Nitin Paranjpe Curated

Chief Operating Officer at Unilever

CURATED BY :  

This profile has been added by users(CURATED) : Users who follow Nitin Paranjpe have come together to curate all possible video, text and audio interview to showcase Nitin Paranjpe's journey, experiences, achievements, advice, opinion in one place to inspire upcoming operations managerss. All content is sourced via different platforms and have been given due credit.

  • Tell us about your family and how your kids played a special role in your life?

    Work is an important part of life, but only a part. I must value my family, make time for them. When my kids were younger, I enjoyed teaching them. On the night of 26/11 when they were with the rest of the Unilever management team in Hotel Taj in Mumbai: “And even at that moment between my wife and me we didn’t need a conversation…she knew that I would be the last guy leaving that room.”

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  • How was your experience talking to Prof CK Prahalad and the famous formulae A>>R and A<=R? [A- Ambition | R- Resource]

    Representing the mindset of entrepreneur and manager respectively and setting the audacious goal to add 500,000 retail outlets in the next one year for HUL (previous year HUL added 50,000 retail outlets: a. It sounded stupid then and it sounds stupid now…but later, I realised the value of this. It took the conversation, the thinking, into a completely different space. b. Basically what I was asking them to do is keep the rational mind aside and embrace the goal from the heart. Because the mind will use its logic and reason to hold you back. c. The actual number was not the point. Even if we didn’t achieve 500,000 but 200,000, we would all be heroes. d. If all you do is make a person feel inadequate and lousy about himself or herself, is there any chance they will get there…not a chance. e. What we have tried to do was create the conditions that allowed people to flourish. And I must say that we did not succeed with everyone. But we certainly moved the needle.

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  • In the challenging period of 2002 and 2003 when you were finding it difficult to achieve targets?

    I would get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, simply not knowing what else I could do. Those few months were traumatic…it was the first time I had experienced a real failure. Some problems need a structural solution. I should have been bolder, acted more quickly. You are absolutely right [telling to his boss]. I don’t deserve to be a lister anymore.

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  • How did you use to put a check on the managers and doing the right thing?

    I’ve always been fortunate that I had a set of bosses who saw something in me and had the courage to bet on me…giving me roles which frankly scared me! Chairman Keki Dadiseth’s powerful words to him when Kerala decided to boycott HUL products: “Nitin, do the right thing. If it means we have to walk out of the state, we will".

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  • What's your driving thought behind your work ethics?

    Every time I produce something, it must be something I am proud of.

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  • What's your take on managing the Vim brand in his initial days?

    The experimentation I could do, the freedom that I had, was just amazing. When I did consumer visits, I realised the power of observation and not just data that comes across to you. The power of really talking to people yourself.

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  • On leading by example, you are a true flag bearer for the same.

    The first thing I learned is that you may be the boss, but if you don’t understand the job being done by the front-end person, you don’t have their respect. And, never ever ask anyone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself.

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  • What made you choose to join HUL over Tata Administrative Service (TAS)?

    I guess, having been a summer trainee there and seeing it at close quarters finally swung the decision. My only thought was I shouldn’t do anything that results in the company feeling they made a mistake!

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  • On topping the MBA class at Jamnalal Bajaj Institute. How would you see that?

    Maybe, because relatively I was a big fish in a small pond…I might never have done that well if I was in those more premier institutes!”.

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  • Tell us something about your first job.

    It was my dream job…I was very excited to work at L&T. But as I went through my first year, it wasn’t what I thought it would be.

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  • What's your take on winning and losing?

    I would go home and write in my diary – this is what I did, this is what my opponent did. How can I change, what can I do better next time?

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  • Who were his influencers in life?

    My father was an IAS officer – a very honest and upright man. He has shaped so much of who I am.

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  • Tell us something we haven’t heard about you in the media.

    I had heard somewhere that we must aim to learn something new—something that pushes the envelope—every year. So, I took on the challenge of learning how to play the keyboard. I’m musically challenged (really!). I remember my brother telling me that by the end of that year [I took on the challenge] if I can play even one song that he can recognize, that would be an achievement. I’m still not good, even after 10 years, but I continue to take lessons on Skype every weekend, even from London. I play for myself and I thoroughly enjoy it.

