Robi Axiata Ltd: An Epitome of Business Transformation to Success

Robi Axiata Ltd: An Epitome of Business Transformation to Success

January 5, 2016

20151208215217_Robi_MediaRetreat_Palace_MG_7313September 2009. Michael Kuehner, after leaving as the Head of India/Nepal sub-region for Nokia Siemens Networks with trails of success, engages himself in a rather dimming telecom service provider of Bangladesh. Hence Michael Kuehner with 35 years of international experience in the telecom and IT industry joined the company as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer. At that time, the company was going through a very low growth in revenue with only 18.2% of the market share. Added to this was a very bureaucratic work culture, lack of business focus and objective, and a negative perception of the brand among its target market and business partners – a falling shareholder confidence.

“I was always looking for challenges where I can make an impact. There were always problems, weaknesses or issues and I just preferred to turn it around.” Hence, Michael took the big challenge to turn an otherwise ailing company into a robust, growing, telecom brand with a strong corporate identity and deep shareholder confidence.

Power in People through Communication

Unlike other big players in the telecom sector of Bangladesh which attracted highly motivated and talented people to steer their growth, in 2009 Michael was working with a handful of demotivated people who were resistant to any change.

To address the many issues, Michael knew it was mandatory to alarm the people that the situation was an emergency. And so he did.

While creating a situation of urgency among the employees, Michael also had to ensure that his employees trusted him to turn around the company. “I had a mixed batch and to change the overall atmosphere I was communicating a lot.”

“It was an amazing experience” – Michael Kuehner
robiMichael Kuehner, Former CEO & MD, Robi Axiata Ltd.BBF: What was your first challenge to address when you took charge?

Michael Kuehner: There were multiple challenges obviously. The first challenge I had to address was to create a sense of urgency because the situation was really not very good. But even at that stage there were employees working at AKTEL who were not really aware of the fact that the outside world was having a negative impression about the company. So creating a sense of urgency and get the core team together and then to decide what to do or how to do were the major challenges.

BBF: What was the big change or vision to turn around the company?

Michael Kuehner: The vision was obviously to become a very attractive company from brand perspective, from the employees’ perspective and last but not the least from customers’ perspective. We wanted to be seen in the eyes of our stakeholders as a very Bangladeshi company, a customer friendly and employee friendly company along with transparency of information about what we were doing. We always were fair to our stakeholders. The cultural part played the most important role in this regard.

We launched it in a big blast; internally we used a stage event and then a nationwide launch event of the new brand. So this gave us a chance to appeal in a very different way. There was risk of losing some memory or loyalty towards the old brand; whether there will be more benefit or more damage. And in the end, I think we were really paid off.

BBF: In this transformation which started in 2009, what were the major phases or stages of the journey?

Michael Kuehner: The first stage, as I mentioned was communicating and creating a sense of urgency. We were pretty instrumental with the communication in terms of culture, habits, and values. The second step was to reshape the team and the organization. We reorganized the company and took quite a substantial step in reassigning people to jobs. We opened the jobs at second level of the company for applications. So, people got an idea that we were looking for the absolute best people for our company at that point of time. Then came the rebranding followed by couple of steps like leaning up the organization in terms of processes. And of course we had been working on the reinforcement, building capability of the people of the organization.

BBF: What are some of the key learning for you as the leader behind this transformation?

Michael Kuehner: It was an amazing experience. I have done transformations before but this was definitely the biggest one and also the one which was really about transforming the whole operation and the company. So, it was absolutely amazing. There was a lot of learning around the way of course, which were related to the business and to some extent with transformation process itself. Though I knew about how transformation works but of course every culture has different behavior, different mindsets and here the key learning was how to get people in the team, motivate them to go on, and keep the track.

Process and Performance

Realizing this ambitious goal demanded good governance within the company as well as strengthening relationship with the distributors and other business partners in the market. After much discussions and meeting, the management came up with an integrated plan to put all the gears to work towards a nationwide strong coverage.

Successive capital Investments were made in developing countrywide network infrastructure. In 2011 alone, a capital investment of BDT 14,922bn was made creating a subscriber base of 16.1mn, from 9.3mn in 2009.

To become a more business focused company, it was now moving towards more lean processes; cutting down unnecessary costs and utilizing time to create values for the company. Also, new recruitment was done to ensure best talents in the organization. Existing jobs were reassessed to make a better fit between the job and the people. Extensive automation was also done to ensure efficiency in data management and reporting which helped in making more informed decisions.

Consumers and Brand Equity

The brand “Robi” was almost an overnight entrance in the telecom sector of Bangladesh. One fine morning consumers witnessed the advent of a new brand with new promises. “Robi” which means the “Sun” in Bengali, came with a brightly coloured logo, a tagline “Joley Uthun Apon Shoktitey” which means “Ignite the power within”, was an absolute attention-grabber.

Read Also:  GTV-Redefining Future through Brand Revamp

A survey done in 2010 shows that Robi has a high brand awareness among its target group. “The logo resembles the rainbow colours, red is the colour of sun. Red symbolizes the power of the Sun as well” described one consumer. The study also reveals:

The integrated communication efforts of Robi are considered to be very inspiring, more like awakening of inner self. Robi has successfully managed to portray its image as a country devoted brand which will support each and everyone to contribute to the society towards growth and development.

CSR and Community

_MG_9124Robi invests heavily in education, health and environment. Robi has established internet corners at various higher education institutions to give free access of internet to the students. To bring light to the off-grid rural areas, Robi has provided solar panels to 950 homes in remote villages in Kurigram of Rangpur. In partnership with Bangladesh Railway and the international NGO WaterAid, Robi has installed water purifying facilities at seven major stations to meet the need for safe drinking water of the commuters. The installations have capacities ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 litres per day that serve around 55,000 commuters each day.

On 16th of  December 2013, Robi led the largest human flag of Bangladesh setting a new record in the Guinness Book of World Records. These 27,117 volunteers from the Bangladesh Army, school children, and the general population, comprising mostly of the youth and enthusiastic professionals, were brought together to show the world the inner strength and unity of the people of Bangladesh.

Transformation Carried on….

With a market share of 25.2% as in year-ending December 2014, and a subscriber base of 25.3mn, Robi still has a long way to go. A study on the consumers of Bangladesh’s mobile telecom service reveals: “Robi’s network interrupts sometimes. The call may cut in the middle of the conversation which is very annoying”.

As the third largest mobile telecom service provider, Robi is still transforming. As Michael, the former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Robi Axiata Ltd.,explains: “I don’t think the transformation is finished. It has to be a continuous job”.

…in the hands of Supun Weerasinghe

Supun Weerasinghe took up the mammoth task of leading the transformation in Robi Axiata ltd. as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and MD since 2014.

Prior to joining Robi, Supun has served as the Chief Strategy Officer of the Axiata Group.  He had also served as the Head of Network Transformation Strategic Business Unit under which he provided leadership to Group Technology, Carrier Collaboration and Axiata Intelligence Unit (previously Axiata Management Services). During this period, Supun had helped the Axiata Group to craft its long-term strategic plan.

Read Also: Supun Weerasinghe on Robi’s Path to Success

To continue the exemplary transformation set forth by Michael is no easy task, even for an expert strategist like Supun Weerasinghe. But he is determined and dedicated to meeting the business targets while satisfying the customers’ needs in the highly competitive and dynamic telco industry of the country.

As long as this journey continues, we can expect better values and services to ensue for the customers.

By 

Tabita Zahur Iqbal

Managing Editor, Bangladesh Brand Forum


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