5G will create completely new set of applications: Nokia’s Ashish Chowdhary

Thomas K Thomas Mumbai | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on August 27, 2015

ASHISH CHOWDHARY, Chief Business Officer, Nokia Networks

Ashish Chowdhary was appointed the Chief Business Officer to lead global customer operations at Nokia Networks in January at a time when the company was going through major changes.

On the one hand, it is in the middle of a mega merger with Alcatel-Lucent and on the other, the telecom sector itself is going through challenging times as new models evolve for data services.

But Chowdhary has seen it all having served as India head at a time when the country’s telecom scene was booming and then later moving to global roles, including heading the global services unit for Nokia Networks.

BusinessLine spoke to Chowdhary on his rise within Nokia and the issues facing the sector.  

What would be your key priority areas in your new role? 

Continuing to establish our customer relationships firstly, and making sure that the offerings and innovations that we are bringing into the market are fully understood by customers. Number two, continuing the momentum the company has in terms of profitable growth. Third is making sure that I continue to develop and build a strong team around the world.

I would emphasise it’s like the three dimensions – customers, delivering strong goals in terms of financial objectives and building a strong employee and leadership base internally.

You joined Nokia sometime in early 2000. What are the things you did to reach where you are?

When I joined in December 2003, did I know very clearly or did I have the vision of being in the current role? I’m not very sure, to be honest. I think my basic perspective always has been to be able to do the best in what I can do. I think you have to take small steps and deliver on them and be able to continue to work on them. The basic approach that I had was to fulfil my task as the head of India for over four years at that point of time. That worked well and that allowed me to build on the momentum and experiences around India role and then I took on global roles while continuing to be based out of India.

Be it a very India-centric or the global services kind of role, they were completely different and different set of business issues that I had to deal with. I think the ability to adapt to different environments, being able to work with multi-cultural teams, the ability to deal with people remotely, which itself takes learning and ability to be able to manage well and then of course to be able to be focused on bringing a balanced execution between the near-term and long-term views. 

How does the Alcatel-Lucent acquisition fit into that entire transformation strategy of Nokia Networks? Until now, Nokia was saying it was focusing only on mobile broadband but now with this deal you are going back to being present in everything from fixed line to satellites... 

We wanted to be able to look at an environment where we could be profitable and we could grow and add value to our customers and also grow as a strong company. Also, the world has evolved and we have done and progressed a lot as a company in terms of where we stand as Nokia. We also see we are in a position where combining the strengths of what Alcatel-Lucent brings to the strengths of Nokia, in a way we are natural partners and if we are able to combine these strengths and offer the full breadth of portfolios that we are working on together — mobile broadband elements, fixed elements, cloud-based analytics to telco… to bring these to customers is actually now the right expectation and the fulfilment of the next step that we want to take as an industry and as a strong partner to them. Also the ability to be able to combine the strong innovation that Alcatel and Nokia brings to the table will allow us to continue to create a future leader in this world. I look at that as evolutions in the industry that takes place and as a strong company we respond to the evolutions that take place and we always will continue to evolve with these.

So you are saying that because the industry has changed focussing just on a wireless broadband piece may not be the way forward anymore and having that end-to-end product portfolio is important?

Our dynamics are changing and evolving quickly because the 5G environment will create the need for completely new set of applications to work with it. We are talking about a number of devices being connected to each other and creating the need for an ecosystem that needs to survive that environment not just based on pure connectivity but the applications that go along with that.

Everything moving to an IP world also means one needs to have enough strength in that world to be able to serve the end-to-end needs of the changing connectivity ecosystem. Based on these developments that are taking place around the world, it becomes very relevant to be able to serve customers in a world where there is a surplus of offering, in a world that is directly approaching us. For us evolving into that world is a logical next step.

In the tech-space we are seeing a lot of Indians doing really well. From Satya Nadella to Sundar Pichai and Nokia’s own Rajeev Suri and you. Is there a common thread that is driving this trend or is it sheer coincidence that at a given point of time we have so many Indian leaders heading tech companies?

 It’s hard to paint everything with a brush, though I think, one, India is a very diverse environment and a great learning ground for a global leader because it has many contrasts and varying environments where people come from and it teaches you many things in terms of dealing with it.

Second, it is very dynamic, there is no one answer that could be applied to every situation. You need to be on your toes to be able to deal with that of dynamic environment because it is a microcosm of any large global environment because of the so many different contrasts in one country and then, of course, it is the tremendous amount of innovation that one has to learn because there are the cost elements. It is ultimately a market where cost is valued very much but at the same time the expectations from everyone are very high in terms of what you should be delivering because that needs to be at a global standard which we need to do at a very local cost.

I think there is also something about the humility element because I feel that as any manager or global leader you always carry a sense of humility as an understanding, the background and the roots you come from and being able to relate that into not only business environment but also in terms of people that you deal with on a daily basis.

I think this environment if you put together is a great learning ground and you take it in forms of positive learning environment, it helps you position yourself better in many global environments.



Would you be able to pinpoint one big challenge that you came across and how did you overcome that?

I think the first time, when I transitioned from heading the India role to heading the global role, at that point I did not know much about that field. I had, of course, a general background in terms of the depths of the environment, because you go from running a region of the world and being responsible for delivering the financials and teams of that region, to running a business unit dimension which is global and spread to all parts of the world and this was the time when we were looking at India being an important services centre for delivering many of the services. It was doing a change of your complete mindset, from having your entire near team sitting next to you and you could walk into anybody’s office and deal with issues and easily deal with customers locally. That switched in a matter of days into a role where I had not a single team member located on the ground in India and customers were spread out in all corners of the world.

So learning about the industries, the portfolios to deliver around the world, how to deal with them culturally, building a cohesive team spread across thousands of miles, everything came at one go. In these situations, you have to be in a position to think while running, you’re under pressure and still be able to deliver well. You have to make these transitions very quickly and hit the ground running. 


From your interactions with telcos what are the conversations now about compared to five years back?

Well the biggest move of course is the change from voice to data clearly. Five years ago, the conversation in many parts of the world would still be relating to voice and the connected world in terms of voice and clearly that conversation has moved far more into the world of data and the application of data and what would that mean to the operators of the environment. It is only the degree to which the data connectivity aspects are being implemented today or tomorrow because then every environment in the world, right from the developing markets to the most developing markets, it is only the degree to which the data connectivity elements are being adopted to.

It is the direction towards which the things are moving in and when we look at our own vision what we call our vision 2020, we look at supporting up to 1,000 times more the capacity in terms to be able to teach networks to be self aware. 

Published on August 27, 2015
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