Supun Weerasinghe on Robi’s Path to Success

Supun Weerasinghe on Robi’s Path to Success

January 7, 2016

“Robi’s mission is to help unleash people’s true potential” – Supun Weerasinghe

Supun Weerasinghe, CEO & MD of Robi Axiata Ltd.

Supun Weerasinghe, CEO & MD of Robi Axiata Ltd.

Supun Weerasinghe, CEO & MD of Robi Axiata Ltd.

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: Robi Axiata Ltd: An Epitome of Business Transformation 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.

In an exclusive interview, Supun shares his thoughts on the achievements and the way ahead in the challenging telecom industry of Bangladesh.

BBF: What were the pros and cons you thought of while taking the baton from Michael Kuehner who was instrumental in transforming Robi towards success?

Supun Weerasinghe: I must thank Michael for the commendable task of giving this company a fresh start with a new brand name Robi. By the time I took over, the brand had been successfully established in the market. There was a lot of positive momentum taking place within the company. With the ongoing transformation, the team was well aligned to give us the foundation required to take the company to the next level.

There were, however, few concerns. Apart from Chittagong, Comilla and Dhaka our market position was very weak in rest of the country. This was putting strain on our financials. Besides, the industry was going through a period of hyper-competition with rapid erosion in prices. This was further aggravated by the political turmoil in 2013, impacting consumer spending and hurting our growth potential.

BBF: What aspects of the organization played the catalytic role in molding the company to your desired direction in the market?

Supun Weerasinghe: There were a number of elements that played the crucial role in our successful transformation journey. However, I think, our concerted effort towards establishing a sound organizational culture, proved to be most impactful. We had a thorough look at the way our organization was moving internally and also related to the market at large. The best part of this change management was that the entire Robi family adopted and embraced the change happening across the company.

We also worked on instilling our “Guiding Principles” an uncompromising integrity, which also has helped to build Robi as a trusted brand amongst our consumers. I am happy to note that this element of our organizational culture has consolidated our Corporate Governance framework by manifolds.

We had a fresh look at our product and service portfolio with a view to improve ourselves. Following the launch of our 3.5G services in the late 2013, we had reached a bold new frontier of data business in Bangladesh. The rejuvenated team backed by our strong shareholders was ready to ride the 3.5G data wave and lead the mobile data revolution in the country.

BBF: Robi is a big team today. How well do you think your team has adapted to the transformation for success?

Supun Weerasinghe: Credit of this successful transformation journey goes to the Robi team. Blending the old with the new always gives rise to challenges which we had translated to opportunities with our robust Talent Management framework. We harnessed the full potential of our talent and reached the league of Globally High Performing Company in employee engagement in 2014. Moreover, we have been recognized as the Best People Organization for three years in a row from 2012-14 by Axiata Group.

BBF: Telecommunications in Bangladesh is a rapidly changing industry. Do you believe Robi, as a company, is flexible and accommodates the changes in the industry with speed and effectiveness?

Supun Weerasinghe: The telecommunications industry is changing globally. It is no different for Bangladesh. Our success in this space always depends on how fast we adapt and how well we can ensure the speed of execution across the organization. Given these criteria, we find ourselves doing a pretty good job as we were the first privately-owned mobile phone operator to have launched 3.5G service in Bangladesh and within no time we had taken this high-speed internet connectivity to all 64 districts.

Also, we remain a leading company to have joined hands with the global initiative led by Facebook to provide connectivity to the marginalized segments of the society by launching the free internet platform, We have also opened up our strong countrywide network to the budding apps developers of the country through mobile applications platform, which is encouraging entrepreneurship among the talented youth of the country.

Robi launched recharge brand “Recharge plus” which allows our valued subscribers to recharge talktime and purchase data pack of their choice from home. In addition, we have launched the online ticket purchasing platform

Hence, I am very confident that the team is ready to continue to deliver as we strive to lead in the country’s ever growing digital space.

BBF: You have a long and intensive experience of working with Axiata Group in leading transformation and strategies. What in your opinion are the core strengths of Axiata Group and to what extent are these strengths driving the success of Robi?

Supun Weerasinghe: Axiata is one of the largest Asian telecommunications companies. It has controlling interests in mobile operators in Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Cambodia with significant strategic stakes in India and Singapore.

Unique engagement model of the group provides flexibility and independence to operating companies which, I believe, enable them to operate in line with the local market conditions while creating synergies based on the scale of combined regional operations. Therefore, all the operating companies are constantly engaging and learning from each other while adopting the learning for their local market. Such a learning organizational network spanning across the South-east Asian markets gives Robi a unique opportunity to pre-empt the next big market changing initiatives. It has also helped the company to stay ahead of the curve on many occasions.

BBF: What is the brand essence of Robi to its employees? What is the brand essence to the customers of Robi?

Supun Weerasinghe: ‘Exceptional performance’ is the key essence of every Robi employee. We are a customer centric company. Anything we do, we do it to make our customers life more meaningful and easier. ‘Joley Uthun Apon Shoktitey’ is not only a slogan for us; we believe in it and try to face every challenge as an opportunity having faith in our ability to serve our customers with a unique experience. And above all, we deliver everything demonstrating uncompromising integrity.

BBF: How far would you like to take Robi in the coming years?

Supun Weerasinghe: We are focused on maintaining the momentum set by Michael during Robi’s first phase of transformation and carry forward the aim to meet all the business goals and objectives. Looking at our progress so far, we are confident that we are set to achieve leadership in internet services in Bangladesh.

We have provided mobile connectivity to 99% of the population of Bangladesh. Out of the total internet subscriber base of the country, 26.3% are accessing internet through our network (as of June 2015).

We are very grateful for the support extended by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, Ministry of Post, Telecommunications & Information Technology and all the other government authorities in Bangladesh. We will continue to work closely with the government to deliver on the national development plans in realizing its vision of “Digital Bangladesh”.

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