Business Today

Pushing the Envelope

Prabha Parameswaran continues to innovate and make her company grow.
twitter-logo Ajita Shashidhar        Print Edition: Aug 31, 2014
Pushing the Envelope
Colgate-Palmolive India's Managing Director Prabha Parameswaran.

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Dynamic, live wire and vibrant are the words that aptly describe Colgate-Palmolive India's Managing Director Prabha Parameswaran, says R.A. Shah, Vice Chairman and Independent Director on the company's board.

The consumer-goods maker has seen intense competition over the past year with Procter & Gamble (P&G) entering the oral-care market in India and traditional rival Hindustan Unilever - with brands such as Pepsodent and CloseUp - upping its ante. With a 54.1 per cent market share in 2012, Colgate didn't have to worry too much about the competition, but the word complacency doesn't exist in Parameswaran's dictionary. "Innovation, research and new technology became her buzzwords and she flooded the market with a slew of innovative products," says Shah. Parameswaran was not available for an interview.

He recollects how Parameswaran, now in her mid-40s, got her team to demonstrate to the board members Colgate Visible White Toothpaste, which promises one shade whiter teeth in one week. "I first thought it was a marketing gimmick, but when the demonstration proved the claim, I was convinced that this company never makes tall claims."

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The company has recently launched products such as a toothpaste that promises to reduce harmful sugar acids in plaque before they attack the tooth enamel. Parameswaran has also rolled out the charcoal toothbrush from its global portfolio. This product is known to be inspired by the Chinese belief in charcoal containing antibacterial benefits.

Parameswaran, who has been with Colgate since 1995, has also worked in markets such as Mexico, before she took over as MD of Colgate's India operations in 2012. "Prabha's tenure has seen the stiffest competition for Colgate, with the entry of P&G [in the oral-care segment]. However, the way she has responded to competition speaks volumes of Prabha's skills," says Abneesh Roy, Associate Director, Institutional Equities (Research), Edelweiss Securities. "By flooding the market with new products, she has succeeded in confusing the consumers, who don't see any reason for buying a P&G or any other oral-care product," he adds, calling Parameswaran a marketing whizkid.

In the last one year, Colgate-Palmolive's market share in toothpastes and toothbrushes has gone up, from 54.1 to 57.1 per cent, and 41.3 to 42.1 per cent, respectively. The company's revenue has grown from Rs 3,224 crore in 2012/13 to Rs 3,757 crore in 2013/14.

According to Shah, Parameswaran has been able to carpet bomb the oral-care market with new products because it is still underpenetrated and has ample scope for growth. "Prabha has used it to her advantage," he says.

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