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Leadership Mantras

Leadership Mantras

Top honchos of India Inc. talk on steering businesses against adversity and succeeding

Varun Berry, MD, Britannia Varun Berry, MD, Britannia

We Went by the 80:20 Rule

Its important to adapt to things. Its important that we dont get our working set in stone. For instance, street food vendors have gone out of business, restaurants have gone out of business, there is a lot more consumption happening at home. Never could we have imagined that, in a situation like this, rural would do better than urban. Paradigms are changing. We are adapting to them.

If done well, even challenging situations such as these can become opportunities. We used to think we have to work only from office but we worked well from homes. Our protocols were set, we would hold virtual meetings and all the bookish ideas that we need to travel, that we need to be in the market to sell, went out of the window. Going out to the market is important, but we realised that when there is a situation where one cant do that, we can get our job done. Our sales team couldnt travel but we called not just distributors but also retailers and apologised to them for not being able to supply on time. We gave them information when the nearest manufacturing facility would be able to deliver. All this was being done by the sales team out of their homes, over calls.

For the first 10 days, we were running with whatever products we had in inventory. The next one month, we were probably at 60-65 per cent of our efficiency and, thereafter, went beyond 100 per cent. It was important to run factories for longer so that we could produce efficiently. We went by the 80:20 rule. We took 20 per cent of our SKUs that gave us 80 per cent of our business. We would take long runs, for four-five days, we would run with the same SKUs, which gave us higher efficiency and savings. We were able to supply products, may be not variety, but we were able to supply staples all across.

We get 80 per cent of our revenue from products such as Good Day, Marie, Nutrichoice and Milk Bikis, and prioritising these gave us results. We preferred efficiency over variety, which was a prudent call.

Work From Office Important to Build Culture, Innovation

Rishad Premji, Chairman, Wipro

If you had asked me in March that 180,000 Wiproites could work from home, I would have laughed, says Rishad Premji about how the Covid-19 pandemic has opened up conversations with stakeholders about making work from home a permanent feature. Rishad says Wipro may never go back entirely to the old model of having everyone at office but will have a portion of its people coming back. He says office space is important to build culture in a company and innovate. "I have been spending a lot of time personally, over the last six months, on culture. The reality is culture grows by osmosis," he said in discussion with Chiratae Ventures's Visionary Series.

The culture of a company is where people are engaging with colleagues, be it at the coffee machine, the water cooler, gossiping about the organisation, exchanging notes, and it is a core part of growing. "So it's incredibly important for culture growth I think. And it's equally important for innovation," he says, adding that innovations happen when brilliant minds come together and often this happens in the downtime.

Can We Create a Make-believe World?

C.K. Venkatraman, MD, The Titan Company

My biggest challenge is to get people to dress up and celebrate special occasions while they are at home. Going to restaurants or weddings and parties will be out of bounds till a vaccine for Coronavirus is invented. The challenge is to create desire in consumers sitting at home.

A Scottish couple has posted a video where they have created a make-believe restaurant for their kids. The wife plays the role of a waitress while the husband is the chef. From an elaborate menu card with starters, main course and desserts to even chefs special dish for the day, the couple offer a complete restaurant experience to their kids during the lockdown. Can we create a similar make-believe world? Can we persuade people to dress-up, dine-in at their own homes and celebrate special occasions? My teams are continuously rattling their brains to find newer ways of getting consumers to consume our products within the comforts of their homes.

Company Will Enhance Digital Footprint

Suresh Narayanan, MD, Nestle India

The pandemic has led to certain changes in consumer behaviour which, going forward, could create a host of new opportunities for consumer goods companies. While the obvious change has been consumers experiencing food brands within the four walls of their homes, Covid-19 has also made people concerned about nutrition. People are also looking at smaller packs and popularly positioned products. However, affordable indulgence is still in.

The degree of digital engagement is another outcome of the crisis. Digital has become exceptionally strong and companies with a strong digital-first capability, in terms of engagement, creation and sustainability, are the ones that are going to hold consumer interest for a long time.

Digital platforms of engagement and activation are being used across Nestles portfolio of brands. Be it Maggi, Nescafe, KitKat, Nangrow, or Ceregrow, all our brands are enjoying the benefit of digital-first strategy. This is the play we will be using for a long time because consumers will be digitally far more active than before.

