After 10 years at the helm, Vodafone Essar chief executive officer Asim Ghosh is to retire on March 31. Marten Pieters, who is currently a director on the board of Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular, will replace him. Ghosh will continue as a non-executive member of the Vodafone Essar board.
Ghosh joined the company in August 1998, when it was a single-circle operation offering services in Mumbai under the Max Touch brand. Today, the company is India's third-largest telecom operator after Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications, with over 63 million subscribers and presence in 21 out of the 22 circles in the country.
"We started on our ride in Mumbai in 1998. We never realised then what a roller coaster it would be. Today, serving tens of millions of subscribers, with a fabulous team, a great brand, a company with a great future, it's been a ride I wouldn't exchange for anything else," Ghosh said in a statement on Friday.
"With Marten, the company will be in great hands," Ghosh added. Pieters was earlier the chief executive officer of Celtel International BV, which is now Africa's second-largest African mobile operator.
Max Telecom changed many hands before it became Vodafone Essar in February 2007. Ghosh is known for steering the company during some of its most challenging times, including the sale of a 67 per cent stake by Hutchison Telecommunications to Vodafone.
Ghosh had joined Hutchison Whampoa Ltd, which went on to take over Max Telecom, in March 1991. He is a graduate of electrical engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and a master in business administration from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Paying tributes to his leadership, Essar group chairman Ravi Ruia said, "Asim did a tremendous job as chief executive. He has led from the front to grow the company in size and stature … I will be counting on his continued guidance to the company as a member of the board."
Vodafone group CEO Vittoria Colao added, "I want to take this opportunity to thank Asim Ghosh for his extraordinary stewardship of the company … I personally will continue to seek his advice and counsel."
T V Ramachandran, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India and a personal friend of Ghosh, said, "His contribution to the industry was immense and he had a remarkable understanding of the sector. From before 1999 when we were pushing for the national telecom policy to the present, he has been one of the key contributors."
Asked about his future plans, Ghosh told a Mumbai newspaper, "I'm going to take some time off to clear my head. I may spend some time with my sons in Europe if they tolerate me."
Expansion mode: Ghosh's departure comes even as the company expands despite the gloomy times. In the December quarter, Vodafone Essar posted a 37.3 per cent jump in revenues to $674 million (Rs3280 crore), the highest in percentage terms among all the countries its UK-based parent operates in. It also said the India arm accounts for almost 45 per cent of the group's global traffic.
Even as Ghosh's retirement was announced, there were reports that Vodafone-Essar said it is planning to raise $2.04 billion (around Rs 10,000 crore) as a bridge loan to be used for general corporate purposes. The company has appointed SBI Capital Markets to raise the funds.
The money will be used for expansion of infrastructure and network, bidding for 3G spectrum, and other general corporate purposes. The funds are proposed to be raised within two months, according to the reports.