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Bharti Airtel ropes in Vodafone's former consumer director Srinivasan Gopalan

NEW DELHI: Bharti AirtelBSE -2.65 %, the country's largest mobile operator, has roped in the Vodafone UK's former consumer director Srinivasan Gopalan, to play a similar role in India, an indictor that the company is tweaking its organization structure yet again, as its new leadership team grapples with twin challenges of falling profits and slowing growth in its primary market. 

Sunil Mittal promoted telco had made three major organisational changes earlier this year, including the appointment of Gopal Vittal as the chief executive of its Indian operations from March 1. 

Gopalan, who quit Vodafone UK last month, will join Airtel as director, consumer business, a newly created post, and report directly to chief executive Vittal, executives with direct knowledge of the development said. It is learnt that Gopalan's primary responsibilities will involve handling the brand, marketing and customer service. 

Gopalan had joined Vodafone UK in 2010 and is credited with turning around the operator's performance in the challenging prepay market. 

His responsibilities there included the refurbishment of its retail portfolio, towards a more modular style that focuses on operating systems, executives linked to his appointment said. 

Prior to joining Vodafone, he had worked with 
T-Mobile UK where he was Chief Marketing Officer. Gopalan also spent the earlier part of his career in India where he worked for Unilever and Accenture, before moving to the UK in 1999 to work for Capital One. 

In February, Bharti had announced that it was splitting its business into eight divisions, and doing away with its earlier structure of three regional hubs. 

The eight divisions now report to the newly created position of director, market operations headed by Ajai Puri. The Sunil-Mittal promoted telco also elevated its former operations director for West and Distribution Raghunath Mandava, as director, customer experience. 

Now, the trio of Puri, Mandava and Gopalan will report to Vittal, executives aware of the development added. 

The new Indian management will have a formidable challenge as last month Bharti reported that its India and 
South Asia profits declined 26.3% to Rs 993 crore for the quarter-ended March 2013, when compared to the year ago period, even though it added nearly 19 million new customers, increased tariffs and witnessed significant growth in data usage. Its sales in India were up 8.4% to 14,551 crore in March 2013 when compared to the same period last year. 

Overall, Bharti's quarterly profit declined 50%, its thirteenth consecutive fall, primarily due to increased losses in its African operations, which it acquired from Kuwait's Zain in a $9 billion debt-funded deal in 2010. 

At the same time, Bharti's Indian operations also showed signs that the worst may be over, as the minutes of usage had gone up by 12.3 billion in the March quarter, the highest volume growth in over four years. The company had arrested the fall in average revenue per user (ARPU), a key metric of profitability. Bharti's 
ARPU has risen 4% sequentially to Rs 193 in the March quarter, and 2% on a year-on-year basis. 

During his tenure at Vodafone UK, Gopalan's division at Vodafone accounted for revenues of £3 billion, had a £100 million marketing budget and effective management of a base of about 15million customers. He was also the program director for network modernisation, including 4G.