Pramod Saxena needs no introduction. He
is by far the most popular professional and entrepreneur in
the industry. He started Qxigen in 2004 from a small office in
Safdarjung Enclave in New Delhi. Total investment in the
company was $2 million. This financial year, Oxigen is
expected to close with a revenue of Rs 1,500 crore and it is
valued anywhere between $90 and $100 million. Oxigen is the
largest payment company in India catering to 6 million
customers every week. Those who know Pramod Saxena are not
surprised; he has had successes all through his professional
career of 27 years.
Saxena grew up in a typical middle class
background. His father was a government servant who started
his career as a clerk in the Indian Railways. No one in his
family had ever tried his hands in business. Saxena, however,
always dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur since his student
days in IIT (Roorkie). When he left Motorola in 2004, after a
successful stint of four years as its Asia-Pacific president,
he was among the highest paid executives in India.
Motorola chief, he was getting a salary of half a million
dollar per annum. Only few top class executives in India could
dream of such a high salary in 2004, says Ashutosh Garg, CEO
of Guardian Pharmacy. When Saxena left Motorola, he had offers
from big corporate groups. However, he decided to go ahead
with his own project.
how did he enter the business of prepaid services? “It was an
accident. One of my close friend’s father met some South
African entrepreneurs in a cruise. They were into prepaid
business. My friend’s father doesn’t understand telecom
business. So he introduced them to me,” recalls Saxena. In
less than one year, he was able to create India’s largest
prepaid company. He is a pioneer in this field.
Today, Oxigen serves more than six
million customers every month. It is present in more than 50
cities in 15 states. By next financial year, the company would
have national foot print. It started as a payment company for
telecom sector as the telecom revolution was sweeping the
country. Saxena soon realised its potential in other sectors.
Oxigen is now diversifying into entertainment and is offering
services to the subscribers of Tata Sky, Dish TV and World
Space radio. The company is also tying up with electricity
companies for bill payment and are exploring possibilities of
offering services in other sectors. It has alredau got IRCTC
approval for ticketing services.
Oxigen is in an expansion mode.
Currently, it has 50,000 touch points. “In next three to four
years we will reach 500,000 touch points,” says Sunil
Kulkarni, president of Oxigen Services India Pvt Ltd.
it difficult for Saxena to set up a new company from the
scratch? Not really. “During my working career as a
professional, I was exposed to the entrepreneurial elements of
business. I worked more as an entrepreneurial manager than as
someone involved in day to day activities. I enjoyed setting
up new projects,” says Saxena. Though trained as a Chemical
Engineer, he had set up Greenfield projects in different
sectors and in varied atmospheres. In telecom, people know
Saxena as a pioneer of mobile telephony in India. He was the
first CEO of Essar’s cellular operations in Delhi. He built
one of the first cellular networks in India from the scratch.
How Essar entered into telecom sector is an interesting story.
“Entering telecom was an accident. The opportunity came
through C Sivasankaran who wanted to sell his Delhi licence
and exit. Mr Sivasankaran approached Essar and rest is the
history,” says Saxena. He left Essar in 1998 when Hutch was
introduced as a significant partner in the company who would
run the business. “After spending four to five years in
telecom I could realise that teleom would be a great
opportunity. When Essar’s involvement reduced to mere investor
I left the company,” said Saxena.
It was the time when Motorola was looking
for an Indian to lead its operations in India. The company was
struggling to establish itself in India. “I thought it was a
good opportunity and a great challenge,” says Saxena. He
worked in Motorola for six years and during this period he
turned around the company. It was his charisma and personal
relationship with the people that he managed to bring all the
operators with Motorola. He managed to make all the telecom
operators, barring Idea, as its customers. When he left the
company, in 2004, Motorola’s business had grown by 400 per
Oxigen is not the first venture that
Saxena launched. He was not averse to taking risks. He left
his stable and secure job at DCM to work with unknown group
and later on launching his own firm when his children were
small, his father had just retired and younger sister was
tried my hands in business long back. When I was working with
DCM an opportunity came as some NRIs wanted to set up business
in India,” recalls Saxena. At that time he had an experience
of only 10 years as a professional. He left the NRI group when
bankers raised some doubts on their source of funding. He
started a consultancy company of his own, in 1987-88, and got
contracts from several big corporates.
was during this period that Essar contacted him for some
project. Then Essar was not a very big group. After working
for Essar as a consultant, he joined the group in 1989. “I was
impressed by entrepreneurial nature Ruias,” said Saxena. He
again worked for Essar as an advisor when he left Motorola and
was launching Oxigen. He managed and restructured a large BPO
operation for Essar. Then Essar got a very good opportunity of
acquiring BPL. He handled this project. Therefore, when he was
working on developing Oxigen, he was handling operations that
were sufficient to keep hands full of three CEOs.
people who have influenced his professional life are Charat
Ram of the DCM group and Shahsi Ruia of the Essar group. He
worked with CDM group for 10 years out of which he worked
closely with Charat Ram for five years. With Ruias, he worked
for 10 years.
new business faces two kind of challenges – Finding right
people and funding. For Saxena, finding right people was the
easiest thing. People in the industry had faith in him. Those
who have worked for him at any point of time vouch for him.
For example, Sunil Kulkarni was heading marketing and business
development of Motorola India’s Global Telecom Solution sector
when he joined Oxigen at a much lesser salary. He had options
of joining various corporate at a much higher salary. “We
protected his future and gave stock options,” said Saxena.
biggest challenge for a new business is to quickly find
funding and scale up operations. Unless one creates a large
volume one can not achieve big,” says Saxena. When Oxigen was
launched, the first resistance was faced from operators. They
were penetrating marketing through their own distribution
channels. It took time for them to appreciate a neutral
platform that Oxigen offered. Oxigen offered alternate
channels to them. Now all of them see benefit in it.
of the reasons for success of Saxena is his strong
relationships with people. He believes in building
relationships. People know him as someone whom they can
approach anytime for any kind of help. “I have gained a lot
from relationships. I have helped people, people have helped
me,” says Saxena. No wonder, during his daughter’s marriage
who’s who of the industry was present.
Born in May, 1954, Saxena has a son and a
daughter. His son is technocrat and is in the core team of
Lamco, a US-based company. His daughter is settled in Dubai.
About 2 years ago, I was joking
with a friend who was at the helm of a multinational
that he had achieved whatever he could achieve in
the corporate world. Now, the next step for
him would be retirement. “The next step would be to
become a successful entrepreneur,” he replied. He was
serious. In my over 14 years of career as a business
writer, I have closely observed the Indian corporate
world and the telecom sector in particular. I have
noticed that almost all the successful professionals
have great desire to become entrepreneurs. One of the
reasons for their success is that even as professionals
they work with entrepreneurial zeal. In these columns we
will write about successful professionals who decided to