Business Today

HUL: Riding volatility

Nitin Paranjpe        Print Edition: Aug 5, 2012

We live in a world of rapid change, whether it is consumers or the environment in which we operate. In addition, companies are also facing unprecedented volatility. To succeed, businesses have to recognise that both change and volatility are the new normal, and find ways to address it.

HUL faced pricing pressure in 2008 and had to make its brands competitive
THE STRATEGY Focused on consumers. Invested in processes and technology. Controlled costs

Volatility affected us in 2008, when crude oil prices swung from a high of $140 a barrel to a low of $40. This had massive implications on pricing. In order to ensure our brands remained competitive every time and everywhere, we needed to respond with speed and agility. That meant shorter planning cycles, investment in processes and technology, and initiatives like Sunset, which promote a bias for action. Through Sunset, any unresolved actions are automatically escalated to the management at the highest levels and resolved quickly. People within the organisation feel good when they see their feedback being acted upon promptly.

This is not only energising and empowering but also makes us more competitive. The rapidly changing times put an even higher premium on an organisation's ability to embed consumer and customer centricity in everything that it does. Towards this end, we have encouraged all our employees to spend time engaging with consumers and customers to understand their needs and address their complaints. It is this single-minded focus on the consumer that has helped our brands deliver better consumer value.

SPECIAL:How the top brass turned around HUL fortunes

The success of an organisation is dependent on its ability to execute flawlessly. Over the last few years we have dramatically improved our 'go to market' execution both through discontinuous expansion in our reach and by leveraging technology to improve its quality. Simultaneously, we have been ruthless on costs. We are constantly asking ourselves how we can strip out every rupee that the consumer is not willing to pay for. It is this approach to cost that has generated the "fuel" for growth and enabled us to invest in product quality and superior benefits, thereby increasing the competitiveness of our brands. These are the sorts of actions that have helped us manage challenges and emerge stronger.

The author is CEO & Managing Director, HUL

 Stories of other companies that faced tough times and emerged stronger, told by the people who were in the thick of things.
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