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This article was first published 6 years ago  » Getahead » MUST READ: Harsh Mariwala's ADVICE for entrepreneurs

MUST READ: Harsh Mariwala's ADVICE for entrepreneurs

By Prasanna D Zore
December 20, 2017 09:39 IST
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Marico Chairman Harsh Mariwala shares his career lessons and success mantras.

Marico Chairman Harsh Mariwala

When Harsh Mariwala joined his family business in his college days in the early 1970s Marico was a Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million) commodity company.

More than four decades later, Marico with a market capitalisation of about Rs 40,000 crore (Rs 400 billion) has become a consumer product behemoth that sells everything from edible oils to skin care products to personal hygiene products.

As Marico's chairman, Mariwala, who has seen many ups and downs not only as a young entrepreneur but also after he established himself as a leader, shares his life and career lessons as an entrepreneur with 's Prasanna D Zore in an e-mail interview.

"Being an entrepreneur myself, I have gone through the cycle of building an enterprise and then scaling it. This journey of an entrepreneur is challenging; often times the journey of an entrepreneur can become a lonely one," Mariwala says in response to why he wanted to help other entrepreneurs through his ASCENT Foundation.

You were associated with Bombay Oil Industries, your family business, since your college days. When did you realise that you had to start up on your own?
What kind of challenges did you face then as a start-up and what was your vision then?

Since my early days, I have been passionate about consumer goods and the FMCG sector. I was clear from my initial days itself that I was keen to build my own company and work in my own business.

I was reluctant since then to take up a job. Since my family already had a business that was primarily in oil manufacturing, I joined my family business in my early 20s.

The industry back then was not as evolved as it is presently. The challenges back then were very different from what a company may face today.

The biggest challenge at that point of time was that companies back then were traditionally family businesses and not professionally-run organisations.

The starting point then was to work on a solution wherein we could evolve our business to a more professionally-led organisation.

The second challenge was the struggle to attract the right talent.

It was very important then as it is now, that one works with talent that is aligned to the same principles and vision as your company.

Lastly, there was a lack of training available as training was primarily on-the-field.

One had to meet and interact with thought leaders and industry experts on how one can learn various new techniques and implement these learnings into one's business.

The first 5 or 10 years must have been quite challenging as well as exciting.
Could you tell us about the ups and downs, about the roller-coaster ride you must have had as an entrepreneur?

The initial years of a start-up, or a new entrepreneurial journey, are always exciting, and so was mine.

This excitement is mainly due to the fact that the learning curve in these years is steep.

Entrepreneurs are offered multiple opportunities to learn and implement these learnings in their enterprises.

When we had just started out, we faced multiple challenges and yet enjoyed many victories.

When I started out, the industry and the consumer durables sector was a rather disorganised sector.

Distribution remained a key area that we needed to focus on. We also realised that while we were manufacturing and selling oils, if we focussed more on marketing, branding and packaging of the oil, our products would see a greater growth trajectory and the products would be more sustainable.

There were also talent-related issues, as I believe that attracting good talent for your business is always critical.

Of all the areas of running a successful business, these were our primary areas that we needed to concentrate on.

To address these areas, I started interacting with industry-specific leaders and consultants. These consultants specialise in different areas of businesses, say in HR or in marketing.

It was this interaction with these industry-specific consultants that gave me the knowledge and understanding on how different aspects of a business function.

Based on my interactions with experts, I was able to offer more concrete and viable solutions to address the challenges an early stage company would face.

All in all, yes, the journey of an entrepreneur especially in the early days is similar to a roller-coaster ride but it is important that with each passing phase to keep asking yourself: Are you creating a strong right to win for yourself?

If yes, then you are on the correct path.

You have proved yourself to be a great leader by building an enterprise as big and as popular as Marico.
What kind of leadership qualities do you look out for in the people you hire or hired during Marico's journey to greatness?

While looking to attract talent, it is important to partner with people who share the same vision as you do.

