Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mittal, Gupta and Kohli: Brains behind the Bharti-Zain deal

[times of india] While Bharti remained tightlipped on any details around its proposed buyout of Zain Telecom’s assets of 15 African country’s, sources in the know attributed the deal making efforts to three key people — promoter CMD Sunil Bharti Mittal, managing director and deputy CEO Akhil Gupta and CEO and joint MD, Manoj Kohli.

The company declined to give out the names of the investment banking firms, which are also playing a crucial role in the deal. It is learnt that key law firms are not involved in this round of talks.

Akhil Gupta, a CA by training, is often referred to as the fourth brother (Mittal brother) by people in the group. The entire outsourcing model in the telecom sector is said to be his brainchild. Not only has this reaped big dividends for Bharti, the model has also become a standard for the entire sector, helping in reducing costs and unnecessary replication of assets. Gupta is the financial brain of the group, said to be a quick thinker with strong analytical skills.

Kohli, who studied in SRCC, Delhi, went on to join the Shri Ram Group. During his tenure there, he did an MBA from FMS, Delhi. Later he joined Allied Signal and moved on to Escotel before joining Bharti. He is a pure-play operation man in Bharti, with special skills in project execution. Yet, Mittal is said to be the main force behind the Group even today — the driver and visionary — supported by Gupta, Kohli and their teams. While Kohli has recently been put in charge of international business, it is well known that the real M&A expertise within the Bharti Group mainly lies with Gupta.

Gupta’s M&A skills first came into play in 1999 when the telecom sector was undergoing a financial turmoil and battling for survival by seeking a switchover from licence fees to revenue share. It was amidst this confusion that Akhil snapped up JT Mobile a debt-ridden operator with licences in Karnataka and AP. Since then he has completed many other M&A deals including Kolkata, Chennai to build Bharti Airtel into the first pan-India operator from the smallest GSM operator in 1995 where it started with just the Delhi and Himachal circles.

Bharti’s appetite for M&A has remained unmatched in India. With the exception of Idea, which bought Escotel and later Spice, most other companies have grown organically.

This will be the first real test of Gupta’s skills and Mittal’s perseverance in the international arena. Their last two attempts with MTN came a cropper.

Mittal, Gupta and Kohli: Brains behind the Bharti-Zain deal

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