One of Tejinder Kalra’s defining traits is the compulsion to throw himself outside his comfort zone. As Indus Towers’ chief operating officer (COO), his earlier experience with Nokia on the active side of the networks has helped him understand how a tower company needs to evolve its solutions and embrace innovations to meet the needs of operators.
Kalra is a communications engineer from the Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology. He also has an executive diploma in international business from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and recently completed a course in executive coaching from a Canadian university, albeit conducted in New Delhi.
His 26 years in the telecom and telecom services industry began after he graduated, when he joined an EPABX manufacturing company in Mohali. After working in system testing for a company in Chandigarh for two years, he moved to Delhi to work with telecom company Sprint RPG. Here, his job was selling mainly to enterprise customers.
After a spell with Sify and Reliance Communications, he moved to the vendor side. “I wanted to know how you make deals, sell equipment. So I joined Siemens (later Nokia) in 2003, where I found the work culture fantastic, with lots of freedom but allied to accountability. I developed two to three big new customers for them, I set up networks, I created a team from scratch and built it into a business worth half a billion euros and honed my management skills.”
Perhaps his most extraordinary assignment was his posting in Nairobi after Airtel acquired Zain’s Africa business for $10.7 billion in 2010. “I went because it had become too much like ‘business as usual’ in Delhi. I knew it would be a challenge,” he says. After four years in Nairobi, he returned to Delhi and started handling the Bharti global account.
Kalra describes himself as a family man and a private person. His wife Reena, he says, has been a rock and he owes her a lot for holding the family together while he pursued his career. When at home, he tries not to be distracted by work.
As to the future contours of his career, he says he has no idea where it will go. He has not even thought about it. “I am happy here. I have a lot to learn still and there are so many new initiatives and opportunities like the Smart Cities Mission and Digital India, for which I have to gear up the company.”