From Deal Maker to Global Entrepreneur
In the year 2004, as the head of the IBM India team, he was instrumental in clinching the landmark first major Indian IT outsourcing deal from Bharti Airtel. In the year 2014 as a founder and Chairman of relatively unknown IT services and back-office contracting firm iSON, he beat back competition from the IT services industry’s telecom expert, Tech Mahindra to bag a five-year outsourcing deal worth $ 300 Million from South Africa’s MTN to run its call center operations. The rest, as they say, is history, today the iSON group is a pan Africa, Middle East, and India and employs over 15000 people across 32 delivery centers with 20 plus languages. iSON is a major employment provider in Africa, serving 450M customers on behalf of its clients. Some of the marquee customers include MTN, Airtel, Vodacom, Vodafone, Etisalat, Emirates National Oil Company, National Water Company, Bajaj, Standard Chartered Bank, etc. The protagonist of this edition of the MBM story is audacious, ambitious, and flamboyant, 1987 batch Er. Ramesh Awtaney, Founder and Chairman of iSON group.
Risk Taker at Heart :
“I am a reverse gambler and I love to gamble my time, embarrassment, and success. The more I have persevered, the more luck has favored me. If I had a middle name it would be Ramesh ‘Audacious’ Awtaney. I started with nothing and all I ever had was belief in myself and the audacity to fan those beliefs against all odds and common logic”
Born in Agra, Er. Ramesh did his schooling from various schools of Jodhpur, Bikaner, and Ajmer as his father was having a transferable government job. He completed, his Engineering in Civil branch in the year 1987, it was the first PET batch. In the year 1995, he did masters in International trade from the prestigious Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Delhi. He has undertaken a number of executive programs at leading Management institutes such as Harvard University, Wharton Business School, and INSEAD.
Professional Journey :
“My journey to this point has been a gamble and life often has not been an exponential curve but a sine wave” Says Er. Awtaney .
Er. Ramesh Awtaney is an Indo-African business magnate, serial entrepreneur and philanthropist with deep business interests across Africa and Middle East (‘MEA’). He is the founder and Chairman of iSON group that comprises its customer experience services (www.isonxperiences.com), IT service (www.isontechnologies.com) and iSON Innovation and investments, which incubates early stage start ups and is Limited Partners ( LP ) in early stage funds. He is having 32 years of rich, diverse experience across technology products and innovation, market development and outsourcing across Telecom Providers, Banks and Financial Institutions.
Er. Awtaney , who himself is a cricket buff, delineates his professional life in two innings.
First Innings :
Er. Awtaney started his career with SAE India Limited and his first project was in the sphere of transmission lines. Later he moved to Escotel for a brief period as a Senior Manager. Thereafter, he joined Ericsson India Private Limited where he worked his way up to the big league. As his Swedish boss, Olof Wassvik puts it ” We promoted him and he was ready for the next promotion”. He adds ” In two years we promoted him 4 times to eventually become Director, Business Management, managing pan India Sales & Operations.
In 2000, Er. Awtaney moved on from Ericsson to join a start-up providing Free Internet services, which never took off. He says “I didn’t view this failure as the end of my entrepreneurship but as learning to enhance my skills and gain more experience.
Er. Ramesh joined IBM in 2001 and secured multiple billion-dollar contracts for the company. He crafted a milestone agreement between Airtel and IBM valued at 750 MUSD. This was a landmark in IT industry due to its large-scale outsourcing without an offshoring element. This business deal became a benchmark for the entire industry, has been referenced in the Global Strategies for Emerging Asia and is now a Harvard Business case study that has been discussed globally in umpteen boardrooms. He negotiated and secured multiple contracts valuing 7-8 Billion USD for IBM in the telecommunications sector. This included the top three operators in India who outsourced their processes to IBM. His parting gift to the company was a five-year outsourcing contract with a leading telecom company in Malaysia.
