No kiya! Tired of telecom, D Shivakumar wants to move on

27 Jun,2013

By Shelley Singh


After eight years in the sector that showered him with both stirring recognition and stinging criticism, D Shivakumar is done with telecom.


Talking to a week before he calls time on an eight-year stint in the sector that saw him catapult handset maker Nokia into a leadership position in India only to find it fall steeply from grace, 56-year-old Mr Shivakumar says while he hasn’t firmed up his plans, he will not be involved with telecom, a sector he painted as brutal and unforgiving.


“It’s an industry with possibly the highest rate of innovation -  lifecycles are very short,” says the senior vice-president, Nokia, India, Middle East & Africa. “In other categories, you have six innovations in 100 years; in telecom, you will have that many in months. One thing telecom teaches you is to be extremely fit, mentally and physically, as a company and as a brand. Otherwise, telecom can punish you.”


Nokia, both in India and globally, found that the hard way. When Mr Shivakumar switched from Philips, where he headed consumer electronics, to Nokia India in 2005, the Finnish handset marker was in the midst of a strong run. According to figures from IDC, it had 49% share of the Indian handset market in 2006, which peaked under Mr Shivakumar at 56% in 2008, amid a significant expansion in the overall market size.


But then, the company was slow to change, first in the dual-Sim space and then in the touchscreen space, and saw its share dip to 33% in 2010. In 2011, Mr Shivakumar moved to a global role in Nokia and relocated to Dubai.


Mr Shivakumar leaves Nokia at a time when it is trying to claw back globally, which he feels it will accomplish on the back of its Asha and Lumia ranges of phones, and transition from Symbian-based platform to Windows-based platform. “Turnaround is defining strategy, aligning resources and capability, and correcting the wrongs of the past,” he says. “When you are in a turnaround phase, people expect it to happen tomorrow morning.”


In 2012 (January to December), Nokia posted revenues of €30.1 billion globally, down 22% over 2011. Its operating loss stood at €2.3 billion compared to loss of €1.1 billion in 2011. “It’s (a Nokia turnaround) an uphill task,” says a telecom analyst with a multinational consultancy firm, on the condition of anonymity. “Rivals aren’t going to give room to Nokia to bounce back.”


Mr Shivakumar’s resignation, announced in March, has led some to believe that he is leaving a sinking ship. “How long do you stay in a company that is going down?” asks the country head of a global hardware major, not wanting to be named.


Calling telecom a “brutal” market, consultant Mahesh Uppal says the challenge in the sector is to manage expectations. “A leader in telecom needs a hawk’s eye on marketing, applications and services, to get the pulse right and not lose sight of the market,” says the director of Com First, a telecom consultancy firm, without referring to a specific individual. “Hardly a day passes without something new. It can be nerve-racking and exhausting.”


But Mr Shivakumar, who is relocating from Dubai to Delhi, says telecom has been a “wonderful journey”, and though he is not tired off it, he now wants to go beyond. “Good leaders cross boundaries of categories as what they bring to the table is clarity, strategy and leadership,” he says. “I’m not a one industry person.”


Areas that attract Mr Shivakumar include retail, education, skills development, health and wellness. “I haven’t thought what I’ll do next, but the few things that I really value are institution building, growth and brand,” he says. “Any industry that has a combination of this will attract me. But it won’t be telecom again. I’m done with it.”


Back in India, its Indian arm was hit with a 2,000-crore demand from the income tax department for violation of transfer pricing norms. Mr Shivakumar asserts the company has complied with tax rules and denies this was a factor in his leaving. “Nokia followed every single rule in filing its returns. The issue is of interpretation,” he says. “It’s completely incorrect to associate my leaving to the tax case.”


Source:The Economic Times

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