Embracing Change and Embracing Success: An Interview with Shriprakash R. Pandey

July 2023, Renewable India, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks:

Welcome to our exclusive interview with Shriprakash R. Pandey, an esteemed expert in the realm of business, boasting over two decades of invaluable experience in leading international technology and engineering companies. As the Founder, Promoter, and Managing Director of Commtel, he has played a pivotal role in steering the company’s growth and success.

Having commenced his career as a systems engineer with the prestigious Australian multinational Olex Cables, Mr. Shriprakash honed his skills and knowledge in the field. His passion for entrepreneurship and technological advancements led him to establish Commtel Networks, a venture that has thrived under his guidance.

Throughout his career journey, Mr. Shriprakash has demonstrated an insatiable thirst for knowledge and self-improvement. Recently, he completed a post-graduate program in artificial intelligence from the esteemed University of Texas, Austin, showcasing his commitment to staying at the forefront of emerging technologies. Additionally, he has successfully completed an Advanced Management Program from the renowned Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and the prestigious Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, Illinois.

Despite his busy professional commitments, he also deeply committed to social causes. His dedication to making a positive impact on society reflects his well-rounded and compassionate nature.

With his wealth of experience and diverse educational background, Mr. Shriprakash remains an inspiring figure in the business world. As the driving force behind Commtel’s success and a continual advocate for technological innovation, he serves as a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Join us as we delve into the insights and wisdom of this visionary leader, gaining invaluable perspectives on the world of business, technology, and the pursuit of excellence.

1. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur and establish Commtel Networks?
Honestly, being an entrepreneur was not something that I had intentionally planned, it simply unfolded along the way.

I was working with an Australian multinational, Olex Cables. In the year 1998, the company took a decision to withdraw their operations in India. This decision was going to affect all the 14 members of the team who were working for the company for India operations.

I was also a part of this team and wasn’t ready to simply succumb to the circumstances and not even try to do something about it. That is what, you could say, sparked the idea of founding a new company along with the entire team from Olex. So yes, it was just this humble thought and the urge to change the circumstances for everyone, that pushed us and inspired me to form Commtel Networks.

2. Could you tell us about the journey of Commtel Networks from its inception to becoming a global engineering and technology company?
We have been in the business for two and a half decades now and, it has been one beautiful journey so far with so many learnings, changes, challenges, innovation and a collective desire to be able to add value to our customers through our work and really make a difference.

Throughout this journey, there have seen huge changes within the organisation at various levels internally, and also potential wise. From the time when we had to look for new projects to today’s time when we have a rich portfolio of projects to showcase, we have come a long way. All this has definitely taken a lot of efforts and strategic planning along the way.

Over the time, a lot of things had to be changed including recruitment of new and talented professionals, establishment of new offices (UAE and the USA), strengthening of our infrastructure to be able to cater to growing business needs, adapting to new environments and industry needs, being up-to-date with latest developments and newer technologies and designing new-age solutions.

I personally believe in being equipped and ready for a change or a leap well in advance rather than reacting to circumstances or just responding to requirements. This proactive approach is showcased by every team member of Commtel, and, I believe, this approach has been the key to all the positive changes and the growth that we have witnessed.

3. What are some of the significant challenges you faced while building Commtel Networks into what it is today?
As I mentioned above, the inception of Commtel Networks was nothing that was strategically planned. It was a completely new journey for all of us to build and run a new business. We all had to really up our game, learn everything about running a business and get projects. As a new company, even this simple task of getting work and aligning hygiene activities was challenging.

As we moved forward to becoming a global organisation and started to deliver projects in different parts of the world, one obvious challenge we faced was the varied and peculiar import laws that a lot of these countries had. However, there was no backing away from any challenge for us. We learnt about the laws, figured out solutions and managed to deliver projects in so many new geographies consistently.

Adapting customer requirements and specifications into a working technological solution is a constant challenge and endeavour at Commtel. We must keep ourselves abreast with the technological developments in our field and incorporate the same into the solutions and systems we build for our customers.

Challenges are a part of everyone’s journey and, I am sure, we will face some challenges moving forward too. The key that has helped us and will help us in the future as well to rise above the challenges is our commitment and dedication to giving our best, continuous learning, adapting to trends and changing situations and consistently delivering on our customer promises.

4. How do you ensure that Commtel Networks stays at the forefront of technological advancements in the digital communication, surveillance, security, safety, and AI solutions sectors?
We, as an organisation, believe in proactive approach and this has always helped us in myriad ways and contributed to our continued success. We have a strong team of talented professionals and thought leaders who are dedicated to designing innovative solutions for our customers. One of our core company values is ‘Innovation and excellence’ that encourages us to look for newer ways and design unique solutions.

Failure is never taken in a wrong way, instead we always learn something from it. This value is rooted in every team member of our organisation, and they are always enthusiastic to try different ways of doing things, which helps us stay competent and offer distinctive solutions. Also, we put a lot of efforts into learning and development for our team and encourage them to upskill and further hone their knowledge through relevant trainings, workshops, industry events, etc.