    View Source:

  • What do you look for in the people you hire?

    First, I believe ‘Attitude’ defines ‘Altitude’ and hence, I Will beats IQ. The other is character—a value system that is right. Then, I look at courage and competence. More recently, I have started to see if their belief system matches that of our company.

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  • What are they missing?

    I think they need a little more resilience and do away with the need for instant gratification. Learning to not be so influenced by the pressures of social media – that despite having so much opportunity, many feel insecure. I wish they could be more centered.

    View Source:

  • What do you love about the new generation that is joining the workforce?

    I think in general, I like their freshness in thinking and their perspective. They’re more courageous in their thinking whereas my generation was more straight-jacketed. I love this in the new generation. I find several who are more purpose-driven and are willing to make career choices based on what they really care about. They’re looking for meaning and they’re a little more impatient when they’re in an organization where they don’t see meaning.

    View Source:

  • What is your advice for managers and leaders?

    Every leader must do three things. One, they must create a vision people find collectively inspiring but also individually relatable. Second, they must create a conscious mismatch between your ambition and the resources available to do those jobs. Every person wants to do things that are heroic, so unless you create that mismatch, you aren’t giving people the opportunity to do things that are heroic. And third, you must create a culture and climate where the gap between your ambition and resources can be seen as energizing. So, remove the fear of failure and create conditions where you find joy in chasing goals and doing something pioneering.

    View Source:

  • What did your failures teach you?

    My first failure made me realize that I had become very complacent. Fifteen years of success meant that I underestimated the challenge. I was slow in solving structural issues that in hindsight I should have been seen much earlier. [The failures] taught me humility. I learned that there are times when despite our best efforts, outcomes aren’t what we expect them to be because there are other factors involved. This taught me that you have to confront the issues head-on. You can’t just hope that they will go away with time. The longer you wait, the more expensive they become. I also learned that failing in your own eyes was worse than failing in your boss’s eyes.

    View Source:

  • What do you attribute your success to?

    I was blessed to have a series of bosses and mentors who saw in me sometimes more than I saw in myself. They gave me opportunities that tested me and pushed me and got me out of my comfort zone. I am thankful to them for that. In many journeys, luck and good fortune play a big role. So at no point will I suggest that I was smarter and brighter than the others. But I think I was at the right place at the right time and displayed the right kind of leadership style that the organization was looking for. I believe ‘Attitude’ defines ‘Altitude’ and hence, I Will beats IQ.

    View Source:

  • What are some of your beliefs that have guided you through your journey?

    I’ve never believed in the maxim that you have to be ‘the best in the world.’ That’s the silliest brief that you can get. Because it is not up to you; it’s also up to how good the others around you are. But you must strive to be the best that you can be—no one can take that away from you. I’ve always found that to be very empowering. Also, I absolutely believe that if you do the right thing, the right outcomes will follow. It’s like the law of gravity—you drop something, it falls. The few times that I have strayed away from these beliefs and taken shortcuts, I have learned the hard way. There are no shortcuts for long-term sustainable success.

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  • You’ve been with Unilever for more than 30 years. Do you think there is merit in sticking to one organization?

    I don’t think there is any one formula. I’d say, stay true to your compass and to your calling, and things that give you joy. I was blessed to find all of this in one company so there was no need for me to keep moving around. But I would not say that no one should move around. We can find many examples where people have done extremely well moving around and choosing different roles.

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  • Does that mean we are getting too obsessed with career planning?

    I think far too many people are obsessed with career growth and planning—and it’s not just the millennials. People are defining themselves based on where they have to go, not what they have learned or done. And the pressure people have started putting on themselves is uncalled for. Effectively, you don’t cherish what you have and are never satisfied with what you’ve got.

    View Source:

  • Did you plan your career trajectory? How should young professionals look at their career and growth?