Our digital engagement will be three-pronged - One is recipe and information dissemination (through platforms such as and, the second is good nutrition, as thats a hunger spot as far as consumers are concerned and, third, a lot of the earlier in-store activations will become digital activations.

A Crisis is an Opportunity to Strengthen Business With Innovations

Mohit Malhotra, CEO, Dabur

Within a month of the outbreak, 'immunity' was among the most searched words, reflecting the shift in consumer preference. The search for 'immunity'rose 5x while 'Vitamin C' searches were up 150 per cent in 2020. With heightened concern for health and wellness, and the reality of widespread financial hardship, consumers were rethinking every purchase. To succeed, we needed to be agile and seize opportunities in a very short timeframe. We had to quickly adapt our business approach and mobilise teams to put in a strong effort despite lockdown restrictions, besides leveraging technology to address the changing environment and emerging needs of consumers.

Ayurveda-based preventive healthcare and hygiene - both personal and household - are gaining prominence in consumer mindspace. People are now more inclined to prophylactic health remedies, especially immunity boosting products. This trend would sustain, going forward. In view of this, we revamped our portfolio mix with immunity boosting healthcare and hygiene products gaining prominence.

I believe a crisis is not to be wasted. It is an opportunity to work harder, strengthen business with innovations to emerge stronger and entrench our leadership position. During Covid, we transformed the organisation, to become more aggressive. We have not only increased R&D spends but are ensuring innovations are targeted and quick to market. We were able to roll out over 40 new products in three months since the Covid outbreak. We plan to add more products.

A Significant Fall in Impulse Buying

Manish Sharma, President and CEO, Panasonic India

After over three months of lockdown, people have adjusted to this new 'normal lifestyle' where safety and value proposition takes precedence in purchase decisions. There is a significant drop in impulse buying amongst consumers. People have now identified the need to make their living spaces better and are, thus, opting for upgrades in home automation. They are investing in technologically advanced easy-to-use appliances that are connected (enabling them to multi-task) and energy efficient. Because of Do It Yourself cooking trend, we are witnessing huge demand for microwave ovens across rural markets. Similarly, the rise in rich content across OTT platforms has led to demand for smart LED TVs across smaller markets and metros as consumers prefer viewing these over large screen TVs. Also with lack of domestic help, vacuum cleaners, washing machines are seeing significant traction.

Do What Matters the Most

Pradeep Parameswaran, President, Mobility, APAC, Uber

The mobility industry, which came under severe stress owing to the pandemic, has also offered some great lessons for companies. The pandemic presented an opportunity to do what matters the most. We realised early the need for transporting healthcare workers, enabling essential travel, and facilitating last-mile delivery. We launched the UberMedic service, partnering with the NHA to provide safe, reliable and efficient mobility to frontline healthcare workers.

With the pandemic leading to job loss threats to driver partners, being authentic and empathetic was the need of the hour. The lockdown impacted our drivers' livelihoods the most and to ensure that they keep earning, we created meaningful earning opportunities for them like last-mile delivery and pledged millions of free rides to policy makers. We did not charge commissions and enabled drivers to keep 100 per cent of billed amounts. We created the Uber Care Driver Fund, which disbursed grants to approximately 1,00,000 drivers. We distributed over three million masks and over 200,000 bottles of disinfectants and sanitisers each to drivers.

Permanent Work From Home Roles

Tarun Chugh, Managing Director and CEO, Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance

Conducting our annual business conference each year in May for our top 300 employees would cost us about Rs 1.5 crore. This year, we conducted it on Webex. We only spent Rs 3 lakh and could induct 5,000 people.

Face to face interaction plays a key role in life insurance business. Since that cannot happen, we launched a Zoom-like service, Smart Assist, on our platform in just two months. Under this app-based innovation, the sales agent sends a link to the customer, who can watch the agent's screen, but not vice-versa. The agent can guide the customer through a brochure and fill up the proposal form on his behalf, while he can see what the agent is doing. The company is organising 600-700 meetings everyday via Smart Assist.

We have also identified permanent work from home (WFH) roles and launched second innings of WFH for those, especially women, who wish to join back after a career break and want to stay close to the family too. There will be gig jobs too in which people can join us either as consultants or employees.

Published on: Sep 30, 2020, 10:12 AM IST
Posted by: Vivek Dubey, Sep 30, 2020, 10:12 AM IST