Overall, as a team, we are always hungry to learn new things, stay up-to-date with the latest developments and technological advances and are always enthusiastic about seeking avenues to incorporate these newer technologies into our solutions. To sum it up, I feel, the innovation mindset, learning and development initiatives and the innate thirst for knowledge is what helps us to be at the forefront of technological advancements and offer robust and future-ready solutions to our customers.

5. Can you share some notable projects or clients that Commtel Networks has worked with in the critical national infrastructure sectors?
We have worked with major Oil & Gas companies like IOCL, GAIL, BPCL, HPCL, GSPL and ONGC. With our expansion of operations in UAE, we have been able to offer our solutions to giant global companies like ADNOC, Aramco, KOC, QP, etc.

Back in 1999-2000, when we started undertaking projects as a Telecom Systems Integrator, GAIL JLPL was our major project. At that time, it was the longest pipeline having 84 sites. Today we have deployed more than 29,000 Kms of telecom, security and safety system solutions for pipelines in India. We hold more than 60% of market share in this space.

From our UAE office, we secured and worked on our largest-ever project for KIPIC in Kuwait. This is a greenfield refinery and we have deployed and integrated more than 15 different systems enabling KIPIC to operate and secure their infrastructure efficiently. This project was a game changer as it catapulted us into a different league altogether in the international market. We have delivered 500+ projects till date across 4 continents and 17 countries.

6. What motivated you to pursue a post-graduate program in artificial intelligence from the University of Texas? How has that knowledge influenced Commtel Networks’ offerings?
As I mentioned earlier, we always strive to learn, expand our knowledge and keep ourselves updated with the latest technologies and developments in the industry. In the recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has gained a lot of momentum and I personally believed that this technology will be a breakthrough technology and will be able to help us truly transform our solutions. That is when I thought that I wanted to learn about this technology in detail and figure out possibilities of using the knowledge to augment our service offerings.

The learnings from this program helped me in planning and building our AI & DT vertical that aims to offer cutting-edge solutions to our clients and help them in their digital transformation journey. We have also launched a new product in 2021, CN-SHIELD, a state-of-the-art AI solution offering 360-degree protection for Critical National Infrastructure. We are definitely looking forward to do much more work in this area and unleash the power of AI to design innovative solutions for our customers.

7. How do you manage to lead a team of nearly 300 employees across three countries? What leadership strategies do you employ?
At Commtel, we have a dedicated team that works with an extreme sense of responsibility and accountability. Over the past twenty-five years, we have managed to enhance this further. Having a capable senior management team facilitates the overall organizational growth. We have put in place a performance driven culture which enables everyone to participate and contribute towards the growth of the organisation.

8. Could you discuss the importance of engineering expertise within Commtel Networks and how it contributes to the company’s success?
Engineering solutions is the core activity and hugely central to the existence of Commtel. We being a technology solutions providing company, right from the pre-sales activity to post-sales delivery, need engineering team’s involvement at every step of each project. Engineering a cost-effective solution by understanding the customer specifications helps us win projects, and then delivering it by performing detailed-engineering post-order helps us keep our promise to the customer and convert the order to cash.

9. As the Chairman and Managing Director, what is your vision for the future of Commtel Networks?
If you look at our company’s mission statement and vision, it aptly talks about the vision I have for the future of Commtel Networks. We are on a mission to bridge the gap between humanity and digital transformation by ‘Engineering Intelligence’ to help build a smarter, faster and safer world. As a global engineering and technology company, our work is focused on the niche sector of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) like oil & gas, power, transportation, mining, etc.

Our customers are empowering humanity by providing energy, mobility, safety and security. We are the catalysts that are helping them seamlessly achieve this. Working on projects for clients in CNI sector is a huge responsibility and we have been delivering successful projects worldwide for the past 25 years.

We definitely want to continue delivering excellence to our customers and be known as a key player that designs intelligent engineering solutions that are robust, reliable and future-ready. We want to be the preferred partner for CNI sector in building a future that is smarter, faster and safer.

10. How do you balance your professional commitments with your dedication to social causes?
We set-up Commtel Foundation in the very early stage of our business back in 2006. I personally do not see any bifurcation between professional and social commitments. I feel they both go hand in hand. It is the way you sort it in your mind. At Commtel, today we are a team of 350, meaning an extended family of 1200+ members. If we do not do what we do on a daily basis, we will not be able to meet our commitments to our own people. The business helps us generate profit from which we are able to share some of it with Commtel Foundation to help the society at large. So being professionally capable is the only way that will make us socially responsible.

11. What are some social causes that you are particularly passionate about, and how have you contributed to them?
As stated above, I believe that social responsibilities are a part of our daily lives. As responsible human beings, it is critical for us to be cognizant about our actions and should make efforts to keep the environment (physical, social, etc) in its best form for the future generations.

If I have to really pick, some of the key causes that are close to my heart are environment, social and governance. We have been making efforts to create an impact in these areas in whichever way we can since a while. It was never an obligation but rather happens naturally. It was only last year that we decided to add this officially to our corporate strategy and we released an ambition statement for the same.

