Dr. Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi - We Can Strategically and Sustainably Grow to Reach Revenue of USD 3 Billion by 2025 (Group CEO, Ascend Telecom)

I implemented “People First”. My team is my pride as they participate, educate, inspire, complement and evolve together for fulfilling the objectives of the organization. This is seen in the way they have delivered stake holder value in the past years (EBITDA) strengthening my hand through shouldering their responsibility and over achieving their targets in time every time.

1. Tell us about your background, upbringing and journey and 
What is the story behind Ascend Telecom?

Dr. Sushil has a track record of setting business landmarks globally, through differentiated and strategic approach with focus on operational discipline, converting every challenge to an opportunity.

Envisaging the opportunity of Infrastructure as a service in the fast growing telecom business, Ascend Telecom Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd., entered to develop, build and lease passive infrastructure to Telco’s.

Building the business had many initial challenges like establishing Master Service agreements with Telecom Operators, getting to understand the long gestation of Infrastructure investments, fund raising from various Institutions, Designing of towers & approvals, managing the logistics of site building and equipment supplies to a large geography like India, establishing offices and setting up the Operations Network Pan India.

By the year 2010 they had successfully built their teams across five states with their head offices at Hyderabad, and rolled out over a 1000 cell sites, which were very lucrative to the operators in terms of Mobile cellular business.

Building upon the enriched experience, in the year 2010, Ascend took upon an expansion program, via inorganic acquisition of another big player in the Industry,(ITIL) India Telecom Infrastructure Limited, with over 3000 Tower sites operational across many states, were looking for partnering with new investors to take over the funding and management. Ascend Telecom successfully acquired ITIL and emerged as a cognizable player in the field with almost 4000 sites Pan India. The synergy of this mega acquisition made Ascend a dominant player with all Opco’s being on board.

Building ahead of their commitments and impressing the customers with Service Levels that exceeded the expectations, Ascend went on to build a significant revenue base, with over 5000 sites and over 10000 tenancies by the year 2016. Scouting the markets constantly, they have successfully acquired many accretive portfolios. Ascend stands today proudly with a 100% active portfolio of over 6200 sites and over 11000 tenancies ensuring profitable operations and sustained growth.

Providing a sustained program of Grid assurance, ascend has maintained with over 98% of their sites on grid, giving one of the lowest Energy costs in the industry.

Ascend commends the business today with many industry firsts in both Infra development, Energy supply solutions, remote management, Green initiatives and building an excellent team of professionals in the telecom infrastructure industry, marking their dominance on quality of build and business excellency thereby a preferred business partner of all Telco’s.

Ascend, under the able leadership of Dr Chaturvedi, once again, stood out amongst it’s peers, by overachieving the EBITDA, above the guidance year on year. The performance was extraordinary as the telecom Industry was facing multiple challenges, with the Telco’s and Infra sector posting losses.

This was made possible by:

- Proactive mitigation of challenges and cutting edge innovation and differentiation.

- Focused Revenue Assurance strategy.

- Diversified portfolio with Emerging business (Small Cell/DAS, ISP tenancies, Wifi hotspots, OLT etc) adding new revenue streams.

- Enhancing Energy Margin with Green Tech intervention, a win-win for the industry
Established Ascend as the lowest TCO leader, making it the preferred business partner of all Telco’s.

- Successfully integrating Inorganic portfolio’s.

- Effective Cost control measures.

I implemented “People First”. My team is my pride as they participate, educate, inspire, complement and evolve together for fulfilling the objectives of the organization. This is seen in the way they have delivered stake holder value in the past years (EBITDA) strengthening my hand through shouldering their responsibility and over achieving their targets in time every time.

As an expert in telecom IP and technology providers, I have driven my team to excel in taking risks.

Built a team of experts who will walk the extra mile when needed (Circle & regional leadership).

Provided career path from within (Career progression for all and off-roll to on roll conversion of field staff).

Built organizational capabilities to face unassuming scenario in business (Up skill development for all functional and operational leaders).

Engaged employees in a meaningful way to help themselves and the organization (At least 18 programs per circle (Team development, education and entertainment)/.

Built a culture acceptable to all stake holders (proactive and task driven).

Direct contact with site owners has helped further our business.

Recognized and rewarded exceptional performance.

Lowest Attrition rate in the Industry. Ensured no Employee lay off by countering it with increased productivity and enhanced responsibilities.

Built and sustain a future proof organization in Telecom Infrastructure management, bringing best value prepositions & trust to Customers & Investors and growth to employees.

Strategically and sustainably grew to reach revenue of USD 3 Billion by 2025, leveraging and innovating on technology to lead the competition.

2. What were some of your challenges in early days and what are some of the new challenges you face?

Initial spurt of Telecom networks, entry of large business houses into this industry and their subsequent consolidation have seen many significant turns in the growth of this industry in India. While Ascend started building purely to customer demands and as per their plans, has strategically moved into exploring the business potential in all forms and making business profitability at site level through careful assessment of tenancy capability, longer sustenance of revenue, and hence aggressive ROI.

Introduction of new technologies in Telecom industry, has been disrupting the needs and designs of infrastructure making them more capex & cost sensitive, Ascend has been identifying and incorporating newer designs that meet the customer expectations on cost and rendering business viability as a continuous requirements. Tower infrastructure, Energy supply Equipment, Operations support have all been upgraded from time to time is part of Ascend’s strategy to be relevant and meeting customer needs.

Ascend has also been actively engaged in developing new markets in Emerging business on areas of 4G network infrastructure with 5G compatibility, Smart city programs with sharable infrastructure. Supported with many non-telecom streams of revenue on the same infrastructure, we have been able to bring a significantly higher value prepositions to customers and ourselves.

Understanding the needs Ascend worked to fiberize their sites for the last mile connectivity in both the existing portfolio as well as their new builds catering to 4G expansion.

Understanding that 4G space is much beyond just Voice and Data, Ascend have successfully built and modified their their services to many Telecom enabled services like Internet service providers, In Building solutions providing the coverage requirements of large commercial and residential complexes. 

Street furniture established by Ascend in the smart city programs has also opened up opportunities of revenue from various services that ride over these with the basic infrastructure readily available from our sites. These include Street lighting, WIFI mesh networks, Access Points that are essential for expanding the IOT &M2M platforms, digital advertisements, surveillance Cameras, Pollution measurements, public address etc.

They have adopted technologically for changes in this space very early, developing new designs consisting of slim street furniture, ultra-compact Energy management & storage systems, extremely low cost remote connectivity and supported by fiberized last mile connectivity. 

This has helped them to adopt to the changes quickly and ensure their revenue targets. With optimized investments, reasonable ROI, and adequate safety on revenue despite industry normal consolidations, turbulences, and Policy changes, Ascend has ambitiously and successfully portrayed into these verticals, leveraging innovatively on technology developments and their early induction.

The Management at Ascend with a professional team and vast experience in Infrastructure building, Energy management, Operations, Analytics and customer connect, have demonstrated one of the most successful Business developments in the Indian Telecom Infrastructure business, augmenting their revenue streams ensuring sustained growth in the years to come.

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3. What is your advice to an early stage founder looking to build an ESOP program today?

ESOP program conveys partnership and ownership for success amongst the participants. It is a very effective tool for attracting desired talent, keeping them motivated thru the journey and promising them rewards commensurate with the risks.

It is advisable for the founder to engage expert consultant for drawing up the ESOP plan matching the profile and end goals of the company taking into account the taxation etc.

4. What is your view on implementing ESOP buybacks and liquidity programs in startups?

Startups are very different from established companies. Employees need to put in more than 100% along with a belief in the idea of the founder/s. The risk is higher than the gains , initially and the efforts required are very high. Challenges galore at every step. In this scenario to keep them motivated and stick to the goals, ESOP buyback and liquidity augers well in instilling confidence among the members specially those who leave lucrative established jobs and join start up’s.

5. When should one consider raising funds, what according to you is the right time? Is it absolutely necessary?

It is very business specific and depends largely on the phase of the growth cycle and financial strength of the company. Varies for product centric or services offering companies. The decision of how much? depends on Scaling up or diversification plans and when is the right time ? is dependent on the enterprise placement in the market, including demand supply situation, and the market share. Companies with sufficient internal accruals opt for judicious use of accruals rather than fund raise.

6. What does your typical day look like?

An early riser, start my day with Yoga and jogging. After a quick update on what happened around the world while I slept, get engaged with the business agenda for the day. As per “To Do list” prioritise the engagements and entertain unscheduled meetings/discussions as well to the extent possible. Start the second half of the day with a short meditation session post lunch.

Before leaving the work desk, update the “To Do list” for next day. Use the transit time in the car for reading. Spend quality time with family over dinner. Some time post dinner is reserved for my hobby activity, being an avid Philatelist/Numismatist. After a productive day, a good night sleep ensures I wake up full of energy the next day.

8.What are your future plans for Ascend Telecom?

Complimenting the legacy business in which Ascend emerged as a leader with industry best practices, Ascend endeavours to lead the business from front with introduction of new business verticals steadily from time to time and with futuristic vision on its capability to build the company’s resilience. Incubating good ideas steering the business development with growth, sustainability and profitability.

The Digital revolution which was accelerated by COVID pandemic has opened new vistas for Telecom industry. E commerce, Tele Education, Tele Medicine, Ed-tech, consumer Internet, just to name a few.

Technological advances with advent of 5G, IOT, Cloud computing will provide the necessary eco system for delivery of the new age services. Ascend has also been exploring building infrastructure in the backbone activities through last mile Optical fiber, In Building Distributed Antenna systems, Wi-Fi coverage in large public and private spaces, CCTV surveillance in urban & sensitive areas, Air quality management, Digital display boards, Video Walls and similar future friendly systems to the Telecom & Smart City businesses in India.

Understanding the trends in the Technological developments and the industry developments, Ascend has always been the first to adopt themselves to the changes and ensure their growth with the changes.

Ascend has a product portfolio which is future ready.

The bouquet of Services include Next generation products and services, wifi hotspots, IOT, LTE, FTTX, Inbuilding DAS, Power as a Service, EV charging stations, Smart poles, CCTV surveillance, Environment sensors and many more.

The future is very exciting and loaded with opportunities. Ascend is fully geared to maximize it’s potential through Organic and Inorganic expansion and be at the pole position.

9. Which is your favourite book and why?

The Bhagwad Gita undoubtedly is the choice. Having 1st read on insistence of my Mother when I was a kid in school and barely understanding it, and now having read innumerable commentaries on the Gita, including, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Radha Krishnan, Swamy Vivekananda, the appetite is still strong. Classifying it as a book would be highly undermining it. 

It has no parallel. The very fact that it was relevant when delivered as a discourse by Lord Krishna himself to Arjuna and then over the ages after thousands of years still relevant , makes it stand out apart. I have benefitted immensely in my professional and personal journey from it and keep applying the learnings to address complex corporate and human world challenges successfully.

Major Highlights For Ascend -

Consistent Revenue growth
@ 18 %CAGR and EBITDA growth @ 16 % CAGR

Operations excellence

Lowest Diesel consumption PM / kw

Green Energy- 82% Green portfolio. 21.15 Lac KWH of power generation through renewables

Uptime SLA - Pan-India SLA of 99.97

99.97% portfolio connected to Grid

Innovation and differentiation

a. State of art CTOC 2.0 integrated with mTOC , automated reporting from field of Site visits & activities, with photos of Site-hygiene, Load readings, new customer inventory etc.

b. Implemented Six Sigma in all the Circles

c. Customer satisfaction rating score stood at 4.92/5

The achievement this year is highly significant as the Revenue and EBITDA targets were achieved amidst highly turbulent industry marred with massive tenancy exits.

App based training program imparting Manhours of training, with your time and your place of convenience.

  • Dr Sushil turned around Ascend to PAT +Ve after inheriting loss making enterprise.
  • Pioneered Triple Play services
  • Implemented world’s 1st IP based distributed architecture Telephony system
  • Acquisition of 2.5X larger tower portfolio leading to multi-fold EBITDA increment
  • Established Ascend as the preferred Business Partner with all TELCO’s
  • Pioneer in Green Energy deployment
  • Ascend telecom adjudged as Lowest Cost Operator in the Industry
  • Ascend is 1st Company in Bangalore to be ISO certified with 9001-2015 standard
Bringing in the best of public and private sector leadership nuances and expertise, always ensured leading by example, “walk the talk” gaining team acceptance.

Brief Profile

Dr.Sushil Kumar Chaturvedi (V.S.S.M), is Group Chief Executive Officer , leading Ascend Telecom since 2012. He is an accomplished Telecom professional, with 35+ years of global experience ,having led National and International Telecom organizations.

Prior to Ascend, served as the Chief Executive Officer of ORG Informatics Ltd, managing Telecom/System Integration Business of India, diversified into Satellite services in Belgium and South-east Asia. As Vice President of GDSS Inc. USA , Dr. Chaturvedi pioneered and deployed triple play services across geographies in Africa and SE Asia. An ITS, as Director of BSNL, introduced cellular services and Optical fibre connectivity. As Telecom Advisor of International Telecommunication Union (ITU),was responsible for Telecom development of SADC ( South African Development Countries . As Design Engineer, was a Key member of Joint Indo Soviet Space program , Avionics Design Bureau, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

A Gold medallist from NIT Kurukshetra with degree in Electronics and Telecommunications and MBA from New York Institute of Technology, USA. Dr. Chaturvedi was awarded PhD in Management from Ecole Superieure Robert De Sorbon University, France.

Dr. Chaturvedi has been honoured with the President’s Medal (V S S M) for distinguished telecom services.

His Contributions, achievements, awards and memberships include

  • Telecommunications Journal – Pole less Outside Plant
  • IEEE Bulletin – Test protocol – OFC
  • Telecom Zimbabwe – Cost effective Ducted Outside Plant
  • Tee.Net
  • Silicon Review
  • Silicon India
  • Insight Success -2 articles
  • Telecom Infrastructure Annuals.
  • CEO Insight

Professional affiliations

  • IEEE Journal– Member – Active contributor – Since 1984
  • Wimax Forum – Member – Since 2007
  • NASSCOM-Since 2008
  • CII-Since 2008

  • President’s Medal for distinguished Telecom services 2001 – Director BSNL
  • Deloitte & Touché Stellar CEO award for fastest growing Telecom/IT company in Asia Pacific, 2009 - CEO ORG Informatics Ltd
  • CEO of the Year award 2016 given by World Leadership Federation
  • National Achievement Award for Industry Development 2017 given by Global Achievers Foundation in my current assignment as CEO of Ascend Telecom
  • Stellar Performance Award 2017 from NSR-IDFC Board for demonstrating continuous Well Rounded Growth for the past five Years (FY13-FY17)
  • Gold medal Winner for Quality in Management by European Business Academy- 2018
  • People CEO of the year -by People First HR Excellence Award-2018
  • “Bharat Ratna Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam” Samman Puraskar Award by Global Achievers Academy-2018.
  • “Most Enterprising CEO of the Year (Telecom Sector) Award 2018.” By WBR Corporation
  • Outstanding Global Leadership Award – Industry Jewel (Telecom - 2018) by Institute of Economic Studies.
  • ICON of the year-2019-2019 – WBR Corp
  • “Indian Leadership Award-2019” for BEST TELECOMMUNICATION SERVICES”.
  • CEO of the Year -2019 by APAC HRD Congress
  • People CEO of the year -by People First HR Excellence Award-2020
  • Best Telecom Company of the year 2020 /National Industrial Excellence awards

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