When Nalin Perera joined Mobitel in 2001, he had already worked in the telecommunications industry for over a decade. He had noticed the growth in revenue for telecommunications services throughout his native Sri Lanka and, as a young salesman and pioneer who joined the industry in 1989, decided to work his way upwards in the industry.
Climbing the corporate ladder, he was appointed CEO of Mobitel in 2017, after holding many key positions such as General Manager, CMO and COO. This was a progression he attributes to a proven track record of hard work and to Mobitel’s performance-driven culture.
Before his executive appointment, Nalin was praised for introducing several revolutionary telecommunications concepts to the Sri Lankan market, including value-added services, enterprise business solutions, and a prepaid concept that revolutionised the industry growth in Sri Lanka.
In his current role, he sees the long-term growth of Mobitel as catering towards an increasingly diverse array of consumers in the region, while acknowledging the shifting uses of telecommunications services globally. “I don’t have to explain that the market for voice calling is stagnant or declining across most regions,” he says.
“Fortunately, at Mobitel we have been able to maintain a market for voice calls through cultivating subscriber bases that span rural and urban communities. However, as we look towards the future, data services are going to be the focus, and we don’t want to be a ‘dumb pipe’ and have third parties taking advantage of our investment for their benefit.”
Nalin emphasises that long-term growth of the telecommunications industry will focus on further monetising data usage and building on existing telecommunications infrastructure. He is quick to note, however, that even as priorities shift, Mobitel remains focused on its core services. “I’m a great believer in trying not to reinvent the wheel. In saying that, I believe that we should stick with our core business and, in that sense, the future should be about collaborating and leveraging strengths, as opposed to specialising too heavily in one thing or heading in many directions.”
“If our staff don’t rotate and get more exposure to different roles and tasks, their diversified talents and capabilities can go untapped.”
While Mobitel is adapting to the shift in how consumers use their mobile devices, Nalin remains presciently aware of the numerous other challenges facing the industry. In the coming years, this will include technological obsolescence that will occur with the increasingly rapid changes to service provisions globally.
“Customers are not interested in the technology of their service. Whether it be GSM, 2G, 3G, 4G, or 5G – they are immaterial. All our customers are looking at is the experience, and that remains the focus. If we think we have met customer expectations, then we have won the battle.”
Nalin understands that the quality of Mobitel’s service is core to the company’s focus on delivering for its customers. “There is a segment of the market prepared to pay a premium for quality, but it’s a very small segment, and you cannot exist in the market if you focus entirely on that area. You have to focus on serving everyone.
“It’s important that we meet the user requirements initially at a price they can afford, but also that we ensure total customer engagement is maintained. We will not compromise customer expectations for short-term gains.”
Once a customer passes through the initial stages, we try to drive revenue from them by adding value without shocking them with enormous bills. So, what we do is we take customers through a process.
If a customer is only using voice services when they sign on, we monitor them over a period of time, and if that customer is, for example, using a smart device, we will offer them a data bundle, compliments of Mobitel. Over time, the customer will become accustomed to having access to data and they will start to see the benefit of it. It’s all to do then with how we, as a business, develop the adaptability of our customers over time.”
Nalin’s attention towards the experience of Mobitel’s customers is the success that he has achieved as CEO, with the support of all stakeholders in the ecosystem. By his own admission, he remains attentive to the needs of the company’s staff, and insists on a culture of upskilling and broad experience for all of his employees. Nalin deems this to be especially important to those seeking to achieve further success inside the business. “Our staff here at Mobitel are very experienced, with many years between them. These people are more than capable and knowledgeable enough to take over the role of CEO if I were to ever leave.”
In part, Nalin attributes the opportunity for lateral movement within the company as the crucial to helping his staff develop. “If an engineer wanted to move to marketing, we would arrange that, or vice versa. I believe that if our staff do not rotate and get more exposure to different roles and tasks, their diversified talents and capabilities can go untapped. They only see the domain that they are working in.”
Given Mobitel’s track record in Sri Lanka, Nalin is poised to take the company to further success in the region’s field of telecommunications. Over his three decades in the industry, he has displayed an impeccable attention to market adaptability in Sri Lanka and this looks set to continue as the head of Mobitel.
If there is one thing that he wants The CEO Magazine readers to know, it is that the country remains as it was for himself – a country full of business opportunities that is ripe for investment. “Sri Lanka is a wonderful country. It has a very educated workforce market, where consumer adaptability is fast. It is investor-friendly, with a lot of opportunities if you are prepared to
take a challenge with determination.”