Telecom tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal today seemed to regret venturing into Africa when he termed it “a bit rushed” move that took years of his personal time and resources to fix it. “We all must have made lots of mistakes. Lots of decision when you look back, say I wish they were better thought through. If you pin me down to one, I would say in 2010 our decision to go to Africa was a bit rushed and that has taken 6-7-8 years and lot of resources and my personal time to fix that,” Mittal said. He was responding to query at TiEcon Delhi event that which is the one business decision that he regrets the most. Mittal’s firm Bharti Airtel had ventured in Africa market with $10.7 billion (or about Rs 48,000 crore at that) acquisition of Kuwait-based Zain Telecom’s African assets. The company at present operates in 15 African countries. “In Africa, thankfully, it is much better place today. It is free cash flow positive but when I look I think if I would have conserved that energy, capital and energy, probably we would have been better place today in our home market. Every entrepreneur comes to a point where you make some mistake and the only thing is that you should recognise it and try to fix it as fast as you can,” Mittal said.
The company had reported a consolidated net debt of Rs 91,480 crore as on June 30, 2017. Bharti Airtel had reported 2.8 per cent rise in its Africa revenue on an underlying basis, while the operating profit margins improved over 9 per cent year-on-year. In the quarter. In the second quarter ended June 30, 2017, Bharti Airtel’s Africa revenue stood at Rs 4,852.8 crore and profit after tax excluding exceptional item at Rs 338.8 crore. “It has taken 6-7 years, I wish you know, if had to look back we should have not taken that decision but having taken that decision, you need to back it, you need to fix it. It’s my job, it’s my teams job to fix it,” Mittal said. In response to query on performance of insurance business, Mittal said that Bharti Axa has recently got new team and fresh investments and insurance business has its own gestation period.
“In 5-7 years we will be very happy if we are in top 10 in both life and general (insurance),” Mittal said. Talking about Airtel Payments Bank business, he said that it is meant for financial inclusion with limitations that it cannot provide loans etc. “It is a frugal bank where you go in rural-suburban people to include those who have never been in to bank branch or don’t have bank account. We are opening 80-100 thousand accounts a day. Lot of momentum is being picked up there but it is early days. A lot of learning is to be done there. It will be very big and good opportunity going in to future,” Mittal said.