Life on the top rung of the corporate ladder has its share of irony. Take Sanjay Kapoor’s case. In December 2012, Kapoor, who was Bharti Airtel’s India and South Asia CEO at the time, won the prestigious telecom person of the year award at the Telecom Leadership Forum in New Delhi. A month later, the company announced Kapoor was quitting. An official statement records Bharti group founder Sunil Mittal crediting Kapoor with growing the mobile operator’s customer base to 200 million and developing its DTH business and footprint in Asia. “Sanjay has had an enviable performance track record, strategic disposition and business acumen and is an inspirational leader,” adds Mittal.
With such praise showered on him, it seems strange that Kapoor would suddenly decide to “pursue his future aspirations outside of Bharti”. But ask the right people a few pointed questions and you hear of the reservations Kapoor — a 15-year veteran of the company — had about merging Airtel’s Asia and Africa operations as part of the “One Airtel” initiative to build synergies and rationalise costs. The move could have seen him possibly being shunted to Africa and reporting to Manoj Kohli, the present CEO of international business and joint MD, both of which were apparently unacceptable options.
Kapoor isn’t the only top-level exit at Airtel in the past several months. The operator’s director for IT (India and South Asia), Amrita Gangotra, and CTO, Shankar Halder, also left the company in December 2012 and January this year, respectively, ahead of the restructuring. Nor is Airtel the only telecom firm to have experienced churn at the top over the past year or so. Rival Vodafone India, too, saw its director of strategy, Samaresh Parida, and chief commercial officer, Sanjoy Mukerji, resign in August and October 2012, respectively, to start ventures of their own.
“When I got out in mid-2012, I could see the sector was slowing down, though it is being written about only now,” says Mukerji. Parida adds that top jobs are becoming redundant because of the sector’s dynamics. “More negative than positive news-flow surrounds the industry and executives are questioning their future in the sector,” he points out. Telecom companies, though, maintain that everything is just as it should be. “The present orga