The Future Is Now: Romil Bahl Of KORE On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
About 90% of the job of a CEO is communications. We have responsibility to a lot of stakeholders — employees, customers, partners, investors and so on — and they all need and deserve consistent and clear communication.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Romil Bahl.
Romil Bahl serves as president and CEO of KORE, a global leader in Internet of Things Solutions and worldwide IoT Connectivity-as-a-Service. He brings nearly 30 years of experience delivering high growth among SaaS and IoT companies. His passion for bringing strategy and innovation together has fueled a long list of leadership accomplishments in the technology sector. Romil has risen to complex challenges where he has crafted growth strategies, tapped new emerging markets and energized global teams — with many successes coming within turnaround environments.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I attribute my current role as a CEO of a global technology company that just went public and listed on the NYSE, to a combination of wonderful mentors, a lot of hard work and a bit of good luck.
I will always be grateful to those who gave me opportunities, including personal advisors and board members who provided air cover and cleared the way to allow me to do what I do. Thank you to all of them.
For my part, I always aspired to become a CEO. I started my career in consulting to acquire a varied experience set and to learn problem-solving and strategy skills. I then moved into profit and loss (P&L) roles to better understand how to be an operating executive. When I was given the opportunity to be the CEO of a public company at the age of 40, I was able to make the leap quickly. Despite success at a relatively young age, I continued to make it a priority to focus on learning about what it takes to make change happen in companies. Today, I’m in my third CEO role and enjoying it now more than ever.
One of the most incredible experiences to date in my tenure as CEO at KORE is transitioning from a private to a publicly traded company. Attending the New York Stock Exchange late last year, surrounded by KORE employees, is a moment I’ll never forget.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Halfway through the four-year lead-up to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was scheduled to take place across South Korea and Japan, the company responsible for the event’s technology delivery suddenly went out of business.
FIFA had to start from scratch. I previously worked with FIFA as a consultant at an earlier time in my career, so when a former colleague called and asked me to take on a “rescue mission” for the 2002 event, how could I decline? What I stepped into was quite the hornet’s nest. The first two days of a three-day planning summit in Korea did not go well. The language and translator challenges, geo-political strains and other pressures meant we were getting nowhere, and some of my colleagues were ready to give up. It was so disheartening that we almost cancelled a group dinner the second evening. Luckily, we didn’t because, to be honest, this dinner saved the entire summit.
By the end of evening, which included plenty of food and beer as well as an impromptu stop of the entire group at a local karaoke bar, we all relaxed enough to see our similarities instead of our differences. Between verses of “Hotel California” and “Sweet Caroline,” we got to know each other as fellow humans instead of adversaries. By the end of the next day, we’d addressed probably 80% of the issues that needed to be resolved. This three-day span left an indelible impression on how I approach seemingly unsurmountable challenges. If we all spent more time focusing on getting to know each other and making the effort to find common ground, our world and our businesses would, without a doubt, be better and we would be able to solve many of the problems we face.
Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people? How do you think this might change the world?
KORE is a global Internet of Things (IoT) company, and IoT itself is cutting-edge. I’ve identified the time that we are in right now as the start of the ‘Decade of IoT.’ We are going to see incredible growth of IoT technologies and solutions between now and 2030, and then beyond. As 5G explodes and 6G matures, KORE anticipates being at the center of it all.
The ‘Decade of IoT’ is going to see an acceleration of connected devices that are going to have revolutionary impact on the way business is conducted. Many of the ways IoT will be most impactful will be within the enterprise sector — sustainability, clean energy, a flexible supply chain, workforce shortages, accessible healthcare and more.
We see what we do at KORE as enabling innovators in these key areas of business, and in turn they are able to focus on the value delivered to their customers — in many cases improving quality of life and bringing efficiency to global commerce.
KORE is particularly proud of a recent partnership with a drone logistics company called Swoop Aero, based in Australia.
Swoop Aero has had many successes in making healthcare supplies accessible, namely delivering vaccine supplies in 2018 to remote islands in the South Pacific; supplies and testing equipment for HIV/AIDs, as well as medical supply deliver and disaster relief operations in Malawi in 2019 and 2020; and in delivering COVID-19 testing supplies to Scotland’s most rural and isolated communities.
The challenge in drone deliveries is having consistent data transmission. Any blip in communications can bring the drone flight to a halt, meaning crucial assets and the critical equipment delivering it could quite literally fall out of the sky. Swoop Aero needed a way to provide global connectivity for these flights taking place in remote locations with — in many cases — limited access to connectivity.
KORE helped provide the connectivity needed to keep these critical drone flights in the air. We were thrilled to present our partnership in this IoT for Good use case at Mobile World Congress Barcelona in 2021. During that time, we were also able to present the partnership directly to the King of Spain.
