Within six months of joining the country's largest beverage maker, Coca-Cola India, as its Chief Financial Officer, Sarvita Sethi faced the biggest challenge of her career- demonetisation in November 2016. The cash crunch in the market that threatened to hit sales called for 'out of the box' thinking. Then, another one, in the form of GST, presented itself in July 2017. Sethi, who is a British citizen - she is still learning Hindi - had to get into a crisis management role once again.
"India has put me through my paces," she says. "It was like a catalogue of things waiting for me to turn up to test my skills. Dealing with this kind of volatility is very unusual from a UK perspective. A finance person from Europe doesn't like it because there, when its down or up, it's in a band of plus or minus 5 per cent. Here, it gets magnified, double digits in both directions, and trying to predict that is a challenge." Before Coca Cola, Sethi, a chartered accountant, had stints with PwC, Sainsbury, Viacom and Yum Restaurants. But nothing could have prepared her for the chaos here. Fortunately, she was not overwhelmed. "I love variety, so India did not overwhelm me. It's hugely attractive. There is no opportunity to get bored," she says.
After three years in the finance department, Sethi was elevated earlier this year to a role overseeing Coca Cola's mergers, acquisitions and new business ventures. Less of finance and more of a marketing and product role, it is critical to Coca Cola's future in the region as it counters the rise of a host of regional players and startups. Sethi says she is loving the new job. "I get more freedom in this role. The decision-making is fast, just me and my boss," she adds. "There is more freedom to decide quickly, play around with formulations, because the consumer prefers personalisation. One can also innovate with price points. We are called the rich man's start-up where we have the freedom of an entrepreneur without the need to go begging for funds."
Her first experience with a product launch - sports drink Powerade - has given her a kick that she never thought she would get as a finance person. "I am a brick and mortar person who likes to work with physical products. The tangibility of results is exciting. As a finance person, I never ever thought that my team would actually launch a brand in a country. Creating and building new things is something that I am loving right now."