In 2008, when Bharti Enterprises launched its new brand identity and corporate vision, promoter Sunil Bharti Mittal had stated that he aimed to turn Bharti into India’s finest conglomerate by 2020 by bringing about “big transformations through brave actions”.
Apart from telecom, Mittal had claimed that “future growth engines” would be retail, financial services and agriculture. Five years on, however, it can safely be said that the group’s conglomerate dream is far from being realised. Apart from telecom, where Bharti Airtel is the country’s largest operator with a global footprint, such leadership eludes it in other businesses it ventured in.
To be fair to Mittal, even while outlining his vision of a conglomerate he has always accepted that even when the other businesses grow in size and scale, telecom would continue to be the main driver of revenues, at around 70%. Today its contribution is around 90%.
The break-up of Bharti’s 50:50 JV with Wal-Mart sparked speculations once again over Mittal’s ability to “successfully” diversify. Analysts said, operationally, the business was not making any major disruptions in the overall retail landscape.
Bharti’s insurance venture, which it entered in 2006 with French insurance major AXA is also not shining prominently among other life and general insurers in India. In 2011, the group tried to sell its entire stake in the insurance business to Reliance Industries for nearly R5,000 crore. However, after two to three months of negotiations, the talks failed.
Around the time Bharti entered the retail sector in partnership with Wal-Mart, the group also forged a partnership with Del Monte Pacific to procure and sell agri-products and processed food products. Six years down the line, the partnership sells products in the Indian market under the Del Monte brand while in the export markets it sells under fieldFresh.
Experts contend that an essential tool that successful conglomerates like Tatas and Birlas have utilised is a well groomed management that is rotated across various group companies. However, Mittal has always kept his best leaders within the telecom business.
Even when he deputed senior management to new ventures, it did not seem to work. Many top executives, who went from Airtel to Bharti Retail, quit within a year or two, including CEO Vinod Sawhny.