Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel (pictured), bemoaned the company’s “rushed” entry into Africa in 2010, describing the move as one of his biggest regrets in his professional life.
In comments made at the TiEcon event in Delhi cited by The Economic Times, Mittal said the decision by India’s biggest operator to enter Africa was a mistake at the time, explaining challenges in the region and efforts to engineer a turnaround have impacted the wider Airtel group.
Airtel made its move into several African countries seven years ago by acquiring Kuwait-based Zain’s assets in the region, in a deal valued at $11 billion, but the business is yet to achieve profitability.
Mittal’s comments follow speculation last week the company was set to exit three markets in Africa – Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania – and would instead pursue other options in the region.
Airtel subsequently released a statement denying the rumours, although it did confirm it was open to consolidation with other players in some countries.
Speaking about Airtel’s entrance in 2010, Mittal stated the capital and energy put into Africa at the time “probably would have been better-placed today in our home market”, adding the decision to go into Africa was “a bit rushed” and took a lot of time “and a lot of resources and my personal time to fix that”.
There are, however, suggestions the situation may yet turnaround. In its most recent earnings statement (covering the three months to end-September) the company reported improved customer numbers, Airtel Money service uptake and margins across its Africa business as a whole.
Mittal added its operations in Africa are in “a much better place today”, after finally becoming cash flow positive.