Karn Gulati

A Startup Enthusiast With A Vision Years Ahead

Karn Gulati

Director of Strategy | Transformation Leader,

9mobile

I magine a room full of challenges. An expert enters with a strategic mindset, like a master key unlocking every door. This exemplifies chief strategy officers — leaders who create, articulate, and passionately own a vision, and relentlessly work to drive it to completion. As the new-age business environment becomes increasingly complex and dynamic, demanding a strategic, digitalworld-friendly approach, CSOs are the new hope to boost organisational resilience and drive value creation.
Karn Gulati, the Director of Strategy and Transformation at 9Mobile, one of Nigeria’s leading telecommunication companies, is emerging as one of India’s top Chief Strategy Officers (CSOs). With a foundation built on over ten years of experience at Ernst & Young, Karn also brings a unique entrepreneurial edge, a legacy from his own startup venture. A committed advocate for continual growth and foresight, Karn is a lifelong learner who emphasises proactive planning, keen observation, and predictive strategies to identify and manage challenges, risks, and opportunities.
In an exclusive conversation with TradeFlock, Karn shared insights from his professional journey, entrepreneurial stints, the challenges he faces and the upcoming plans he is most excited about. 

Starting from Ernst & Young to Director of Strategy today, how has been your professional journey so far?

Looking back at my professional journey, it has been rewarding and content in all aspects. Every day brought hundreds of challenges, and I learned from solving problems on a daily basis. In 2008, I started at Ernst & Young with big dreams. Later, I started a food-tech business. Following this, I returned to Ernst & Young and climbed the ladder, grabbing new opportunities. Soon, I was a part of their management team. With my new skills, I later joined the leadership team at 9Mobile in Nigeria as their Strategy Director. Just last year, they named me Transformation Leader. To sum it up, my journey has been full of ups and downs, but each step taught me something new.

What are your biggest learnings from entrepreneurial stints?

My entrepreneurial journey has helped me develop skills and competencies that have profoundly influenced my professional and personal spheres. This journey fostered my ability to think with refined criticality and originality, enabling me to discern and address challenges through calculated risktaking. Another learning from my startup, which I posit should be the foundation for every entrepreneur, is the courage to go out and make a move. It taught me that an entrepreneur should be a perfectionist in identifying opportunities and taking a shot at the right time. The second takeaway I would mention is that nothing goes as planned. So, as a director of strategy, I always have a backup plan. Moreover, it is imperative to have acumen in conscious and on-the-spot decision-making to become proactive rather than reactive; it will keep the business one step ahead of the competition.

What do you consider the biggest challenges in your current role and how are you addressing them?

The biggest obstacle I face as a director of strategy is navigating and tackling unforeseen challenges when implementing a new growth strategy or product. A cardinal concern in deciding growth strategies is reaching out to the right skill set, and establishing a strategic partnership is a challenge. Adhering to timelines when counting on external partners is another challenge that often leads to unplanned U-turns. Luckily, my professional journeys and entrepreneurial stint have always taught me to have a plan B, fortifying me against all challenges.

What are the key aspects you consider when formulating the company’s strategic vision and long-term business objectives?

Environmental and financial dynamics are the most salient factors impacting strategy. Business profitability, delivery costs, and financial resources — I think that numbers can actually change the whole plan. Besides these, an important internal factor that affects the company’s vision and goals is the ability to analyse and realise the current situation. Recognising our present strength and destination translates the entire journey into a strategy. Identifying one’s capabilities, resources, current situation, market dynamics, and capacity is crucial and this is exactly my approach during strategy development.

How do you stay motivated and continue to challenge yourself professionally as a CSO?

Possessing the right attitude stands unparalleled in its power to self-motivate. Additionally, with my tenure as a former consultant at Ernst & Young, I am innately attuned to industry shifts. Moreover, there is always an acute sense of F.O.M.O. of not wanting to miss out on industry trends that keep me up to consistently engage with new professionals, exchange insights, and continuously learn, fueling my motivation further.

What are your upcoming plans?

I envision my future journey as a problem solver. Serving as the Director of Strategy at 9Mobile, I love problem-solving and learning, and my current role ticks all these boxes. I have an open-door policy and am always open to new ideas. These innovative perspectives introduce unique challenges, unveiling new avenues for me. The mantra, “Execute the right actions at the opportune moment,” is guiding my path, and eventually, it will lead me to develop and refine a forward-looking, innovative strategic vision that positions 9Mobile for higher growth and access opportunities for international expansion.







     







       







         







           







             







               







                 







                   







                     







                       







                         







                           







                             







                               







                                 

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