Sandip Das is one of Asia’s most respected telecom professionals. He was the first employee of Hutchison Max Telecom (which became Vodafone) at the dawn of the telecom revolution in India in 1994. Over the next 13 years, he launched brands such as Orange and Hutch, and created an iconic company that was worth $20 billion by the time he left in 2006.
Then came Maxis Communications. He was the first Indian to be hired to head a foreign telco when he was appointed chief executive officer (CEO) in Kuala Lumpur. Das forged his managerial skill in the smithy of DCM Shriram’s graduate trainee programme. “A lot of my leadership style has been influenced by my time at DCM. It was very structured, disciplined, process-driven, with strong values, honesty and attention to detail. There was fairness and transparency, with respect for the order of command but without being hierarchical,” he says.
He enjoys sharing his expertise with young people, and what could be more inspiring than the story of the fledgling Hutchison Max to the behemoth that Vodafone is today? Or how, while he was CEO of the Maxis Group, he led Asia’s largest initial public offering in telecom history for Maxis, raising nearly $3.5 billion. Or what he did to be voted best CEO in Malaysia by Finance Asia in 2012? And how he came to appear four times on the Global List of the 100 Most Powerful People in Telecom, compiled by the Global Telecom magazine?
Das says telecom in India will leapfrog an entire generation, much as the Bedouins jumped from camels to Mercedes, skipping the bicycle. For him, the future, when mobile technology will be used to improve education and health, is thrilling. “The impact technology has on the poor is how the 21st century will really judge what it has achieved,” he says.
His leisure habits are those of someone who has grown up among erudite people in drawing rooms reverberating with the sound of stimulating conversation. Das reads voraciously – history, culture, business; he is learning how to play the keyboard; he is a keen photographer; he writes newspaper columns; he draws; he loves browsing in museums; he enjoys singing old Hindi numbers with his daughter; and he collects old maps, a love that goes back to his childhood days when his father used to get out a map every time he was teaching his children any subject and introduce fascinating connections between the subject being studied and the places on the globe.