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M.A. Madhusudan, CEO, Virgin Mobile India
Leading a telecom youth revolution is perhaps not as unique a challenge as it might seem. M.A. Madhusudan, CEO, Virgin Mobile India, heads India's first national youth-focused mobile service but he says that the challenges facing the company are very similar to those faced by other players in the industry because telecom continues to be one of the most fast-changing and burgeoning sectors in the country.
"Currently, mobile additions are at an all-time high of 19 million. The Indian mobile telephony business is a highly competitive one with over 10 players in most circles. In addition, with penetration at over 100 per cent in the urban areas and multiple players vying for the same set of consumers, creating a distinctive identity is a challenge," he says.
Like all good business leaders, he embraces every challenge as an opportunity. Having worked in the telecom sector for 10 years, he says he is very excited and pleased at having the privilege and responsibility of establishing the Virgin Mobile brand in India and of creating a market for its products and services.
The company, he says, believes that it has the power to "recalibrate" the market and raise the bar in the industry manifold."Though it is still early days, I believe we have done this successfully by positioning Virgin Mobile as a youth-focused mobile services brand," he says. "By focusing exclusively on a single large segment and by continuing to deliver innovative services that cater to this segment's distinctive needs, we believe the Virgin Mobile brand will garner a 10 per cent market share in the urban youth segment."
A commerce graduate from Mysore University, Madhusudan intends to continue the focus on what Virgin Mobile calls "brilliant basics". These include investing in the brand and demonstrating differentiated products and services; delivering customised voice, data and value-added service offerings targeted solely at the youth segment and continuously identifying new customer needs it can service with its combination of mobile and data offerings; and constantly focusing on customer care.
"Going forward, the area that will differentiate brands will be the overall customer experience. I believe that more and more investments and innovation in this area would differentiate the customer experience from other brands and stand us in good stead," he says.
Before joining the industry, Madhusudan worked for 15 years with various leading companies that had products with a global reach – in consumer durables, office automation products, industrial automation equipment, etc. in different geographies. In many of these assignments, he was instrumental in setting up the sales, marketing and customer care functions from the start-up stage to successful steady-state operations.
Prior to joining Virgin Mobile India in May 2008, he worked as president, Tata Teleservices Limited (TTSL), which is offering the Virgin Mobile brand to Indian consumers through a franchise with Virgin Mobile. Madhusudan joined TTSL in 1998 and held various senior management positions in sales, marketing and customer care.
He has also been responsible for profit centre responsibilities for various territories in the country. "During my time at TTSL, I was privileged to be a member of the core team, which led the company from a single-circle operation to a pan-Indian presence with a subscriber base of over 25 million," he says.
As president at TTSL and a member of the board of directors, Virgin Mobile India, he has been closely involved with the Virgin Mobile venture from the project to operational phase. As CEO, he is responsible for providing strategic direction and operational focus to the organisation. In addition, he has to drive partnerships and strategic alliances while also leading the team in market-building initiatives.
Since his business is relatively new in the market, Madhusudan uses a few specific parameters by which he defines success. These are customer satisfaction – 90 per cent of customers are happy; brand salience – this assesses whether the brand appeals to the right target group and on this, awareness levels of the brand have reached 95 per cent in the target group; innovation – consumers and other institutions have recognised the company's good work; retailer recommendation – a significant measure, as it reflects the service standards that the company offers to them as well as their customers; and superior network – the Tata transmission network on which Virgin Mobile operates has been repeatedly rated number one by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
Madhusudan is in the happy position of straddling two famous and successful brands. Virgin Mobile is one of the world's most recognised brands, conceived in 1970 by Sir Richard Branson. The group has gone on to grow very successful businesses in sectors ranging from mobile telephony to transportation, travel, financial services, leisure, music, holidays, publishing and retailing. Virgin Mobile employs approximately 50,000 people in 29 countries. Its revenues around the world exceeded–£10 billion (approximately $20 billion) in 2006.
On future trends, Madhusudan says that the launch of 3G services will herald a new era in the booming telecom industry."With approximately 55 per cent of the population still untouched by the benefits of mobility, the additional spectrum will allow operators to go to the hinterland and truly penetrate the market. In the urban areas, customers can enjoy better quality of service as well as experience a host of new high speed internet-based services."
According to Madhusudan, surveys have revealed that the majority of users are dissatisfied with their existing service providers and often the only reason they prefer to ignore the problem instead of changing the operator is the lack of number portability.
The introduction of mobile number portability is expected to change the dynamics of the telecom industry by forcing mobile operators to enhance their services as well as their offerings. This will not only lead to a more competitive scenario but will also give new players a fair chance in the market.
"This is where we stand to benefit," says Madhusudan. "Being a new player in the market, mobile number portability will help us gain more consumers who are otherwise apprehensive of trying new services due to the fear of losing their existing mobile number."
Madhusudan feels gratified to know that Virgin Mobile has already made a name for itself for coming out with innoative offerings that have become industry firsts. "Get Paid for Incoming" is one such example.
The brand is also known in the market for coming out with innovative marketing communication. In fact, he says the company constantly receives feedback from customers on its advertisements because they stand out so much from the rest.
On his own personal strengths, he is modest, saying that one strong point is probably an ability to understand people well and motivate them to give their best. If he has a weakness, it is being more tolerant than required.
He believes in delegating responsibilities and giving people the freedom to achieve their best. "However, if I do not see the results, I don't mind soiling my hands to get things moving," he remarks.
"I believe that there are two important aspects that help in the achievement of results – skill and initiative. I personally take responsibility to ensure that an environment is created for aiding the skill development of people, but if initiative is lacking, I find it difficult to accept such behaviour."
Madhusudan's day begins with a walk, follwed by helping his young daughter get ready for school and then reaching the office to tackle meetings and mail. He tries to make a point to put aside half an hour for reflecting on the day's events. In his spare time, he likes listening to music, reading and watching television with his family.
Reflecting on his earlier days, Madhusudan recalls a remark a good friend once made that has stayed with him."He said, `When you are convinced that it is the right thing to do, just do it. Don't deliberate too much on it.' This had a real impact on me and over the years, one's experience is good enough to give you that gut feeling of what is good and bad. We must follow that."
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