    I never started with any ambition like ‘I want to be at this position in these many years.’ When I joined Unilever, the only thing that mattered was that I showed that I belonged to this organization. Such was the awe with which I saw the company at that point. And having got it, the only thing on my mind was to do whatever I was doing to the best of my ability. Strange as it may seem, and contrary to the advice you might get otherwise, I didn’t spend too much time planning my career. I guess I was at the right place at the right time, and I didn’t let opportunities go. I feel too many people are spending too much time on career planning today. I say this often that you might be bright but with half your mind on your current job and half your mind on planning your future, you will not do a better job than someone who is 100% dedicated to what they’re doing now.

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  • Would you have wanted foods to grow better under your leadership?

    I would have wanted everything to have done better. But yes, I would have wanted foods to have done better too. There is a lot of good work happening to strengthen the foods business which may not be visible. It is like a duck paddling furiously underwater which is not visible externally.

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  • Given HUL's focus on building an internal leadership pipeline how feasible does it seem to get someone new into the organisation and the market in a challenging business scenario?

    The world is not restricted only to HUL. Unilever does not have a narrow outlook on leadership. There are many Indians in big leadership roles, running countries, and clusters today. I think Indian talent has never been stronger and the evidence of that is the roles that people are performing.

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  • Given that premium brands are under pressure, will there be a shift in strategy towards local and mass brands?

    Our portfolio straddles the pyramid and is designed to insulate us from the current consumer movements. There are times when the economy goes through pressure, consumers feel the pinch and there are times when sentiment is buoyant and people are spending as if there is no tomorrow. Both of these scenarios can exist. With a portfolio that straddles the pyramid, we are better placed to address both.

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  • Are there are local brands in India that may not necessarily fit into the Unilever basket of globally scalable brands which are the focus for the company today?

    It is not just about global or local brands. All brands need to be locally relevant. We have not de-prioritized any local brands that are relevant to the consumer and adds value to them. Hamam is a good example of a successful local brand. It is a strong brand in Tamil Nadu and will continue to receive our focus. Likewise, Wheel is a local brand and is extremely critical for our laundry portfolio in India and hence gets the attention it deserves. So you would notice that our focus is to do what is right for the local consumer. Having said that, it would be foolish not to leverage the global resources that we have in addressing the needs of local consumers. This is the power of our model: global scale and local relevance.

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  • India is where the action is in terms of the global focus on emerging markets. Are you happy to move out of India?

    Of course I will miss the Indian business. My heart is here. I have spent a large amount of my time here. I will miss this like anyone else would. I don't treat anything that I do as a mere job. There is a lot of heart and emotion in everything I do. But equally, I am someone who recognises that you have to move on. When I move into the new role, there will be a different context and a different challenge. I have absolutely no doubt that Sanjiv (Mehta) will take the current business from where we are to the next level. I feel good that we will have someone in the role who, in my judgment, will bring in the right balance of continuity of what we are doing and the change which is required with time. Every leader brings in that little personal touch to what is required. I think this business will benefit from Sanjiv's leadership.

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  • What was your most challenging task since you took charge in 2009?

    Certainly, the early part of my career as CEO was the most challenging. Early 2009 was a difficult period as it coincided with the global economic turmoil. We went through a really difficult nine-month period. But the one thing that did not change was the clear focus on doing the right thing and ensuring that we did not take any short-cuts. Short-cuts work only for the short term. Fortunately, I had the confidence and trust of my leaders who did not constantly look over my shoulder and were there to support me. We succeeded in creating a high-performing culture where highly energized and engaged employees synchronized with our collective goal of building a business with a purpose. We have to be leaders of today with an eye on tomorrow, disciplined enough to invest for the future.

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  • Clean water, Sanitation these issues are quite large. How much of a difference can HUL make?

    Partnerships continue to be crucial to achieving our goals and in our efforts to help make sustainable living and sustainable business practices more widespread. We are already working with some of the state governments such as Madhya Pradesh, and also some of the NGOs and IGOs like UNICEF, PSI, etc. We want to work with more partners and are very open to ideas for sustainable innovation and cross-sector collaboration. If we are to create a world where sustainable business and sustainable living are commonplace, more collaboration is needed between companies, governments, NGOs, and consumers.

