff accordingly. “Everyone is talking about more open systems, more interoperability and scalability, and performance that is associated with these new systems. If the net goes down for a minute, there is panic. To cope with the pace of change, reskilling of staff is vital.”
Strengthening the Juniper workforce, on the business side, is a priority. Verma acknowledges that Juniper has been a very strong company technologically, although historically it’s been seen as a bit weak in making that technology relevant to businesses. “We have strengthened that over the past two years so that technology is aligned with every dollar it can bring into the business of our clients. That has fundamentally shifted our relevance to the marketplace. And we are doing this across the globe – producing better and better products by incorporating the feedback that we get from the field,” he says.
If Verma was appointed managing director (MD) for India and the SAARC region last November and given responsibility for go-to-market operations and driving high-impact growth at Juniper, it’s because he has a track record of three decades of working for companies such as British Telecom (BT) Global Services where he headed sales, and similar leadership roles at IBM, Cisco and Ericsson.
His first job after graduating in engineering from the Indian Institute of Science in the early 1980s was with what is known nowadays as a start-up but was in those days probably just thought of as high risk. This company was Allen Bradley (now Rockwell Automation). Since his interest was in a research-based job, everyone in the family expected him to join the government sector, which was where most of the research was being done. But with the strong backing of his parents, he chose Allen Bradley because it was doing a phenomenal job in process automation – the big new field at that time. He was among the first employees to join.
He cherishes his time with the company – his first and hugely formative work experience. “I was doing so many different things with huge exposure to how people behave in industry, what problems you face at sites, the different processes I learnt, from cement manufacturing to fertilisers – it was an excellent foundation and a wonderful time for me,” he recalls.
There was a senior person at the company whom Verma remembers fondly even now because of the trust he reposed in the young new recruit. “The trust he put in me and the challenges he allowed me to take were amazing. That trust gave me confidence and moulded me in such a way that I am not afraid to take on challenges even today. His trust was personal and professional, and it meant that I rose to his expectations.”
When the company went through a difficult financial patch, Verma moved to Honeywell, but into sales. Then, in 1995 when India embarked on mobile telephony, he joined Ericsson. Having spent about 18 months in Tokyo around this time, he had grasped the potential of the mobile phone but, of course, like everyone else, he had no idea that the pace of adoption would be so dizzying. Then in 1999, the New Telecom Policy changed the whole game and he was lucky to be associated with a few major sales deals with Bharti, a company that has been close to his heart from the beginning of his career.
With his own teams, over the 15 years or so that he has been managing people, Verma follows an open-door policy, makes sure he has plenty of interactions, helps his staff excel and creates an ambience in which they can count on him and vice versa. “It’s very transparent and authentic.”
He becomes animated on the subject of managing people. “I love it. It gives me so much energy. I love working with youngsters and the diverse ideas they come to me with. I love hearing them out, being part of their decision-making and coaching them. I also give them the kind of trust that I was given at Allen Bradley so that they are encouraged to live up to expectations,” he says.
He singles out two other men who have had a powerful influence on him. One was a manager at Ericsson, who placed great faith in Verma’s sales and analytical capabilities, and the other is Sudhir Narang with whom he worked at Cisco and BT and who “is a personal friend who happened to be my boss”. Narang remains a dear and close friend.
In 1988, Verma married Deepa. She teaches economics at Delhi University. Their daughter has just finished her Ph.D in drug discovery from Cambridge and their son has recently started his Ph.D at Johns Hopkins. Education is an area of interest to him. He and Deepa sponsor a few talented undergraduates who are not financially well-placed.
Come the day he no longer does a full-time job, Verma wants to work in the field of education. “I’m passionate about it and because it happened that my children have been lucky enough to be able to pursue their academic interests, I plan to do some work in some capacity in education later in life,” he says.
Verma tries to keep weekends for himself and the family, as far as possible. This does not extend to switching his phone off. “I never switch it off. The phone is your life, your identity.” He loves the mountains and has pledged to himself that he will make it to Mansarover. “I believe it’s very serene. I want to see it, at least once in my life.”
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