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I Don’t Regret Getting Into Telecom Business: Kumar Mangalam Birla

Despite competitive pressure since the launch of Reliance Jio, Aditya Birla group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla does not regret getting into telecom. “At that point, if we had not been in the business, we would have lost an opportunity. I don’t regret getting into it,” he said at a fireside chat organized by the Ladies Study Group.

“If you ask me whether I would enter it today, obviously I wouldn’t. Who wants to be up against Mukesh Ambani?” said Birla on a lighter note, and then went on to amplify that he meant businesswise. “Personally, I regard him as a visionary.”

Birla said at the time he entered the business, it was a great one. “We stayed with it for 25 years. We grew it from nothing to being the largest player, not one of the most profitable unfortunately, but still the largest player.”

Last year, Vodafone India and Aditya Birla sealed its partnership by completing the merger between Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, creating India’s largest telecom company. But the older telcos have been under pressure while Reliance Jio has been ruling in terms of average revenue per user (ARPU).

Birla’s comments were in response to a question on a business that he should not have entered, and the original response was quite different.

“Seawater magnesia,” he said first, and explained that a policy change had made it unviable. It was only on prodding that he talked about telecom.

In a freewheeling chat, Birla commented on issues ranging from the government, his favourite business leader to political administrator and business decisions.

Resilient economy

Asked about institutional failure like the IL&FS, Birla said, it was a shock to the industry as well. “We have a direct connect with them. So we know exactly what is happening with the NCLT process, what can be expected of the loan that we have given to them,” said Birla, and pointed out that despite the magnitude of what happened, the shock was temporary and very small.

“So we are really becoming a more and more resilient economy.”

Ease of doing business

Birla lauded the government on its efforts for ease of doing business. “The government has done a lot, now the state governments have to follow suit,” he said. He reposed his faith in the government and pointed to the manifesto of the BJP which has pledged an investment of ~1 trillion in infrastructure development in the next five years.

New business

For Birla, a sector that he should have entered was water. “I think, water is a very interesting sector. I don’t know whether India is ready for it but there is a big business model, both institutional and retail,” he said, while adding it doesn’t have to be in India, it could be in the US.

Missed opportunity

A missed business opportunity for Birla was Hindustan Zinc which it failed to acquire for an innocuous reason. “We didn’t value the inventory that it had at that point in time. If you look back, it was a wrong decision.”


Birla admitted that his favourite political administrator was Nirmala Sitharaman and that was before she slipped into her role as Finance Minister.

“I am not saying this because she is the new FM, but she is extremely focused, she knows what she wants. I am very happy to see her as FM,” he said. The one thing that he would like to see in her Budget is sops for investment on the ground. But that, he said, was a universal ask.―Business Standard

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