Apple poaches a Nokia executive to lead its struggling India operations

Ashish Chowdhary, Nokia’s Chief Customer Operations Officer, will be departing the company at the end of this year after 15 successful years to join Apple starting in January of 2019 as its new head of India operations.

This comes at a time when the Cupertino tech giant has reportedly slashed the number of distributors in the country from five to two and amid recent executive departures. Apple India is currently under Michel Coulomb who took over from Sanjay Kaul in December last year.

Nokia said in today’s press release:

Ashish Chowdhary will continue to lead Customer Operations and remain a member of the Nokia Group Leadership Team until the end of 2018. He will then leave Nokia to take a leadership position in another company.

Both IANS and The Economic Times say the decision to hire Chowdhary is a testament to the fact that Apple is aiming for a really long-term growth in the price-sensitive Indian market.

From the reports:

According to industry sources, Apple has roped in Chowdhary—who has a sound global as well as local knowledge of the industry—to get a bigger slice of a market that has nearly 450 million users and is one of the fastest growing, after China and the US.

Apple is an aspirational brand everywhere, especially in India, but its premium pricing strategy combined with local import laws and taxes have put its iconic smartphone out of reach of most Indians sans those who have high spending power.

Not only has Apple faced lower iPhone sales in India for the first time in four years, but its market share has fallen to a minuscule one percent largely due to the Android phone maker OnePlus. Counterpoint Research told Reuters that Apple’s Indian user base is forecast to drop ten percent to nine million versus the 436 million Android users in the country.

Moving some of iPhone manufacturing out of China has not gone as expected: local import laws and requirements for foreign companies wishing to do business in India mean single-brand retailers like Apple must source 30 percent of locally-produced goods.

“We’ve had really great productive discussions with the Indian government, and I fully expect that at some point they will agree to allow us to bring our stores into the country,” CEO Tim Cook said on an earnings call discussing financial metrics for the September quarter.

Cook is obviously a big believer in India, but how about you? Are you bullish on Apple’s ability to compete with inexpensive Android makers and perform well in the country?

Tell us in comments!

Photos: Francis Mascarenhas for Reuters