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  • Large parts of India don’t have access to any water, let alone potable water, How to address this problem?

    We have taken up water as a key priority and we are making changes in our own operations to conserve water. In addition, we also have set up a foundation focused on the issue of water. The Hindustan Unilever Foundation addresses larger issues of water access, and will work with partners to help create the capacity to conserve 70 billion liters of water by 2015. We have already undertaken projects in villages across five states. This will help improve water availability in many villages. We are aware that these are small steps and we would like to work with all stakeholders to deliver on these key priorities.

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  • Water borne diseases are a major cause of deaths, and large parts of the country don’t have safe drinking water. How are you addressing this?

    Unsafe drinking water is another cause of diarrhea and is a major public health issue, particularly in developing countries where around 80 percent of diseases are waterborne. Unfortunately, clean water devices have required electricity or running water – both of which are often not available and affordable in the areas where safe drinking water is not available. It is in that context that our Pureit water purifier provides drinking water which is as safe as boiled water. Because Pureit does not need electricity or running water, it can be easily used in any part of the country, rural or urban. We have made Pureit available at a price point of Rs 900 ($14.50 USD) and up, with a recurring cost of one U.S. dollar for purifying over 2,000 litres, which is very affordable. We are working with a range of microfinance and NGO partners to improve the affordability of the purifier for those for whom the price remains a barrier to purchase.

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  • Hindustan Unilever has produced a video to promote child handwashing in India that has drawn more than seven million views on YouTube, and the video was a huge success at GBCHealth's annual conference. How do you think such initiatives by businesses can have an impact on health concerns in India?

    the setting for the video, is a village in Central India which has the highest incidence of diarrhea in the country. The Lifebuoy hand washing program is working to change the hand washing behavior here because we know that lack of good hygiene is a key source of diarrhea. Studies show that washing hands with soap and water is more effective in fighting diarrhea than washing hands with water alone. Educating people about the difference is an important and challenging task. Thesgora is one example of our efforts to create awareness and drive behavior change to reduce the incidence of diarrhea. It is within this larger context that our video on the importance of hand washing has received a lot of attention. Along with our other efforts in driving hand washing behavior change, we’ve reached out to 119 million people globally and 47 million people in India since 2010.

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  • The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan has been cited as the first of its kind, with bold targets put out in the public domain. What is the thinking behind the plan?

    Unilever as a business has been around for over 100 years and its genesis lay in the idea of service to society, which in those early days was helping relieve the drudgery of washing and making cleanliness commonplace. So right from the beginning, the aspect of business with a purpose and responsibility has been embedded into the organization. Since then a lot has happened. Today, we are seeing faster growth, higher incomes and rising aspirations in many parts of the globe, particularly amongst the emerging economies. India is one of those nations going through this cycle of growth. As more people enter the consumption cycle, we must be ready to meet increased demand. At the same time, we know that we do not have the resources to support unbridled consumption. This is true not only in India but of all businesses and all consumption across the globe. So the old models of business cannot last. Businesses will increasingly be held accountable for their actions and impacts beyond their immediate perimeter. The time will soon come when society will simply not allow businesses to operate with a strategy that is not in the best interests of the largest base of stakeholders. This calls for new ways of doing business and new models of growth in the future. At Unilever, we have called out our approach to the emerging challenges in the form of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which in essence decouples growth from our environmental footprint and increases our positive social impact. Aside from the big picture, it is in the day-to-day implementation that we are learning just how much impact we can have with such an approach. Internally, as sustainability is embedded into the core of our business, we are undertaking ways to deliver sustainable growth. This innovative approach is serving the needs of society and growing the business at the same time.

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  • What is the role of the private sector in building a healthier India?

    The private sector must complement the efforts of the government. It can play a huge part in communicating important, clear and unambiguous messaging on key health issues such as preventable diseases like diarrhea.

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  • What is your vision for India in terms of health and development over the next decade?

    The vision can only be affordable health care for all, with a focus on disease prevention and promotion of habits that help improve health and well-being.

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  • Mr. Paranjpe, what do you see as the most pressing challenges for India's public health?

