Sunil Raina: Making Waves Beyond Smartphones with Lava International

Sunil Raina
Sunil Raina

In the crowded shrills of one-note foreign smartphone giants, Sunil Raina, one of India’s most influential leaders, is shaping the new wave rising in the Indian business landscape, a force rewriting the very definition of mobile technology: Lava International Ltd.

According to Sunil, the Managing Director, Lava isn’t just another phone company; it’s a trailblazer in innovation, a champion of accessibility, and a driving force behind India’s technological revolution.

Sunil spoke in an exclusive interview with CIOLook India, the highlights of which are given herein.

As a visionary leader in the industry, could you take us back to the beginning of your journey? What motivated you to step into this dynamic ecosystem?

My educational background in Electronics was the foundation for my deep interest in technology, a passion that has accompanied me since my early years. This fervour led me to immerse myself in the dynamic world of technology, eventually securing a position with one of the prominent players in the telecom sector.

Throughout my career, I’ve contributed to renowned companies such as Tata, Reliance, and Airtel, each of which has played a pivotal role in shaping India’s technological landscape. However, the prospect of joining Lava International truly captivated me. The company’s visionary outlook aligned seamlessly with my belief in India’s potential to emerge as a global leader in technology.

Joining Lava wasn’t merely a professional move but a commitment to realizing the dream of establishing a Global Indian Technology Brand. I saw in Lava an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to a cause that resonated with me – the idea that India not only deserves but should lead the way in the technology sector. This conviction drove my decision to become part of a broader vision, one where I could leverage my skills and experience to propel India to the forefront of global technological innovation.

I firmly believe that within the Indian talent pool lies the capability and determination to make this ambitious vision a reality. By being part of the Lava family, I am not just shaping a company but contributing to the larger narrative of positioning India as a frontrunner in the global technology arena. The journey so far has been both gratifying and challenging, but the collective talent and determination fuel my optimism for the future.

Lava has emerged as India’s leading transformational company in its niche. Could you share the guiding philosophy that has propelled your organization’s success?

Lava attributes its success to a steadfast commitment to customer-centricity. Lava revisited its core principles when faced with challenges arising from the competitive pricing and diverse product portfolios of international brands. The organization re-envisioned its approach, prioritizing delivering an unparalleled customer experience while maintaining affordability. This steady commitment to meeting customer needs has been crucial in Lava’s emergence as India’s leading transformational company in its niche.

The industrial landscape is continually evolving. Please brief our audience about Lava’s USPs and how you are currently positioned as one of the best transformational companies in its sector.

Lava’s USP lies in prioritizing an unparalleled customer experience. Unlike other smartphone brands pre-loaded with bloatware, Lava has strategically eliminated this issue from its software experience. The presence of bloatware not only hinders customer experience by restricting the removal of unwanted apps but also poses security risks by storing personal information. In contrast, all Lava smartphones boast a clean, stock, and bloatware-free Android experience.

Setting itself apart further, Lava ensures that its entire smartphone portfolio, from budget-friendly devices like Yuva to flagship smartphones like Agni 2, receives regular updates. This commitment extends beyond providing clean Android, as Lava supplements the user experience with timely security updates and upgrades. This dedication to delivering an optimal and secure smartphone experience positions Lava as one of the best transformational companies in its sector.

Your influential leadership style is often recognized as a driving force behind Lava’s achievements. Could you shed light on your approach to leadership and team building within the organization? 

At the heart of our company’s achievements lies a leadership philosophy grounded in innovation, adaptability, and a deep commitment to fostering a cohesive and empowered team. I firmly believe that a leader’s influence extends beyond setting directions; it involves creating a culture that thrives on collaboration, continuous learning, and resilience.

My approach to leadership centers around the union of vision and action. I strive to clear a compelling vision for the future that resonates with the organisation’s collective goals. This vision is a guiding beacon, inspiring every team member to contribute their best towards a common purpose.

Team building is not merely about assembling a group of individuals but nurturing a diverse and inclusive environment that values each member’s unique strengths. Collaboration is encouraged, and open communication channels are maintained to ensure every team member feels heard and valued.

Recognizing that the industrial landscape is ever-evolving, I advocate for a culture of adaptability and continuous learning. Embracing change is not just a necessity but an opportunity for growth. This ethos trickles down to the entire organization, fostering an environment where challenges are viewed as stepping stones to innovation.

The essence of future transformation lies in innovation, disruptions, and enhancing the end-user experience. How does Lava strike a balance between operational efficiency and customer satisfaction?

Lava recognizes that the future of transformation hinges on innovation, disruptions, and elevating the end-user experience. Lava has assembled a team of highly skilled professionals equipped with unique problem-solving abilities to balance operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. The company’s strategic approach revolves around a singular, driven agenda: establishing itself as the leading Global Indian Smartphone brand.

This unified dedication to the principal objective underscores the importance of consistently enhancing customer satisfaction. Lava understands that achieving the status of a Global Indian Smartphone brand necessitates surpassing customer expectations compared to other brands. By fostering a workforce committed to this goal, the company ensures operational efficiency while parallel prioritizing the delivery of an exceptional and satisfying experience for its customers.

Digitalization and technological advancements are crucial aspects of the modern industrial ecosystem. How does Lava integrate these principles into its core functioning and contribute to a technovative future?

