Home / Industry / Telecom /  Manoj Kohli gets larger role at Bharti Airtel

New Delhi: Manoj Kohli, the managing director and chief executive of Bharti Airtel Ltd’s international operations, will move back to India in January to a larger strategic role involving decisions on aspects such as acquisitions and global partnerships.

Kohli, who was previously CEO and joint MD of Bharti Airtel handling its domestic operations, moved to Africa a little over three years ago to set up the company’s base in Nairobi, after it acquired Kuwait-based Zain’s Africa assets in an almost $11 billion deal.

He will be replaced in Africa by Christian de Faria, who until January was South African telco MTN’s group commercial officer for two years. MTN, which had merger talks with Bharti in 2008 and then again in 2009, is Bharti’s biggest rival in some markets in Africa.

Faria will report to Kohli,.

“While continuing to lead Airtel’s international operations and providing governance oversight to Airtel Africa, Airtel Bangladesh and Airtel Sri Lanka, Manoj would also lead strategic issues such as in-market consolidation via M&A (mergers and acquisition), key matters relating to TowerCo, global partnerships, global sourcing from key partners and strategic regulatory aspects," Bharti said in a statement on Wednesday.

TowerCo refers to the tower companies under Bharti Airtel —Indus Towers Ltd and Bharti Infratel Ltd.

“Additionally, Manoj will be responsible for the business development/M&A (merger and acquisition) function for the telecom business and be involved with the group strategic matters. Manoj will continue his position on the boards of Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands) B.V. and Airtel Networks Ltd, Nigeria," Bharti added.

The reorganization is the biggest for Bharti since Sanjay Kapoor quit as CEO of its Indian and South Asian operations in January. Kapoor, after being deputy CEO, had replaced Kohli in India when he moved to Africa.

“He has done the job he was sent to do in Africa—to integrate the business and introduce Airtel’s minute factory model. But he was not able to get the results that were expected," a Mumbai-based telecoms analyst working with a multinational investment bank said on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

“His return to India may be a point of some pressure on the new team that is heading India operations after Sanjay (Kapoor) left. Gopal Vittal, (CEO, Airtel India) and his team may have a different way of working," the analyst added.

Faria will officially join Airtel Africa on 16 September, and will be based out of Nairobi. He will initially take charge of Anglophone operations and “commence a comprehensive orientation encompassing Airtel Africa HQ (headquarters) functions, Francophone and Nigeria Regions," Bharti Airtel said. Faria will assume overall responsibility as CEO-Airtel Africa from 1 January.

Anglophone and Francophone refer to the operational divisions Bharti has instituted to separate the Africa operations into regions according to language—French-speaking countries and English-speaking countries.

The Economic Times reported on Wednesday that Bharti would name a new Africa CEO by the end of the fiscal year.

Airtel Africa’s operations are still to turn profitable. Kohli had set a target of $5 billion in revenue and $2 billion in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (Ebitda), a key indicator of operating profitability for a company, within three years of the acquisition. The telco missed this target and Kohli has been apprehensive of announcing a new target since.

The main reason for the slower-than-expected growth is the regulatory and political uncertainty in the continent, where Bharti has operations in 17 countries. But the African business is growing steadily and the telco is betting big on its data business there.

In a Wednesday report by Bloomberg, Andre Beyers, chief marketing officer at Airtel Africa, said the company’s data-subscriber numbers had jumped 65% in a year to 15 million customers, while data usage had grown at about 150%.

In the second quarter of this fiscal year, Airtel’s international revenue grew 4.6% to 6,322.2 crore, with Africa contributing 94%. Net loss in the Africa business narrowed to 703.4 crore from 815.7 crore a year earlier. But the key figure of consolidated Ebitda for Africa was at $286 million, representing a margin of 25.3% that was wider than the year-ago period’s 24%.

“Manoj has successfully embedded our business model and the Airtel brand in Africa, and will now provide governance oversight to the international operations and be involved with the group strategic matters," Sunil Mittal, chairman, Bharti Airtel, said in Wednesday’s statement.

Bharti’s shares fell 2.21% to 287.75 each on Wednesday, while the Sensex inched up 0.16% to 17,996.15 points.

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