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Don't escape turbulence, face it, say biz leaders

October 31, 2013 09:32 IST

Don't escape turbulence, face it, say biz leaders

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BS Reporters in Mumbai

For most, the acronym VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous -- a  term coined to indicate the new world order for individuals as well as businesses.

But, did you know that in Zulu, a language native to South Africa, VUCA means to be awake.

One word but two opposite meanings.

Chief executives of blue-chip firms Vodafone, Tata Motors, Unilever, Mondelez and Hero Motocop would rather have us focus on the latter. Most were speakers at the CEO Summit, organised by the Indian Society of Advertisers, here on Wednesday.

The topic of discussion: Navigating a VUCA World.

R Gopalakrishnan, director, Tata Sons, and one of the early speakers of the day, said: “VUCA is not something new.

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Image: A vendor arranges artificial garlands for sale inside his shop ahead of Diwali in Ahmedabad.
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“It is a natural state of the world. It stands for turbulence, something that animals are well aware of.

“But, ironically, human beings are trained to be SPCC or simple, predictable, clear and calm, the opposite of VUCA.”

"So, how does one come out of this state of SPCC?

Most speakers at the august gathering of advertisers and brand marketers proposed their own individual solutions.

Consider what Gopalakrishnan, an ex-Hindustan Unilever executive, said: “Learn from nature, rediscover your intuition and change your attitude towards competition.

“VUCA is actually a good thing to renew organisations. So, don’t suppress turbulence or attempt to dissect it.

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Image: Labourers remove dust from paddy crop at a wholesale grain market in Chandigarh.
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“Instead, stand apart and see what this VUCA is part of.”

Manu Anand, president, India and South Asia, Mondelez International and MD at Cadbury India, said: “There is no right or wrong way when navigating through a complex, volatile world. But there are few things to be borne in mind: Optimise your cost base, sustain your investments, engage with all stakeholders and stay committed.”

Anand indicated that during the 2008-10 period, a turbulent time for most businesses following the Lehman crisis, Cadbury, the largest chocolate maker in the country, had continued to engage consumers by investing behind brands such as Cadbury Silk, a premium chocolate that melts in one’s mouth, and Bournville, a dark chocolate.

At the same time, the firm did not lose sight of its core brands Five Star and Dairy Milk, also devoting a good amount of attention to brands such as Cadbury Shots, an innovation.

Ravi Kant, vice-chairman of Tata Motors, said: “Companies should be quick to sense the change, you must be able to have the antenna so that you will be able to understand, feel, smell change. You should be quick to experiment and execute ideas very well.”

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Kant, for instance, highlighted how the entry of Ace in the under-one-tonne-truck category changed the dynamics of the business.

A gap waiting to be filled, Tata Motors wasted no time in stepping into the space when state governments showed interest in developing rural roads.

“Business cycles and changes have always been there. And sustainability of business is determined by its adaptability to change. Newer realities are characterised by greater uncertainty, rising complexity and rapid changes.

“To survive the downturn, we have to anticipate the short-term and long-term future through scenario thinking and predictive analytics; be innovative both internally and externally; have a seamless institutional framework and be collaborative in execution.”

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Image: A man cycles past residential buildings under construction in Kolkata.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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Martin Pieters, managing director and CEO, Vodafone India, said: “The future customer is already with marketers, it is therefore important to win consumer confidence.

“Indian companies in the current times need to look at the big picture and look at how best to decode the future customer. Keep an eye, therefore, on customer retention, while not losing focus on customer acquisition.”

Kirthiga Reddy, director, online operations and head of office India, Facebook, spoke of the need to have a bold vision and smart marketing.

“Most customers access Facebook through their mobile phones and we were the first ones to adapt to mobile and today are simply the best in this regard,” she said.

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Image: A vendor waits for customers at a wholesale vegetable market on the outskirts of Jammu.
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Pawan Munjal, managing director and CEO of Hero Motocorp, said: “Competition is getting fierce with global brands competing in the domestic market and Indian companies going global.

Hero embraced the uncertainty by breaking its partnership with Honda.

“We did this in our drive to achieve global leadership on our own terms.

“Then followed the largest re-branding exercise ever for the company, showcasing 50 new offerings and providing a record five-year warranty for its products to customers. The company now plans to get 10 per cent of its business from outside India by 2017 by entering as many as 50 countries and reach 12 million annual sales by 2020.

“It would reach markets in 20 countries by the end of this year.”

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever Global, highlighted the need for companies to be more inclusive and sustainable when doing business.

“Every brand should be a net giver, not taker. It should have a social purpose,” he said to rapturous applause.


Image: A worker cleans a Tata Motors vehicle inside the company's showroom on the outskirts of Agartala.
Photographs: Jayanta Dey/Reuters

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