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He put Indian Tata unit on global stage

Mr Vinod Kumar says Tata Communications, which sees about 73 per cent of its revenue coming from outside India and has over 9,500 staff globally, is now positioning itself as an enterprise cloud service provider.
Mr Vinod Kumar says Tata Communications, which sees about 73 per cent of its revenue coming from outside India and has over 9,500 staff globally, is now positioning itself as an enterprise cloud service provider.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Tata Communications CEO now plans to ramp up regional growth

Geography has never been a barrier to Mr Vinod Kumar's ambitions.

Not only has the 51-year-old had a globe-trotting career, he also played a key role in transforming Tata Communications from an Indian public-sector monopoly into a global giant.

Mr Kumar, the company's managing director and group chief executive, now has big plans for ramping up Tata Communications' growth, especially in the region.

Having a global career was always a top priority for him.

"The one thing I knew very clearly was that I wanted to be global in whatever I did - whether it was in tech, consumer goods or as a diplomat," he says.

"Principally, what I've done is work on globalisation before it was even discussed as a word, as well as digital technologies of all kinds."

INTERNATIONAL AMBITIONS

The one thing I knew very clearly was that I wanted to be global in whatever I did - whether it was in tech, consumer goods or as a diplomat. Principally, what I've done is work on globalisation before it was even discussed as a word, as well as digital technologies of all kinds.

MR VINOD KUMAR, on how having a global career was always a top priority for him.

After obtaining a degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in India, Mr Kumar took on roles in the United States, Britain, Japan and Hong Kong, in organisations including WorldCom Japan, Asia Netcom, Global One and Sprint International.

He moved to Singapore to join Tata Communications in 2004, when the company was just starting out on its journey of international growth.

The Indian telecoms service provider is headquartered in Mumbai and Singapore.

"I was the first employee to join the company outside India," says Mr Kumar, who has been based here since and became a Singapore citizen in 2011.

"Since then, the business has grown and transformed a lot; the international business is getting bigger and bigger."

The Indian government still holds a 26.1 per cent stake, but Mr Kumar - who took over as chief executive six years ago - reiterates that the company has its sights set on the international stage.

"We were purely India-centric before and now we're as global as global can be - there isn't a single service company across Asia that's as global as we are," he adds.

Tata Communications - part of the US$103.51 billion (S$144.6 billion) Tata Group - is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

It is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange of India.

The company runs the world's largest wholly owned subsea fibre cable network and is the fifth- largest Internet protocol service provider globally, carrying over 25 per cent of the world's Internet routes.

Tata Communications' network handles one out of every 10 international calls and connects over 70 per cent of the world's mobile carriers.

Mr Kumar says getting an organisation that had largely been focused on India to think about the global market was a key turning point. "The opportunity for us to go global was there because the telecoms industry in the early 2000s was going through a lot of change," he notes.

"The telecoms bubble had just burst on the back of over-investment in the sector, especially in the US, and we saw the fallout from this as a great opportunity. We bought some assets and also made some bold, organic moves to put ourselves on the global stage."

This also meant building globalisation into the DNA of the company, which has evolved from an organisation with two "centres of gravity" in Mumbai and Singapore into one with a more fluid structure.

"My senior leadership team meets five times a year in person, but we need to work like we're one unit moving together. That requires a certain mindset," says Mr Kumar.

About 73 per cent of the company's revenue comes from outside India, and it has more than 9,500 employees globally - 30 per cent located outside India.

The company is now positioning itself to take advantage of the rise of cloud computing.

"We see a big shift towards the cloud, so we made a move early," says Mr Kumar, adding that Tata Communications is now positioning itself as an enterprise cloud service provider.

Companies can use these services to put their applications on a cloud-based network, allowing ubiquitous, on-demand access to a shared pool of resources.

These services, combined with Tata Communications' suite of connectivity tools, including voice, data and video, "enable companies to be truly global", says Mr Kumar.

"Any form of connectivity that a large organisation will need to function across borders, we provide. These allow companies to work across various platforms regardless of where staff are - at home, in a hotel room, in a cafe."

Mr Kumar sees strong growth prospects in India, South-east Asia and the US over the next two years and says Singapore is well-positioned to take advantage of the rise of the digital economy.

While the market here is small, "we have to build a regional corridor of influence that takes what we do here and extends it into large markets where there are hundreds of millions of people", he adds.

Mr Kumar also plans to deepen Tata Communications' engagement with start-ups here and across the region - something he thinks more big firms should do.

The company, which has slightly more than 200 staff here, will be moving to a new office in Tai Seng in July. The facility will have a customer engagement centre, conferencing technology showcase centre, as well as a space for working with start-ups. "The attitude needs to be one of equality, not of 'we're large, you're small'.

"Large companies need to be more friendly... We need to recognise that small companies bring brilliant ideas that we can help scale," he adds.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline 'He put Indian Tata unit on global stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe