September 3, 2010 / 5:38 AM / 9 years ago

Sunil Mittal's son joins Bharti Airtel, fuels succession talk

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Bharti Airtel, India’s No.1 mobile operator, appointed the son of its billionaire founder-chairman as a manager, raising speculation he was being groomed for a top position in the $27 billion company.

A man speaks on a mobile phone in front of the Bharti Airtel office on the outskirts of New Delhi May 11, 2010. Bharti Airtel has appointed its founder-chairman's son as a manager at a unit that holds its African assets, the company said in a statement. REUTERS/B Mathur

Shravin Bharti Mittal, 23, one of twin sons of Sunil Bharti Mittal, will be part of Bharti’s international operations, the company said in a statement.

“I think Mittal’s message to his son is ‘start from the shop floor and prove your mettle before you get elevated to a senior position’,” said Jagannadham Thunuguntla, head of equity at SMC Capitals in New Delhi.

The appointment comes in the wake of succession talks among Indian businesses, which are mostly family-driven.

Wipro Ltd, the country’s third-biggest outsourcer of IT services, this week named its founder-chairman Azim Premji’s oldest son, who is widely seen as heir apparent, as chief strategy officer.

Last month Tata Group, India’s oldest and the best-known business house, set a milestone saying it would look beyond the family for a successor to its Chairman Ratan Tata, who is due to retire by end-2012.

FORMER TMT ANALYST

Holder of a degree in accounting and finance from the University of Bath in the UK, Shravin Mittal joins from JP Morgan Cazenove in London where he was an analyst in the technology, media and telecommunications division of the investment banking unit.

He had earlier worked with Merrill Lynch in New York and Ernst & Young in London.

Shravin will initially get an annual salary of 50,000 euros ($64,130), according to a company statement. His job will be to assist the management in “integration of Zain Africa”, according to an annual report posted on company’s website.

Bharti owns the African assets it bought from Kuwait’s Zain through its unit Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands) BV, which Shravin will join as a manager.

He may be elevated to the board of the company’s international unit or equivalent position in future, the company said.

His father Sunil Mittal is a first-generation entrepreneur who has come a long way from selling bicycle parts to control India’s top mobile carrier that recently became the world’s fifth-biggest after acquiring telecoms assets in 15 African countries from Zain in a $9 billion deal.

The soft-spoken elder Mittal is the second of three sons of a politician. Like most Indians, Mittals have strong family ties, and his brothers work with him at Bharti, although his top lieutenants are outsiders.

Mittal has kept himself away from Bharti’s day-to-day commercial operations and does not attend the company’s results briefings, having passed the reins to his professional CEOs. But he was active in the company’s negotiations with South Africa’s MTN and most recently in the Zain transaction.

Thunuguntla said family members starting at a junior level was better than parachuting them in senior positions, which sometimes prove counter-productive for the company.

Bharti shares were up 1.8 percent on Friday in a flat broader market. The shares have risen more than 3 percent so far this year, compared with a more than 4 percent gain in the main index.

(Editing by Ranjit Gangadharan and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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