Byline : Tanu T K
Mr Ravi Bhatia is often referred to as one of the pioneers of the telecommunications industry in Australia. He took over the reins of iPrimus in its infancy and is credited with building it “into one of the country’s largest full-service voice and data carriers with an established national brand”.
He has been in the industry a long time and recently took over the AIBC Victoria leadership. He has been a constant fixture in the news not only in his role as CEO of iPrimus but also as one of the most outspoken CEOs in this sector. He has very clear idea of what India and Australia can offer in a bilateral relationship. In this interview, Mr Bhatia talks to Tanu on ties between Australia and India, his stint with iPrimus and some observations on the newly formed Indian Executive Club.
‘I would strongly suggest that small business owners who face domestic issues join the right association’
‘I am very proud of the fact that we have created an institution that will stand the test of time’
Tell us a bit out the story of you reaching Australia.
My wife Madhu and our young son came to Australia in 1982. We were living in Germany and I was assigned to work in Australia. Given my professional specialisation, we were offered immigration visas, which we accepted and, in hind sight, I would say a good decision. Australia turned out to be a great country, arguably the best in the world, and we really enjoy what is essentially a very egalitarian and fair-minded society. We do whatever we can to assist the Indian Diaspora to become a part of this society, be successful and contribute to a stronger Australia-India relationship.
You recently became the president of AIBC Victoria. Could you tell us a bit about what you hope to bring to this role?
I have counterparts in other states and all of us have identical responsibilities. Over the years, AIBC has grown in a somewhat unstructured and unplanned manner and we are presented with an environment of rapid growth of Australia-India trade and investments. For example, the growth in bilateral trade is approximately 25 per cent CAGR with a current estimated volume of around $22 billion and there are billions of dollars of inbound Indian investments into Australia. Also, Australia is in a position to make significant contributions to India’s energy and food security. Both countries are liberal secular democracies with strong independent judicial systems and similar political systems. Both Australia and India are Indian Ocean littoral powers and share common strategic interests including freedom of navigation in international waters. We therefore have many common interests and values that we cherish.
AIBC’s objective is to promote our common values with the growth of business, trade, commerce and investments. We promote business networking as well as assist with inbound and outbound trade delegations and public policy development through advocacy.
Clearly, we needed to build a strong formal foundation to meet our objectives. We have put in a tremendous effort to achieve one nationwide organisation, a not for profit company limited by guarantee and subject to transparency and accountability to its members. This has happened literally just a few days ago and I am proud of the fact that we have created an institution that will stand the test of time.
Your role as CEO of iPrimus is obviously one of the more well-known parts of your career. Do you see it as one of your important roles? How did it shape your career?
I would say it was fun to start a billion dollar organisation from scratch in an essentially fast moving and highly competitive industry.
I am indeed privileged to have had the opportunity to be a pioneer of competition in Australia and had the chance to be involved in so much innovation: from voice to high speed data, from starting dial-up internet to high speed broadband, from influencing the development of next generation services in the form of NBN to creating thousands of jobs for young men and women. It is a tremendously satisfying career and I achieved much more than I had ever expected.
Ted Baillieu recently announced a trip to India. What is the Indian representation?
Well, the Indian representation comes from CII and FICCI in India and several AIBC members are participating in the Trade Mission as a part of over 220 Australian companies covering several key and strategic sectors including automotive, aviation and aerospace, clean technology, food and beverage, education, ICT, life sciences, professional services, sustainable design and tourism.
What do they hope to achieve with this trip? Are there deals to be inked or is it more of a goodwill exercise?
In my mind, the objectives are to enhance Victoria’s participation in the bilateral growth of the $22 billion trade and investments and assist Victorian companies in this regard. Of course, there will be some deals signed and there will be many more negotiations and deals started and relationships built for long-term gain. Victorian industry can contribute a lot to India and its continuing growth and this trade mission is a tremendous start. We at AIBC applaud and fully support this initiative.
India being a vast country, the trade mission will cover several key business centres in India including Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, Pune and Chennai.
In your opinion, what is the future of the India-Australia relationship? What can India bring to the table when it comes to trade?
I am totally bullish on our bilateral relationship. India is an important market and Australia an important source for energy that keeps India’s power stations running, fertilisers that help India’s agriculture thrive and diamonds that sustain thousands of jobs in Surat. And then there is the Australian know-how in clean technology, high technology manufacturing and sophisticated education system.
What can we, as a new and fledgling, community do to have our voices heard?
We are already being heard and the trade mission is an indicator of that. Professionals, doctors, engineers, academics and business persons of Indian origin are quietly making huge contributions to the Victorian and Australian societies and economies. There are indications of a beginning of participation in the political process as well.
What of entities like Indian Executive, which is an association of SMEs?
I don’t want to mislead anyone. Challenges faced by all small traders are the same.
These include excessive workload, they are also tax collectors for the government (with the GST they generate), they have wage pressures, and competitive pressures.
There are existing institutions that are well-paced to address these issues. I would strongly suggest that small business owners who face domestic issues join the right association.
At AIBC Victoria, we are introducing upskilling courses that will assist a small business owner to address some of the challenges they face.
Moreover, we at AIBC are always willing to help small businesses in terms of mentoring. In fact, one of the things we are introducing is a series of CEO workshops, where we want to bring in well-known heads of 200-300 million dollar businesses for discussion forums.
This should happen in the next two to three months.