Sunil Bharti Mittal, (born 23 October 1957) is an Indian telecom mogul, philanthropist and the founder, chairman and managing director of Bharti Enterprises. The US$7.2 billion turnover company runs India’s largest GSM-based mobile phone service. He is the son of Sat Paul (former MP) and Lalita.
In 2007, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian honor.
Sunil Mittal, was born in Ludhiana, Punjab, the city known as “The Manchester of India”, due to its contribution to Indian industry. His father, Sat Paul Mittal had been the Member of Parliament (M.P) from Ludhiana.He attended Scindia School at Gwalior and He graduated in 1979 from Punjab University, Chandigarh, with a Bachelor of Arts and Science. His father died of cardiac arrest in 1992.
Mittal built the Bharti group along with his brothers Rakesh and Rajan, becoming India’s largest mobile phone operator in just ten years. The UK-based telecommunications company, Vodafone and Singapore’s SingTel both own stakes in the recently renamed flagship company Bharti Airtel. The group also has partnerships with Axa for insurance and with the Rothschild family. Airtel now serves over 110 million Indian customers — becoming the largest telecom operator in India.
A first generation entrepreneur, Mittal started his first business in April 1976 at the age of 18, with a capital investment of Rs 20,000 (U$500) borrowed from his father. His first business was to make crankshafts for local bicycle manufacturers.
In 1980 he sold his bicycle parts and yarn factories and moved to Mumbai.
In 1981, he purchased importing licences from exporting companies in Punjab. He then imported thousands of Suzuki Motors’s portable electric-power generators from Japan. The importing of generators was suddenly banned by the then Indian Government and just two licences to manufacture generators in India were issued to two companies.
In 1984, he started assembling push-button phones in India replacing the old fashioned, bulky rotary phones that were in use in the country then. Bharti Telecom Limited (BTL) was incorporated and entered into a technical tie up with Siemens AG of Germany for manufacture of electronic push button phones. By the early 1990s, Mittal was making fax machines, cordless phones and other telecom gear. Mittal says, “In 1983, the government imposed a ban on the import of gensets. I was out of business overnight. Everything I was doing came to a screeching halt. I was in trouble. The question then was: what should I do next? Then, opportunity came calling. While in Taiwan, I noticed the popularity of the push-button phone — something which India hadn’t seen then. We were still using those rotary dials with no speed dials or redials. I sensed my chance and embraced the telecom business. I started marketing telephones, answering/fax machines under the brand name Beetel and the company picked up really fast.”
In 1992, he successfully bid for one of the four mobile phone network licences auctioned in India. One of the conditions for the Delhi cellular license was that the bidders have some experience as a telecom operator. So, Mittal clinched a deal with the French telecom group Vivendi.
He was one of the first Indian entrepreneurs to identify the mobile telecom business as a major growth area. His plans were finally approved by the Government in 1994 and he launched services in Delhi in 1995, when Bharti Cellular Limited (BCL) was formed to offer cellular services under the brand name AirTel. Within a few years Bharti became the first telecom company to cross the 2-million mobile subscriber mark. Bharti also brought down the STD/ISD cellular rates in India under brand name ‘Indiaone’. IndiaOne was India’s first private national as well as the international long-distance service provider, and, thus, became a major factor in Bharti’s success by providing services cheaply.
In November 2006, he struck a joint venture deal with Wal-Mart, the US retail giant, to start a number of retail stores across India.
In July 2006, he attracted many key executives from Reliance ADAG, NIS Sparta and created Bharti Comtel.
In May 2008, it emerged that Sunil Bharti Mittal was exploring the possibility of buying the MTN Group, a South Africa-based telecommunications company with coverage in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East. The Financial Times reported that Bharti was considering offering US$45 billion for a 100% stake in MTN, which would be the largest overseas acquisition ever by an Indian firm. However, both sides emphasize the tentative nature of the talks, while The Economist magazine noted, “If anything, Bharti would be marrying up,” as MTN has more subscribers, higher revenues and broader geographic coverage. However, the talks fell apart as MTN group tried to reverse the negotiations by making Bharti almost a subsidiary of the new company.
In May 2009, Bharti Airtel again confirmed that he was in talks with MTN and companies agreed to discuss the potential transaction exclusively by 31 July 2009. Bharti Airtel said in a statement “Bharti Airtel Ltd is pleased to announce that it has renewed its effort for a significant partnership with MTN Group”.Talks eventually ended without agreement, some sources stating that this was due to opposition from the the South African government.
Mittal resides in Delhi. He is married and has three children. He is superstitious about the number 23, as he was born on the 23 and also got married on the 23. He also stops eating meat before any big venture.
He is opening a football academy in Haryana or Goa to help India send a team to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Mittal has also been working towards educating India through the Bharti Foundation. The foundation has established over 200 schools and libraries in India, as well as providing scholarships for college students. For his work with the foundation Barron’s named Mittal number 16 on its 2009 list of the world’s top 25 philanthropists.