Can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Security is and has been an area of concern that needs serious consideration. When connecting businesses and lives to the internet, you have to think through the security implications. We’re talking about deploying technologies that will have considerable impact on how businesses run, as well as quality of life.
A technology that you might rely on to secure your home or monitor your health or drive your vehicle needs to be heavily secured. The same is true for businesses relying on crucial technology. If something goes offline, or is breached, operations can come to a halt, which can have serious consequences. Just think of the ransomware attacks and data breaches of the last decade and apply that to millions of devices, which means potentially millions of ways to infiltrate a system.
Fortunately, security is becoming a top-of-mind priority not just from an OEM standpoint but from regulatory bodies.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story? What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
One of the great facilitators in this ‘Decade of IoT’ is network connectivity technologies. The launch of 5G networks is helping us deliver on the promise of IoT. With 5G, an amazing set of use cases will be launched surrounding artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, robotics, autonomous vehicles and machines and much more. The ability to transmit large packets of data at incredibly high speeds is going to enable category-changing enterprise applications, particularly in industrial, healthcare and fleet.
Massive IoT is going to leverage the growing segment of connectivity called low power wide area (LPWA) networks. This is a key piece of the puzzle in IoT, where lower complexity devices don’t need the speed and latency of 4G or 5G. These sensor-enabled devices turn on for a quick reading, transmit the data and then return to sleep mode. While they might be lower complexity, they’re going to create powerful ecosystems for solutions in assets, logistics, utilities, electric, and smart homes, campuses, buildings and cities. That’s where the Massive IoT term comes from. It’s going to be this enormous web of connected devices driving efficiency, sustainability, quality of life and much more.
So, we’ve got our puzzle pieces in 5G and LPWA, and the third highly critical piece of the puzzle is eSIM. This is a path through some of the greatest challenges that IoT has faced as far as large-scale or global deployments. Restrictions in roaming globally or carrier-dependent SIM cards have made IoT deployments much more challenging. With eSIM, it’s a carrier-agnostic approach to connectivity that allows for remote provisioning. It’s what we call out-of-the-box connectivity with zero-touch provisioning — simplifying the complexity of IoT deployments.
What have you been doing to publicize this?
Everything we do at KORE is an effort to show how beneficial and life changing IoT can be, and it’s one of the most significant reasons we wanted to go public as a company, to really get the KORE name and mission spread far and wide.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It’s hard to pick just one. Perhaps Darvis Cormier at Deloitte, who saw something in a young international student in the MBA program at the University of Texas at Austin? Perhaps the late, great Doug Aldrich, who cleared every roadblock in my way at A.T. Kearney? Perhaps Colin Lind and Pat Dills, the Search Committee members who gave me my first CEO job, at a public company no less, back when I had just turned 40? Thank you again, to all of them.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We do what we can, with what we are given. On a personal level, my wife and I prioritize education as our charitable cause. On a professional level, we work every year to make KORE a great place to work, so that the hundreds of families who contribute to KORE can be proud of where they work and remain confident that KORE will be strong for a long time.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
- About 90% of the job of a CEO is communications. We have responsibility to a lot of stakeholders — employees, customers, partners, investors and so on — and they all need and deserve consistent and clear communication.
- A CEO’s voice is loud. Although occasionally the loudness may be due to volume, the truth is that people listen to what you say no matter if it’s shouted or whispered. A leader must always be aware of the power of his or her voice.
- The information you receive will be filtered. When the news is good, you will hear it quickly and it may even be embellished. When the news is bad, it will be slow to arrive and be overly managed.
- Don’t consider the board of directors a single entity. The board of directors is comprised of individuals, each with their own opinions, experiences and aims. A CEO needs to invest the time into getting to know each member of a board as individuals.
- Being a CEO is most definitely the loneliest job in the company. As a CEO, you struggle to find people to speak with about the biggest issues in a way that creates true transparency and real trust.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could start a movement, it would be to bring people back together. We are much more alike than we are different. I would like to gather the best brains in the world to figure out how we are going to get society back in balance and individual speaking to each other by not focusing on the few differences but remembering the many similarities we have, including across race, culture and politics. Freedom, democracy, diversity of thought in religion and belief — these are the values that are important. Nothing else matters.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“All else being equal, the company with the best strategy will win.” Relatively early in my career at A.T. Kearney, the venerable consulting firm made a strong investment into strategy consulting and, in fact, had made an acquisition of a boutique company in Northern Europe, we launched a class for all Kearney’s to take: Business Unit Strategy. One of the senior partners from the acquired firm who helped develop the class made that statement to me as I worked on developing other parts of the class — a course that I would end up teaching as a core faculty member. I have since applied this concept in every business unit and in every company that I have ever led. It is critical to be a thoughtful student of the industry, understand how to win and know where and how to compete. And yes, the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” applies here. You need a great culture, but the goal of a high-performance culture is singular: to execute the strategy.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.