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Innovation on the edge: David in a world of Goliaths

Zafar Anjum | Feb. 27, 2015
“We are like David in a world of Goliaths,” says Tri Pham, the Chief Strategy Office of Tata Communications, in this exclusive interview with CIO Asia’s Online Editor Zafar Anjum. He explains how his company is encouraging the culture of innovation and fostering a startup mindset among its 8,000 employees across the globe to achieve competitive edge in a field dominated by the big boys like AT&T, Verizon and BT

Tri Pham

Tri Pham, the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of Tata Communications

In late January this year, I had the opportunity to have a chat with Tri Pham, the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of Tata Communications, from the sidelines of a conference on Innovation at Marina Bay Sands.

Based in Singapore, Pham is responsible for Tata Communications' strategy formulation and execution, as well as managing all major strategic initiatives including growth plans, entry into new markets and mergers and acquisitions.

Pham has over 18 years of experience in the investment banking industry, focusing on the Telecommunications, Media and Technology (TMT) industries in Asia. He has had leadership roles in banks such as HSBC and ABN AMRO Bank. Pham was also a Director at Merrill Lynch International from 1994 to 2003, where he was head of South East Asia TMT.

David in a world of Goliaths

"If you look at the dynamics of our industry, we don't have a natural monopoly to rely on," he explained to me. He used the example of Singtel, which he considered a very good company with a home base and regional reach. And it is big enough to command a steady income.

"We don't really have that," said Pham. "Even in India, there are five different players that we compete with. And (globally), we are competing against some of the larger players-we are in the same group as AT&T, Verizon and BT according to Gartner. We are among the big boys. We are like David in a world of Goliaths," he said, positioning his company's situation in the fast-changing competitive world, without any 'protective' home base like many other players have.

"On top of that, you have innovative companies like Google and Microsoft who are also trying to merge into this world of data and communications. So, innovation is critical for us to survive. We have to outmanoeuvre others to survive. Innovation is critical for us to grow long term," he said.

Fostering a culture of innovation

But how could a large organisation like Tata Communications be imbued with that sense of innovativeness? "That being said, we are not a startup," he admitted. "We came from a public utility company in India that had a monopoly on long-distance telephony. That whole business model has changed. So, we felt that for us to be innovative, we have to develop  a culture of innovation. That means a whole systematic programme of reinforcing what we mean by innovation. It's not just about creating new ideas but it is also about agility; it is also about not being afraid of failure, about going out there and trying different things and if it does not work, move on or adjust (ourselves). That's the culture that we need to encourage."


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