Making ESG a part of our corporate strategy has enabled me to focus on all three key areas which I am highly passionate about. Environment, Our People and Society as well as building an ethical, safe and fun place to work. ESG framework allows us to weave the environment, social and governance commitment into our professional life so that we don’t have to worry about balance. Commtel is a perpetual entity and it is important that we shape it into a responsible organisation.

12. How do you foster a culture of innovation and continuous learning within Commtel Networks?
Our people are the biggest and most important assets. Hence, we always invest a lot of efforts into their learning and development initiatives that can add to their professional growth. ‘Innovation and Excellence’ is one of our core company values and we always encourage the team to try new ways, explore systems and technologies.

This is what helps us enrich our learning and expand our knowledge. We also have various learning and development initiatives in place for all the employees. These initiatives are spread across technical topics, general topics as well as soft skills. Apart from this, we provide support to employees who want to take up further educational courses that could help them advance their skills and add value to the work.

We have also introduced various training programs that are focused on comprehensive leadership skills to prepare the future leaders. To add to that, regular trainings and workshops on latest technologies and industrial developments as well as participation in industry events helps the team keep up with their continuous learning efforts.

13. Can you share any memorable or challenging experiences you’ve had throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
There are many such experiences throughout these 25 years of journey, very difficult to pick one. However, I have been fortunate to get support from multiple sources, people, customers, suppliers, partners, banks, my colleagues at Commtel and many more that has made it easier to tackle the challenges and has made Commtel what it is today. I believe, the key is to start the journey with extreme dedication and firm resolve, everything else follows.

14. What are some of the core values that guide your decision-making and leadership style at Commtel Networks?
My leadership style is inclusive and authentic. I believe in doing things with the right intent. Be it decisions that affect your customers, employees, or suppliers, if your intent is good, inclusive and helps us progress one step further, then I go with it. It is not very complex. I have a very clear objective and my decision making and execution style is always taking us forward in the direction of our objective.

15. In your opinion, what are the key factors that have contributed to Commtel Networks’ success in the highly competitive engineering and technology industry?
The most crucial factor is undoubtedly our people. Almost all of our core team members have been with us right from the beginning and have worked their way up the ladder. This solid base and the wealth of knowledge of on-ground experience that our team has throughout the past 25 years can never be replaced and has been instrumental in our success.

At Commtel, a project is always a promise to the customer about seamless delivery and support right till the end. No matter what challenges come our way, we face them together and collaboratively work out solutions. This customer-centric approach along with a clear focus on training, technology and innovation is something that has kept us going for so long, adding to our growth and success. Apart from that some other factors like customer engagement, service quality and thorough technical understanding that always helps us deliver on our promises and keep our customers happy.

16. How does Commtel Networks ensure the security and safety of its solutions in the critical national infrastructure sectors?
We are a leading technology solutions provider, and our approach to ensuring security and safety in critical national infrastructure sectors involves a combination of strategies and practices. It starts with a robust system design engineering and the selection of suitable system components. We ensure security and safety in critical national infrastructure by conducting thorough audits and risk assessments, complying with standards, and employing secure deployment practices.

We implement encryption, access control, and monitoring systems while prioritizing disaster recovery and business continuity as per customer requirements. Employee training and third-party security audits further strengthen our approach towards ensuring safety and security.

17. Could you provide insights into the future trends and advancements you foresee in the digital communication, surveillance, security, and AI industries?
Telecommunication is central and key enabler of digitization, surveillance, safety, security and AI industries. Collection of data from myriad sources in a faster, more reliable way as well as with low latency will be a primary requirement for connecting smart industrial IOT devices.

Once the far-flung data is available centrally then Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will play a vital role in empowering real-time, analytics, threat detection and response. We firmly believe that the convergence of technologies will blur boundaries between digital communication, surveillance, security, and AI industries. We should keep in mind that the technology landscape is continually evolving, and new developments occur from time to time.

18. How does Commtel Networks stay adaptable and responsive to the evolving needs of its clients in various sectors?
We prioritize customer engagement through regular communication throughout the execution phase and post-handover. Building strong partnerships with our customers is a focus, fostering mutual understanding and, learning from the challenges we face on multiple projects across the globe enables cross-learning.

We invest in talent development and training to ensure that we possess the necessary skills and knowledge to meet our customers evolving demands. We also keep a close eye on emerging technologies and trends, embracing those aligned with the needs of our customers. Our symbiotic relationship with our technology partners also helps us learn and adopt the learning into our customer solutions.

19. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to establish their own companies?
If you are keen and have the wherewithal to endure the journey, then start. This is the only way. You will never find all the solutions to your challenges on day one. It is only when you commence your activities, you will learn and adopt. So just start. I would also like to highlight the power of showing up; one has to show up all the time be it your office, customer, supplier, creditor or anyone else. It is your enterprise; your showing-up is the key to getting things done, more importantly at the initial stages of your business. Needless to say, persistence and hard work can never be substituted.

20. Looking back at your entrepreneurial journey, is there anything you would have done differently?
One is always smarter looking at the hindsight of life. Honestly, I would not like to change anything about my journey. I am thankful to the almighty for everything.

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