Second Innings :
Er. Awtaney bid adieu to IBM in 2009 and started iSon along with his long-term friend and colleague Mr. Vivek Gupta. As he fondly says the name iSON is a tribute to his two major employers IBM and Ericsson.
“It took me 8 years to come back to my dream of entrepreneurship and now I was 43 years old, married with a son with some savings for the future. I thought to myself – if I lose again now, what worse can happen that I haven’t seen before? I had nothing before I started, created a name in Ericsson then lost again with the start-up, built again with IBM and if failing again is what life demands, I will continue playing. I had put all my savings to start iSON” Says Er. Awtaney
Starting the business in Africa at that time, when the continent was a black box to many businesses and industries, took some audacity in me to venture through those muddled waters and struggles to finally tap the opportunity.
In the short span of around 12 years, iSON group has achieved pole position in IT services. Today iSON group is a Pan Africa, Middle East and India, service provider for customer experience management and IT services and employs over 15000 people across 32 delivery centers with 20 plus languages. In South Africa, they are a BBBEE level 1 accreditation company.
Er. Awtaney says ” At iSON, It is always about you” As our tagline says ” We are you”. Customer Xperiences guaranteed.
Awards & Accolades:
Over the last 10 years, ISON and Er. Ramesh has been recognized in various forums. Er. Ramesh was conferred with the “Entrepreneur of the year Champion” in Biz Awards during “2016 ASSOCHAM India Africa Trade and Investment Forum” He was also bestowed with “Technology Company CEO of the Year” during the 2016 Nigeria Technology Awards (NiTA). ISON has been identified as a leading Service Provider by Gartner and has received awards from the Great Place to Work iSON has secured various people awards including, SERAs Award (consecutively for the second time) for the Best Workplace Practice Award, 2018, 2016 West African Frost & Sullivan Award for Competitive Strategy Innovation and Leadership.
College days : Premier of Hindi movie :
Audacity is something Er. Awtaney always had, he never desisted himself from taking risks in life and to drive home his point he shares an interesting story “during my Engineering days, I wanted to set up a student welfare association but getting funding for this project was a big challenge. To fund it, I organized a “Premier” of Dharmendra Starrer Hindi film “Loha” in the year 1987, selling tickets at Rs.500/- and Rs.1000/-. To my utter surprise all the tickets got sold and I could able to collect a hefty sum of Rs. 1.5 Lacs for welfare association. It became a huge talking point amongst students and faculty.”
“ Life was full of Masti back then, from being ragged to playing cricket to a first girlfriend to Chai ki Thadi to bunking classes to watching movies to running student association, fun quotient was very high in all the activities in college day.” Er. Awtaney tells enthusiastically.
Message for youngsters : 4 A’s:
“4 As are tenants of my life, Audacity, Agility, and the Ability to deal with the Ambiguity. Why I have put ability as the cornerstone of most success stories, at last, is for the simple reason, you can delegate implementation and execution to someone with abilities, but you cannot teach people to be audacious and agile; it has to be in the blood.” He also tells students to focus on improving communication skills and to develop interests in life outside academics. They should interact with new people, seek experiences and explore new horizons.
Giving back to alma mater :
Er. Awtaney has always been keen to give back to his alma mater and he is available to share his experiences with students about Entrepreneurship. He is passionate about technology and has been supporting budding entrepreneurs as a seed/VC investor and by mentoring them along their journey. He would like to support infrastructure creation and also interested in sponsoring scholarships, especially for girls students.
This is such an inspirational journey of Er. Ramesh Awateny, we wish him great success and happiness in life.
Nitesh Kataria is a Marketing professional based in Pune. He is from the 1994 Mining batch. He also holds Masters in Management Science degree in Sales & Marketing from Devi Ahilya University, Indore. He has worked at senior positions in a few of the world’s renowned MNC’s and Indian Companies. His professional experience includes Sales & Marketing, Digital Marketing, Branding, and Distribution Channel Management.