    The health sector for any country poses unique challenges. This is so even for rich nations, and we have heard about the complex issues in some of the developed nations as well. The health sector in India naturally has multiple challenges. These include maternal and child health and preventable diseases such as diarrhea. These have been our focus because of our rich work and experience in this area and our unique ability to make a contribution based on our core business activities. This is not to suggest that this is the only issue. There are many other challenges like our health sector faces.

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  • Tell us something we haven’t heard about you in the media?

    I had heard somewhere that we must aim to learn something new—something that pushes the envelope—every year. So, I took on the challenge of learning how to play the keyboard. I’m musically challenged (really!). I remember my brother telling me that by the end of that year [I took on the challenge] if I can play even one song that he can recognize, that would be an achievement. I’m still not good, even after 10 years, but I continue to take lessons on Skype every weekend, even from London. I play for myself and I thoroughly enjoy it.

    View Source:

  • What do you look for in the people you hire?

    First, I believe ‘Attitude’ defines ‘Altitude’ and hence, I Will beats IQ. The other is character—a value system that is right. Then, I look at courage and competence. More recently, I have started to see if their belief system matches that of our company.

    View Source:

  • What is the new generation missing?

    I think they need a little more resilience and do away with the need for instant gratification. Learning to not be so influenced by the pressures of social media – that despite having so much opportunity, many feel insecure. I wish they could be more centered.

    View Source:

  • What do you love about the new generation that is joining the workforce?

    I think in general, I like their freshness in thinking and their perspective. They’re more courageous in their thinking whereas my generation was more straight-jacketed. I love this in the new generation. I find several who are more purpose-driven and are willing to make career choices based on what they really care about. They’re looking for meaning and they’re a little more impatient when they’re in an organization where they don’t see meaning.

    View Source:

  • What is your advice for managers and leaders?

    Every leader must do three things. One, they must create a vision people find collectively inspiring but also individually relatable. Second, they must create a conscious mismatch between your ambition and the resources available to do those jobs. Every person wants to do things that are heroic, so unless you create that mismatch, you aren’t giving people the opportunity to do things that are heroic. And third, you must create a culture and climate where the gap between your ambition and resources can be seen as energizing. So, remove the fear of failure and create conditions where you find joy in chasing goals and doing something pioneering.

    View Source:

  • What did your failures teach you?

    My first failure made me realize that I had become very complacent. Fifteen years of success meant that I underestimated the challenge. I was slow in solving structural issues that in hindsight I should have been seen much earlier. [The failures] taught me humility. I learned that there are times when despite our best efforts, outcomes aren’t what we expect them to be because there are other factors involved. This taught me that you have to confront the issues head-on. You can’t just hope that they will go away with time. The longer you wait, the more expensive they become. I also learned that failing in your own eyes was worse than failing in your boss’s eyes.

    View Source:

  • What do you attribute your success to?

    I was blessed to have a series of bosses and mentors who saw in me sometimes more than I saw in myself. They gave me opportunities that tested me and pushed me and got me out of my comfort zone. I am thankful to them for that. In many journeys, luck and good fortune play a big role. So at no point will I suggest that I was smarter and brighter than the others. But I think I was at the right place at the right time and displayed the right kind of leadership style that the organization was looking for.

    View Source:

  • What are some of your beliefs that have guided you through your journey?

    I’ve never believed in the maxim that you have to be ‘the best in the world.’ That’s the silliest brief that you can get. Because it is not up to you; it’s also up to how good the others around you are. But you must strive to be the best that you can be—no one can take that away from you. I’ve always found that to be very empowering. Also, I absolutely believe that if you do the right thing, the right outcomes will follow. It’s like the law of gravity—you drop something, it falls. The few times that I have strayed away from these beliefs and taken shortcuts, I have learned the hard way. There are no shortcuts for long-term sustainable success.

    View Source:

  • You’ve been with Unilever for more than 30 years. Do you think there is merit in sticking to one organization?

    I don’t think there is any one formula. I’d say, stay true to your compass and to your calling, and things that give you joy. I was blessed to find all of this in one company so there was no need for me to keep moving around. But I would not say that no one should move around. We can find many examples where people have done extremely well moving around and choosing different roles.

