by Mohamed Khoorsheed and Zakwaan Asim
Ooredoo is a multinational company that operates in the telecommunications industry of the Maldives. The Maldives is the smallest country among their operations and Mr. Vikram Sinha is leading the company to new heights. With many years of experience in the telecom sector under his belt, he has made it his personal mission to make the Maldives a more digitally enhanced country and lead the race in technological advancements in this industry. Corporate Maldives sat down with Mr. Sinha to have a chat about his journey at Ooredoo and what the company has in store for the country.
How did your career start off and when did you get involved with Ooredoo?
I started my career at Coca-Cola India as a sales manager. I climbed up the ranks and filled numerous positions at the company, from brand manager, to marketing. Armed with the experience I acquired from this job, I became the Regional Manager at StarTV. From there, I moved on to Airtel. This was my gateway into the telecom industry. With numerous managerial positions filled at the company, I served at Airtel for a good decade both in India and in Africas.
Three years ago after my tenth year of service for Airtel, I discovered the Ooredoo brand. The first time I saw the brand at GSMA Barcelona. I was very impressed and intrigued by the name; Ooredoo. A simple word, to an outsider would have no context but in reality it is an Arabic word that translates to “I want”. And what really fueled my interest towards the company and the brand were the words of the Chairman of the company. He stated that Ooredoo’s biggest focus was on enriching lives, and delivering on the wants and needs of customers. I was so inspired, so motivated and it triggered a sort of curiosity. As luck would have, three years ago, I was offered a job at Ooredoo and now here I am.
My journey here at Ooredoo and the Maldives is an incredible one. I feel like and am treated as if I were home. The food the people and the kaleidoscope of sights, smells and the culture is so different in contrast to when I lived in Africa where the food habits and culture were a bit different. No discrimination and no differentiation, the people of Maldives have accepted my family and I as part of their community. I feel so at home here, I cannot reiterate that enough.
How did Ooredoo established itself in a country where the telecom industry was a monopoly?
On 1st August 2005 Wataniya was launched and it was a historic landmark for the telecom sector of the Maldives. Wataniya, which later rebranded to Ooredoo in late 2013, established itself as a competitor and started our operations here. During a time when the call charges were extremely high and it was a premium service only for the elite, we broke the norms and connected the entire community to these life changing services. Since then Ooredoo has played an important role in bringing down the prices and if you look at the stats, the telecom sector is one of the few areas where the quality of service has improved along with the decrease in pricings.
In our eleven years we have brought the telecom sector of the Maldives up to high international standards. The results will speak for itself. The quality of service has improved and we are setting benchmarks every day and are continuing to improve our quality of service day by day. We have been very well received and accepted and in terms of customer base and revenue it has been an extremely good journey.
Is Ooredoo Maldives faring well against its counterparts in the Ooredoo family?
Ooredoo at a group level are operating in fourteen different countries. Mainly three regions Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia, where our largest base of operations is Indonesia and the smallest is the Maldives. However, we have made it our mission that the Maldives is to be the hub of innovation in this region and from the Ooredoo group as a whole. The Maldives contributes to about one or two percent to the ten-billion-dollar revenue and the 120 million customer base, it does not stop us from doing great things here and leading in the race for innovation.
When 4G was first introduced, we brought to the Maldives immediately after Qatar. Things like LTE and mobile money, or whenever it comes to innovation we always try to bring it here on the first wave of rollout. Being a small country maybe off putting to some big companies, however, Ooredoo uses it as an advantage. A project of innovation that costs around a hundred million dollars can be put in place here for one tenth of the price at ten million, and achieve the same results. This is what enables us to innovate faster than the surrounding countries and lead in technological advancements.
Another indicator for the growth of Ooredoo Maldives is the youth of the country. The youth is very data hungry. Curiosity and hunger for new things, to try out new methods and technologies along with consumption of information is very high in the country. To put this into perspective, the highest data consumption per user is in South Korea at 4 GB and in the Maldives it is at 3.7GB. Sometimes I feel as if the Maldives could overtake Korea in the near future. This high consumption of data in the country has inspired us to innovate and build the ecosystems and bring in new technology to compensate for this high demand.
What challenges does Ooredoo face now?
We enjoy challenges. And that is the driving force behind our progress and the improvements in the quality of services we provide. The interesting topography of the country is a major challenge- which we used for our advantage. At one point we have nearly two hundred thousand people in a 5km radius, and further away could be a hundred people and we have to provide coverage for everyone. On one end of the spectrum there is Male’ and it is very challenging to design the network due to the infrastructure and the density of the population to provide world class indoor coverage .On the other side we have the secluded communities of about a hundred or less people scattered all over the nation. With the commitment we have made we cannot neglect any customer at either end of the spectrum. To do so we are investing nearly twenty-five million dollars for a 25 km fiber that runs across to provide transmission throughout the country.
These are the challenges and my team and I love to tackle them head on. On a network such as the Maldives where the country is mostly ocean, it is really difficult to address a situation even if part of the network in an area goes down even though we are small. Travelling my speedboats on sometimes rough seas in a challenging task for our service team and yet we deliver flawlessly.
In terms of talent and know how the Maldives has no shortage. The desire to learn the hunger to achieve is amazing. During my career I’ve worked in many island nations such as Madagascar and Seychelles and generally they are very laid back. The island life drives them to be very calm and peaceful without a worry in the world. The laid back island culture is here in the Maldives nut(?) the youth and I can’t stress this enough but the youth is extremely talented. All we have to do is give them the chance to prove themselves. Here at Ooredoo we nurture their talents. We create a platform for them to show their skills and talents that can benefit them and the company as a whole. Out of our workforce of over 350 plus workers, 95-96% of them are local talents. Our success is our people. At Ooredoo we do things differently. We invest on them and provide the necessary training for them. In terms of IT, a job that requires millions of dollars to be executed, our talented staff can do it for 70% less and render equal or better outcomes than our counterparts. Any CEO would be blessed to have the team that I have here at Ooredoo Maldives.
What are the future plans for Ooredoo and for you personally?
Our journey has gotten even more exciting with us having listed at the Maldivian Stock Exchange, we are very focused on giving back to the community. It’s a very historical moment for the country as well. A multi-national brand has listed themselves to the stock exchange. The expectations of the public become higher and we become accountable. We will do whatever it takes to bring the state of the art high end technological developments that the Maldivians are hungry for. We are at par with the developed countries in the development curve and much ahead than surrounding countries. And now every Maldivian has the opportunity to take part in the race for development with Ooredoo to achieve a digital Maldives for the digitally savvy Maldivians.
Coming to my personal journey, it’s been nearly 3 years. Till the last minute I stay, my first priority is always the country I reside in. To bring developments and progress would always be my goal. I do not know what the Ooredoo family has in store for me but whatever it is as long as I am here, I am one of you and I will dedicate all my time and effort into developing the Maldives in the telecom sector.