Book Review: The Telecom Man
Much to the surprise of friends and family, in 1991, Brijendra K. Syngal resigned from a plush, tax-free job with Inmarsat in London to head Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, an old-style, stodgy public sector company.
Over the next seven years, Syngal transformed VSNL into a nimble new-generation telecom behemoth. By connecting India to the world through high-speed digital links, he was instrumental in the emergence of the Indian software sector as a global player. And in a move that would revolutionize the country and all our lives, he brought the internet to India in 1995. On Syngal’s watch, VSNL also conceived of and executed what was then the largest Global Depository Receipts issue from India for listing on the London Stock Exchange.
In June 1998, he was named as one of ‘The 50 Stars of Asia’ by BusinessWeek magazine. But that same week, he parted ways from VSNL. Syngal went on to head Reliance and BPL’s cellular telecom forays.
This never-before-told insider account takes the reader from the perilous work of installing pioneering transmission systems in the snow-clad mountains of Kashmir and the fiery deserts of Rajasthan to high-stakes international negotiations and the strategies undertaken in the government and the private sectors.
Telecom Man is the story of the father of the internet in India—and a riveting and inspiring chronicle of change.
BRIJENDRA K. SYNGAL is the man behind the Indian telecom revolution. He is widely regarded as the ‘father of the internet’ and the one who connected the country to the rest of the world in the early years of globalization and bridged the digital divide.
An alumnus and Life Fellow of IIT Kharagpur, he has held several leadership roles, notably as Chairman and Managing Director of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL). Later, as Chairman of Reliance Telecom and Vice Chairman of BPL Cellular, he was instrumental in creating the infrastructure blueprint for a converged society as we know it today. He has been Chairman, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation; Governor on the board of INTELSAT, and received the Ambrose Fleming Medal for Achievement in Communications in 2008.
In recent years, Mr Syngal was instrumental in exposing the 2G spectrum allocation scam. He is also a keen philanthropist who funds schools in backward areas of West Bengal and has instituted scholarships for economically challenged meritorious students at his alma mater, IIT Kharagpur.
SANDIPAN DEB is an independent journalist. He has been Editor of The Financial Express, Managing Editor of Outlook and Founder-Editor of Outlook Money, Open and Swarajya magazines. He is the author of The IITians: How an Indian Institution and Its Alumni Are Reshaping the World; Fallen Angel: The Making and Unmaking of Rajat Gupta; and The Last War, a novel re-imagining the Mahabharata in the modern Mumbai underworld; and editor of Momentous Times, a volume to commemorate 175 years of the Times of India. His writings cover the spectrum from economy to culture, cricket to quantum physics, cinema to society, the future of technology to what keeps us human. He is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and IIM Calcutta.