    View Source:

  • what are your views on people being focused on career planning?

    I think far too many people are obsessed with career growth and planning—and it’s not just the millennials. People are defining themselves based on where they have to go, not what they have learned or done. And the pressure people have started putting on themselves is uncalled for. Effectively, you don’t cherish what you have and are never satisfied with what you’ve got.

    View Source:

  • Did you plan your career trajectory? How should young professionals look at their career and growth?

    I never started with any ambition like ‘I want to be at this position in these many years.’ When I joined Unilever, the only thing that mattered was that I showed that I belonged to this organization. Such was the awe with which I saw the company at that point. And having got it, the only thing on my mind was to do whatever I was doing to the best of my ability. Strange as it may seem, and contrary to the advice you might get otherwise, I didn’t spend too much time planning my career. I guess I was at the right place at the right time, and I didn’t let opportunities go. I feel too many people are spending too much time on career planning today. I say this often that you might be bright but with half your mind on your current job and half your mind on planning your future, you will not do a better job than someone who is 100% dedicated to what they’re doing now.

    View Source:

  • Five quarters of double-digit growth. And, Mr Paranjpe, you have been in charge for the last three years?

    I remind everybody in our business that we have to run this business with a bifocal lens. It is about managing today but we would be failing in our responsibilities if we did not take steps which may seem not so important in the scheme of things today but will be mission critical in guaranteeing the success of this business tomorrow. Build a portfolio and capability that is relevant for India tomorrow. Doesn't matter how small it is today but have a point of view. Have a point of view on the consumers of tomorrow, a point of view on the segments that are likely to grow tomorrow, the categories that will grow tomorrow, and the geographies that will grow and be relevant tomorrow.

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  • I thought with your experience in India you would come up with a model which was exportable to other developing markets.?

    We shouldn't think the game has played out, the game is beginning and what we want to do is learn to be disciplined and systematic in the manner in which we make and build our brand. You want to build a strong brand. And when you build strong brands you're going to create positions, I keep using an analogy, a chess analogy. We want to make our move such that we are well positioned before the end game is reached. This is not about rushing every pawn too quickly to fourth positions without thinking too much. That tactic is not going to make you win the game eventually. We've to think through how markets evolved and where will competitive advantage come from, how should we be building our brands, what is the source of long term sustainable advantage that we've got and position ourselves well because this game is still beginning, it has not played out at all.

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  • What is an innovation for you - new products, tweaking of products, or new ways of reaching consumers?

    I would say that 50 percent of our success has been touched by innovation. Some of them are new products that we have introduced; some are improved products. As our global CEO Paul Polman says, the fast-moving consumer goods industry is an industry with continuous improvement. Every day you need to find some way to get a little better than what you were the previous day. Why is that important? Because, you can't stay still, even if you are a leader today. [For instance,] our gap with others in ketchups fell - as the gap gets narrower the comparative advantage disappears. Our job is to keep creating gaps, widening gaps. That's one reason. The second reason is that consumer needs keep changing and expectations change. What you want today is suddenly gone into the waste; what delights you now, by tomorrow it is hygiene. We got to where we were in 75 years because we were pioneers and we were the leaders, but we cannot rest on those laurels. Others see this and copy and they catch up. The period where we lost out was when we were leaders but we were not leading and creating gaps. We had the widest distribution ever because we were leaders but now we are creating gaps and how we are doing that - we created 500,000 new stores in a year. That's big. It is a source of advantage for us. It is a challenge for a company like ours as well to develop economically viable distribution business models.

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  • What are your market shares in the different categories that you are present in? How have these changed in recent years?

    Without getting into the details by category, I can say that despite intense competition over many years we have retained our market leadership. We are the leaders in 10 of the 12 categories we operate in. While we saw some impact on our shares in 2009 [due to the global recession], we are pleased with the result of the actions we took and across most of our categories we are now delivering growth that is ahead of the market reported growth.

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  • You have come up with some other new initiatives also in distribution recently. Can you tell us about the Mission Bushfire that was kicked off earlier this year and the concept of the HUL Perfect Store?

