Profile: Country head, mobile & IT, Samsung India Electronics
Education: Mechanical engineering at IIT-Roorkee; finance at IIM-Calcutta
Career: HUL, Nokia, Airtel
Q. Why are content and services so important in your future plans?
Samsung’s belief that smartphones and tablets will drive the mobile industry growth was the first important realisation which differentiated us versus others. We put our bets very early on in the smartphone category. That’s how Samsung Galaxy was born. We realised if you want to be a leader and succeed, you have to have a portfolio that’s not much premium or mass, but instead multiple price-points [and screen sizes].
Many people might have tried that, but the other thing was we kept innovating. Some of the innovations in the past were not yet in the hardware, but in content and services. The latest innovation is Club Samsung—a platform which sits on our entire move towards vernacular languages as well. It helps you surf content in your local language, which is quite a unique concept today. We worked closely with ecosystem players [operators, content players, etc] in getting insights and going to market.
There are two types of content: What people can download and what they can stream. There is still need for both because, with downloading, they want to “own” the content. Then there are youngsters who say “I don’t want to download content, I want to stream it!” and with good Wi-Fi, etc, it offers flexibility. With downloadable content you require a platform and the rights, so you need to work with content owners and make sure you have the right content with the right agreements in place. And you need a payment platform, so you tie up with operators to make sure consumers can pay for it seamlessly. In India, credit card penetration is low so we pay through the operator route. At Club Samsung we’ve got all those in place: Agreements with content owners, payment mechanisms with operators and a beautiful platform which is multilingual.
Having said that, there is also content available on the fly, which is available to anyone on any device. Where we have an edge is the local language. Increasingly today, a lot of content players like Google’s YouTube have started offering local language content. In fact, it was our conversation with them in the last year that convinced them that they need to go local. India is a complex country because unlike China, everything needs to be converted into so many languages on the fly.
Q. What lessons have you learnt from the launch of the Galaxy Gear watch?
The wearable category will help you lead a better lifestyle. For example, your activity level if you’re a sports person. Our first wearable device does many things: Camera, pedometer, notification tool, a personal sensor, weather, etc... but this is version 1.0.
We got lots of feedback on the Gear and learnt important lessons. Suppose someone is going for an evening party, do you think he’ll wear this grey Samsung Gear? Will a young lady want to wear a big grey watch? They might wear it during office hours, but clearly we’re moving into a space where the device you carry is a reflection of your personality and people want to express themselves. As people get more affluent, these things make a statement about themselves. We have to be extremely focussed on making sure we’re giving well-designed, personalised products. Today you don’t wear a watch to see the time. It’s more of a fashion statement. For the Gear to be a fashion statement and have loads of utility, it would be an ideal combination. Wait for a few weeks and you’ll hear a lot more on our wearable category.Q. Especially in developed markets, Samsung seems to be trying to move away from the ‘hardware company’ label. Do you see that happening in India?
I wouldn’t classify Samsung as a hardware company. We sell physical products, we’re not a services company—but does that make us a hardware company? All our hardware will not have taken us to our leadership position if it wasn’t for the software inside it. They merge seamlessly. We strongly believe that it’s a design/user interface combination that makes us leaders.
That means integration of hardware and software. Whenever we launch a product, you distinctly hear us talking about hardware and software. We might make our own software or partner with somebody, that’s a separate matter. People want good looking products. They don’t want clunky products.
There is an ongoing exchange of strategies between all emerging markets. The moment we see a germ of an idea which is working, we share it with other similar markets. In distribution there are many examples. They tend to be un-sexy or product led. Rather, many execution things like our sales automation systems are something that have been really appreciated and taken to many other countries.
Q. What have been your most interesting take aways from your first year?
My first day last year was this forum, on February 27. We are an aggressive, innovative company. We are very responsive to consumer needs. If a customer or consumer says something, it’s gospel. You’re never playing any games. Local Languages was an example of when consumer feedback was heeded. When we told HQ we needed more Indian languages, the resources were allocated to us in no time! Consumer insights don’t always come directly from consumers. Forums like this are where we speak to our retailers, distributors and experienced partners. We continuously speak to operators because they see the consumer behaviour all the time on their network. For example, how much data do customers consume, how many of them are on 3G. We have separate teams that are always interacting with operators, we have a content and services team who are constantly speaking to YouTube and Yahoo.
I bought my mom a Galaxy smartphone recently and she’s very happy! She’s retired and doesn’t go out often but she uses it a lot! She’s on Whatsapp. My brother stays in the US so she Skypes with his kids. My dad has weak eyesight; when he first saw a picture on a tablet he said “wow!” He always used to complain, why don’t you print pictures?
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(This story appears in the 21 March, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)