While looking to hire talent for your venture, it is important find people who have:

  • Strong sense of self-motivation: These individuals have an internal drive and motivation to begin and continue tasks without requiring any constant external prodding
  • A constant desire to improve themselves: Such individuals are always hungry to learn more, improve themselves and their work from time to time, which results in excellent standard and quality of work after a period of time
  • Willingness to explore new avenues: As future leaders, one should always look to explore newer avenues of knowledge, by say interacting with thought leaders or open to reading of newer subjects. Different perspectives help tremendously to drive growth and development in a business.
  • Innovation-focussed: I strongly believe that innovation leads to growth of a business. Individuals who are able to understand this and implement innovation in different stages of their journey can realise the power of change and reinvention in their businesses.

What inspired/motivated you to start the ASCENT Foundation? What is its primary charter and how is it helping blossoming of entrepreneurship and enterprises?

Being an entrepreneur myself, I have gone through the cycle of building an enterprise and then scaling it. This journey of an entrepreneur is challenging; often times the journey of an entrepreneur can become a lonely one.

Entrepreneurs need a platform, a sounding board, wherein they can confidently share their vision, ideas and growth plans in a trusted environment.

Entrepreneurs need other entrepreneurs who can resonate with such emotions and circumstances. These kind of platforms for entrepreneurs are difficult to find.

With my experience as an entrepreneur, who has built a company and scaled it, I fully understand the journey of an entrepreneur, with all its ups and downs, which is what led me to think of developing a peer-to-peer learning platform, which serves as not only a sounding board but also a knowledge-driven platform, wherein entrepreneurs are able to learn not from anybody else but from and within each other.

ASCENT is personally funded by me.

Through ASCENT, my aim is to influence a large number of entrepreneurs and enable scaling up in their growth journeys.

The peer-to-peer model is for entrepreneurs who have already established a sound business, but are looking to scale their businesses to the next level.

This platform is one where entrepreneurs discuss their concerns, growth plans, and challenges with one another -- not only professionally but also personally.

The idea behind this platform is to create an ecosystem wherein entrepreneurs empower each other implementing the principle of 'power of collective'.

What kind of human values do you cherish the most and what values inculcated by your parents in you, did you find helpful when you started your entrepreneurial journey?

Right from an early stage, I was reminded the importance of being well disciplined as discipline brings stability and structure to one's life.

As an entrepreneur, being disciplined will not only help in being stable but also help shoulder responsibility and most importantly respectful to oneself, colleagues and everyone around.

The other aspect, I feel that helped me in my formative years is being organised.

While it may seem almost as a forgettable aspect, being organised has immense benefits while starting one's entrepreneurial journey as entrepreneurs are effective and efficient.

Can you share a few life lessons and careers lessons you have learnt?

In the course of entrepreneurship and my journey as an entrepreneur, I have had several life lessons. Some of them are:

  • Embracing failures are just a way to learn. You know what they say -- sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. Try not to avoid failures, else you will never take risks.
  • Have a strong right to win: Do not adopt a 'me-to attitude'. Evaluate your product/offering carefully, which differentiates it from the rest. This is when you focus on creating the right to win.
  • Do not underestimate your competitor. Always gauge to see if what your contemporaries are offering and if there is a scope for you to better your offering.
  • Never take short-cuts: Short cuts are just a temporary solution to the larger problem. Get to the bottom of the problem and address the root cause. Short-cuts could have larger repercussions than one can imagine.

What would be your message to India's youth?

For all of India's youth who are foraying into their own ventures, I would say, don't look towards how a big established company is running their businesses and operations.

Instead focus on building your own strong business model, invest time, effort and resources in building a strong foundation.

Focus on offering products or services that will attract you your next set of clients. This is a period where you should concentrate on improving your strengths.

Create a strong Right to Win. Ask yourself if your product or service is offering value to the lives of the customers.

At an early stage, while processes are important, don't focus only on systems and processes, instead focus on being more hands-on and work towards differentiating yourself from your contemporaries.

Lastly, constantly seek learning and never give up on the zeal to explore more, innovate more and learn more.

Finally, can you tell us about your success mantras?

While I wouldn't say success mantra, the three things that have helped me greatly are:

  • Continuously striving towards innovation and improving myself and my product offering
  • A continuous need for learning
  • Focus on staying fit -- all reasons not to focus on physical health are just excuses
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Prasanna D Zore /