Being at the forefront of technological advancements, our company prioritizes the seamless integration of digitalization into its core operations. We have proactively embraced a tech-centric approach by developing in-house platforms dedicated to our employees. These platforms streamline organisational functions and significantly reduce manual work, enabling accessibility across India from any laptop or smartphone. This is particularly beneficial for our sales team operating in the field.

Furthermore, our commitment to a technovative future is evident in our proactive steps towards automation. We are actively transitioning towards a complete digital ecosystem by minimising paper use in the workplace. Embracing these principles ensures that our organization remains agile, adaptive, and aligned with the evolving landscape of the modern industrial ecosystem.

Lava has achieved remarkable success. Could you highlight a transformative project or initiative that showcases your company’s commitment to excellence and innovation?

Our commitment to excellence and innovation is symbolized by a transformative project to revolutionise the customer experience. In an era dominated by digitization, where the convenience of accessing services from home is paramount, we recognized a gap in the traditional approach to customer service. Despite the ease of remote accessibility, customers are still required to visit service centres for device issues.

In response to this insight, Lava undertook an initiative to redefine after-sale service. We introduced industry-first – Free Service and Replacement at Home. This offering brings customer support to their doorstep and extends the service to any location at their convenience. We firmly believe that once a smartphone is purchased, customers should completely control their devices. Our commitment to providing the utmost customer experience at every touchpoint underscores our dedication to pushing the industry’s boundaries of excellence and innovation.

The workforce is the cornerstone of any successful organization. How does your company foster a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment among its employees?

The strength of Lava lies in its dedicated workforce, comprising over 3000 employees across various functions, who serve as the backbone of our organization. Given our end-to-end control over product design, manufacturing, and distribution, ensuring a skilled and empowered workforce is important.

Lava has implemented several initiatives to foster growth and skill development among our employees. A notable example is our commitment to continuous learning through a company-wide Book Reading program, accessible to employees at all levels. Additionally, a dedicated team is in place to support both professional and personal development, ensuring that our workforce is equipped with the skills necessary for their roles.

Furthermore, we encourage a culture of healthy competition through activities spanning all functions within the company. Incentives for the winning team are not solely performance-based; they also encompass factors such as BMI and insights gained from book reading. This approach recognises achievements and encourages personal growth and engagement in the workplace.

As a leader in the world’s industrial sector, Lava has likely faced its share of challenges. Could you share an instance where your team’s resilience and ingenuity triumphed over adversity?

In 2009, Lava International Ltd. was established, experiencing significant growth until 2014 amid a landscape where over 200 Indian brands were addressing customer needs. However, by 2014, the industry faced a transformative period as foreign brands, armed with competitive pricing, expansive marketing budgets, and unmatched skills and scale, entered the thriving Indian Smartphone ecosystem. This led to disruption, resulting in the decline and closure of numerous Indian mobile brands, catching many off guard.

Anticipating the challenges ahead, Lava had strategically invested in developing its design labs and manufacturing plant in India during the early stages. This foresight proved crucial in navigating the disruptions that unfolded. Despite the challenges, Lava’s long-term plan to create a robust manufacturing ecosystem in India allowed the company to weather the storm. Today, we find ourselves surviving and thriving in the face of the brands that once posed a threat, competing head-on in the dynamic Indian market. This instance reflects the resilience and ingenuity of our team, demonstrating how strategic planning and a commitment to self-sufficiency can triumph over adversity.

Businesses are a way for the Indian industry to pace its economic potential and capacity. What would you advise other budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the startup space?

Recent studies underscore the reality that only eight per cent of startups manage to thrive beyond the crucial Ten-year mark. This low success rate is not due to a lack of innovative ideas or passion; it often comes down to their leadershipMy foremost advice to budding entrepreneurs is to invest in enhancing their leadership skills. It’s not just about having a brilliant idea; it’s about steering that idea through the entrepreneurial journey’s challenges.

Another common drawback observed is the tendency of startups to spread themselves by attempting to do too many things simultaneously. The attraction of grabbing every opportunity can be overwhelming, leading to a lack of clear goals and a loss of focus. Success in the startup ecosystem hinges on maintaining a sharp focus. Define a single, compelling goal that aligns with your vision, and let that goal be the driving force behind every decision and action.

Instead of trying to conquer everything, channel your energy into mastering one aspect at a time. This sharpens your focus and enhances the likelihood of sustainable success.

Looking to 2024, what is your vision for Lava? How do you aspire to continue making a significant impact on India’s transformational future landscape?

In envisioning the trajectory in 2024, our vision is anchored in sustained innovation, unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction, and continued contributions to India’s transformational future landscape. Building upon our past successes, we aspire to further solidify our position as a pioneer in the industry, setting new benchmarks for excellence and ingenuity.

We aim to leverage cutting-edge technologies to enhance the end-user experience and stay ahead of industry trends. Embracing a culture of growth, we will continue fostering the skills and empowerment of our workforce, ensuring they are equipped to navigate the evolving industrial landscape.

Furthermore, our long-term vision includes expanding our footprint and scaling up in the Indian market. We intend to forge strategic partnerships and collaborations that align with our values and contribute to the industry’s overall growth.