    The “Perfect Store” initiative is the company’s latest endeavor to strengthen its go-to-market capabilities and has been one of the largest and fastest roll-outs of a sales and marketing strategy across the country. It aims to convert 100,000 stores into “Perfect Stores” by the end of 2011. Conversion to a Perfect Store requires compliance on key sales fundamentals covering aspects [including product] availability, assortment, the right visibility and the ability to drive offtake of our brands from the store. This initiative will make a significant difference to win with consumers at the point of purchase in the general trade. HUL kick-started the Perfect Stores initiative in the first week of May 2010 through Project Bushfire by getting all of its employees involved. The objective was to bring everyone in the organization closer to our customers and at the same time make a real difference to our brands and categories in the marketplace. For the first time in the history of HUL, more than 4,000 employees, from the management committee members to the operating staff, participated in one of the biggest consumer and customer connect initiatives of transforming general trade stores into Perfect Stores over a period of six days all over the country. The employees worked along with 1,000 merchandisers and about 20,000 retailers covering more than 70 cities across the country and created more than 15,000 Perfect Stores in India. While the Perfect Stores initiative was started through Project Bushfire, the company’s merchandisers will continue this effort on an ongoing basis.

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  • All FMCG players have been targeting the semi-rural and rural markets in recent years. How much of an advantage do you feel you have here because of your long history in India and your early entry into these markets?

    Rural markets are extremely important to us. Given that the per capita consumption in rural markets is lower than urban markets, we expect these markets to grow faster. Even at present, HUL has an extensive rural coverage. But we want to strengthen it further and have embarked on a plan to dramatically expand. We plan to add 500,000 outlets to our rural coverage. Our long presence and consumer insights are definitely an advantage but in the fast-growing market and in an environment of heightened competition, it is important that we widen the lead.

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  • What are some of the biggest challenges HUL faces?

    In a high-growth market like India, the key task is to grow the market profitably and sustainably. We have huge headroom to increase penetration and consumption across the categories we operate in. We are witnessing a rapid change in the social and economic landscape in India. We have younger consumers with a high propensity to spend and a fast growing modern trade. Our key challenge is to ensure that each of our brands remains relevant and contemporary in this changing consumer context. We are further strengthening our innovation capabilities. For example, more than 70% of our products in the market have been relaunched in the past six months, each of them delivering a significantly enhanced consumer value. On the other hand, 70% of the population still lives in the [rural] villages in India. The key challenge for FMCG companies is to ensure that their products are available to consumers in the most remote and small villages. HUL has a distinct advantage in having access to such villages through its Shakti project. We are further strengthening this through a new initiative, Shaktimaan, whereby we have embarked on an ambitious program of tripling our rural coverage.

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  • Some analysts feel HUL has not been launching enough new products or new categories. Do you think that HUL should be doing more on this front?

    we have launched or re-launched about 30 brands. In recent times, we have stepped up our innovation intensity across categories. Our advertising and promotion spends have also been stepped up to ensure that the innovations are fully supported. We have a robust innovation pipeline across categories.

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  • HUL entered a new category — of water filters — in 2004 with its product Pureit. Could you tell us about the concept itself and why HUL entered this category?

    Safe drinking water is a dire need in a country like India. HUL launched Pureit, [which works] without electricity or running water. This has … provided a sustainable and long-term business opportunity for the company.

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  • The FMCG market has been seeing intense competition in recent years thanks to new players, high spends on advertising and high trade spends. How has the company responded to that?

    That is true, but it is something to be expected. Given the enormous opportunity that India presents, everyone wants a share. Hence we see competition of all types — global players, large Indian players, as well as a number of small regional and local players. Each is trying to get a share of the Indian market in anticipation of the huge growth that it is likely to see in the coming years. While competition does pose challenges, the reality is that in the end competition is good for business as it brings out the best in you and is a win-win for the consumer. Competition drives innovation, improves quality, keeps costs under check and all of this helps markets grow. Companies become sharper, focused and efficient. Those that remain focused on the consumers and customers, and take actions with a long-term horizon will not just survive, but also flourish. We have been around for more than 75 years and have built brands that touch the lives of two out of three Indians. It is our commitment to consumers that has helped us reach here and it is this same commitment will help us succeed in the years to come.

