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Rediff.com  » Business » Believe in karma, keep doing right things, says new Marico MD

Believe in karma, keep doing right things, says new Marico MD

Last updated on: March 28, 2014 16:37 IST

Believe in karma, keep doing right things, says new Marico MD

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Sayantani Kar

The new MD and CEO of Marico, Saugata Gupta, rues the lack of time to go for his  beloved long walks on Carter Road, a swish promenade next to Bandra on the seafront in Mumbai.

However, it is not because he is finding heading one of India’s largest home-grown FMCG companies too hot to handle but because of a change in address of Marico’s headquarters which is now farther away from his home.

Business challenges such as dwindling discretionary spending and slowing sales don’t worry him. “Believe in karma, keep doing the right things, results will happen,” he says.

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Image: Marico is keen to sustain growth in sales across segments.
Photographs: Courtesy, Marico

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This seemingly ethereal world view seems to be paying off for Gupta. Marico has consistently grown at 19 per cent over the last five years while he has been the CEO. 

Part of it was because of the restructuring exercises that he undertook. He synergised resources such as portfolio and cost-management  of the company's international arm with its domestic business and followed it up with a string of acquisitions, both international and indigenous.

Marico is now present in categories ranging from health food to male grooming products and hair oil.

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Image: FMCG major Marico has sustained double digit growth in past five years.
Photographs: Courtesy, Marico

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Believe in karma, keep doing right things, says new Marico MD

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Gupta wants to ensure the scale in the company’s operations is not at the cost of innovation. In fact, he would like his people to take small risks when needed.  “I have to ensure that the best people are on the highest risk-innovation tasks. Only if we recognise them even for their failures, will they thrive,” he says.  

While encouraging innovation, Gupta also wants to speed up decision making. He hopes the change he brought in with his ‘bias for action’ plan would stand in good stead in ducking red-tape.

He says, “There was somewhere a feeling here that speed and excellence could not go hand in hand. But my ICICI Prudential stint (he was part of the first leadership team there) had made me aware of the need for speed and handling ambiguity.

The company’s aggression in investing in Myanmar, Vietnam and Bangladesh as opposed to standard Southeast Asian markets has been a result of such agility. “Those are markets of the future."

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Image: Marico faces stiff competition from other FMCG companies.
Photographs: Reuters

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Believe in karma, keep doing right things, says new Marico MD

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ICICI Prudential might have taught him about agility, but his first job at Cadbury, which he joined fresh out of IIM-Bangalore, gave him lasting friendships. Gupta counts the management trainee team at Cadbury, which included Anupam Dutta, a senior hand at Kellogg, and Partha Dattagupta, country manager at Swatch India,  as the closest friends he has made at work.

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Image: Marico constantly innovates to launch new products to beat competition.
Photographs: Courtesy, Marico

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Believe in karma, keep doing right things, says new Marico MD

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Gupta indeed has an impressive list of people he has worked with. Rajeev Bakshi, an ex-Pepsi hand who is now on the Marico board and the MD and VP of Metro Cash and Carry India, was his super-boss in Cadbury and is still a mentor.

Shikha Sharma, MD and CEO, Axis Bank, who was part of the team that floated ICICI Prudential recalls, “Saugata had great understanding of the consumer and knew how to communicate that. The most impressive trait was how he adapted to the life insurance industry from FMCG. I learnt a lot of marketing nuances from him.”

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Image: Maricao aims to reach out to semi-urban cities in India.
Photographs: Rediff

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However, Gupta’s stint at Marico isn’t without challenges. Marico’s promoter, Harsh Mariwala, who stepped down as managing director early this week, says he would have to scale up value-added segments. Marico has already gone into skincare with Parachute, breakfast oats with Saffola and integrated the Paras youth portfolio as its men’s grooming offerings.

“Each of our new categories needs investment and management bandwidth. We have a journey to make on our return on capital. There would be variants in these categories, but we won’t enter new categories in India in the next two-three years,” says Gupta.


Image: Marico will scale up its value-added segment.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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