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  • Any businesses or categories that have been particularly disappointing? How are you planning to strengthen these?

    The volatility of 2009 and the significantly increased competition threw up several challenges for the business. Restoring competitiveness across our categories was the number one priority. Several actions have been taken to strengthen our brands including investments in product quality, pricing and brand support. There has been a huge emphasis on raising our focus on execution in the marketplace. In addition there has also been a strong drive to reduce cycle time from decision to execution across some key processes. These changes will help us become far more responsive to the marketplace. While consumer and customer-centricity has always been integral to how we operate, the increased competitive context requires us to step up the game even further. It is this that will provide us the insights that will drive innovation and help us stay ahead of the game.

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  • If you look at your various businesses and the different categories that you are present in, where do you see maximum growth coming from?

    We have huge headroom to increase penetration and consumption across the categories we operate in. We find that the per capita consumption across categories is very low even compared to other South Asian countries. Hence, our first objective is to grow the market. As the market leader, we are focused on developing the markets for the long term while also ensuring that we capitalize on the immediate opportunities. Personal products and foods are two categories that are expected to grow faster than the rest of the business. Similarly, there are niche emerging categories such as fabric conditioners, machine wash detergents, hair conditioners, specialist cleaners, face washes, and tea bags which have good potential for growth despite being part of mature categories.

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  • What is your growth target and what are the key pillars of your growth strategy?

    Like any large organization, we undertake strategic reviews and formulate medium-term plans from time to time. We see exciting opportunities in India across categories and are committed to pursuing profitable, competitive and sustainable growth in all the categories that we operate in. Our strategy is to straddle the pyramid and drive market development. We would like to be present across all price and benefit segments to serve the diverse needs of consumers across the spectrum.

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  • What were your priorities when you took over as CEO and managing director of HUL in April 2008?

    My key priority was to strengthen the business to effectively address the challenges of a rapidly-changing consumer and competitive context. This meant managing for the short term even as we started building a portfolio and a set of capabilities that would be relevant for the future. Such an approach would ensure that we met our stated business goals — that of delivering growth that is competitive, profitable and sustainable.

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  • You joined Hindustan Unilever (HUL) as a management trainee in 1987 and have been part of the company’s journey since then. Could you share some of the key events for HUL during this period?

    The early 1990s saw the exponential growth of our personal products business. From a mere Rs. 75 crore [US$28.4 million at the then prevailing exchange rate of $1 = Rs. 26.40] business in 1991, it grew to Rs.1,800 crore [US$400 million at an exchange rate of $1 = Rs. 45] business by 2000 — a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 40%. This business continues to grow at a healthy double digit and has the potential to grow significantly with the changing consumer context in India, [which is] driven by a younger population and growing incomes. The other key development in the early nineties included a series of mergers and acquisitions. These included Tata Oil Mills, Kissan, Kwality, Lakmé, Brooke Bond, Lipton India and Pond’s. The early 2000s was a period of consolidation. As part of a conscious strategy to focus on the core fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) businesses, HUL exited several non-FMCG businesses. In 2000, about one-fourth of our sales were in non-FMCG businesses. These businesses had played an important role in a historical context but they were only providing 10% of the company’s profit. Besides, they lacked scale, did not offer prospects for long-term leadership and were a drain on the core FMCG businesses in terms of resources and focus. From 2000 to 2004, HUL divested various non-FMCG and commodity businesses such as animal feeds, specialty chemicals, and mushrooms. From 2004 onwards, HUL has registered a healthy growth with a double-digit CAGR. In 2002, we launched Project Shakti [a rural distribution program] as a pilot project in Andhra Pradesh and subsequently rolled it out nationally. Today, we have 45,000 Shakti entrepreneurs who cover more than 100,000 villages across 15 states and reach more than three million consumers. In 2004, we launched Pureit [a low-cost water filter that does not require running water or electricity] in Tamil Nadu, and in 2008 we went national. Now we protect more than three million homes across India.

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