Journey of a 1000 miles!

Category: Leadership

Author : Amit Sarda, MD, Soulflower   LinkedIn Amit Sarda

When the Managing Director of one of the largest FMCG company of the planet invites you on a “spend the day with me in a different city” trip, your impulse is to travel with him and make the most of it in the best possible way. After all the most genuine form of kindness is giving time to someone. Who in today’s world would want to sacrifice precious 3 hours of their quiet time in order to (wherein one could get some shut eye or dwell in their thoughts) speak to another human being and make a connection? So I eagerly set out to spend the day with Mr. Sanjeev Mehta, M.D. Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) on a flight from Mumbai to Delhi. One hitch. I booked myself in business class and as you can predict where this is going, I flew economy with Mr. Mehta and one random lucky gentleman got to ride Jet Airways the Executive way. Made me wonder how an establishment like HUL drives its strategy through the power of economizing thereby achieving a connection with the masses.

When in retail, connect with your masses. You define the audience that you wish to interact with. But before beginning that precious connection, it is a must to incorporate the masses within your company policies. Travelling economy signifies the following: We are the masses. We connect with your way of life. We provide for your way of life. We are your way of life.

Mr. Mehta needs no introduction. Humble, visionary, grounded, experienced, meticulous, process driven, a nurturer, husband and a father, Mr. Mehta discussed businesses as tactical instruments rather than instruments to make money. He has resided across the world be it Africa, Middle East, Manila, Bangladesh and India and what really makes him tick: Colourful socks and jacket linings! While his demeanour is that of an iron fist running a tight ship, he does have a penchant for vibrant colours and it made me happy to connect with him more, perhaps on a personal level.

While we discussed soaps, shampoos, digital endeavours, departmentalization and compartmentalization of companies, we were actually on our way to Delhi to attend an inauguration function and to deliver a talk on the ‘Series of Inspiring Leaders’. He addressed IIFT students and interacted with the future leaders of our country. He invited me to join him on stage and participate with him. Did you know that while he was on his journey to become a leader, Mr. Mehta had actually spent a lot of time with consumers in their homes to know more about brands and people’s patterns? As a trained chartered accountant, he may be looking at growth numbers, because finding a new lifeline of customers is always happy news for any company but as a businessman and a visionary, he was more inclined to connect with his new found consumer base.

The key take away here really is that when in retail, you learn customer service skills and you hang on to those skills till your last day. Our belief at is something similar to this. We consider ourselves as customer custodians. We are for all intensive purposes custodians of our customer’s happiness levels through our services and products. What I also learned from Mr. Mehta was that he not only adheres to his company’s values, he also has zero tolerance for change in those values. So there is no place for #jugaad (quick fix) in his dictionary.

“Amit, it’s imperative we have a larger purpose. We need to showcase ethics to our employees.” This line stuck with me not because we have not been implementing this value, it is because we have to exponentially scale this value as Indian Retailers. Further elaborating on the same, he rocked my world somewhere over the Gujarat.

Mr. Mehta went on to say “The choice is between the easy wrong and the tough right”. Such simplicity is always a part of our subconscious minds however – to be at the highest level of a company that rakes in over 7 Billion Dollars a year, to be this cognizant of values and to be a commander is an explosive combination! I was yet again humbled in my economy chair, 35,000 feet high up in the air.

Our journey of 1000 miles was marked by colourful jacket linings, the power of being connected and the future of Indian Retail. As we concluded our day in Delhi and headed to the airport, I gathered how deeply sown the man is in terms of the ‘social impact’ he wants to create. Isn’t it wonderful how every brand manager of theirs thinks about the social impact of his/her brand on a larger scale before rolling out a product. Mr. Mehta believes that the force behind the success of his brands is that they beat the social impact before beating other businesses. How wonderful it is to see how intricately HUL has been woven into the fabric of the families of their consumers. Reminds me of his comment when we boarded the plane back to Mumbai that evening, “The purpose has to be really large”. One must look up their social initiatives such as Project Shakti to get a feel for their thread on the impacts their company creates in India.

#Innovation and Social Impact are possibly trending today in some way shape or form. As I descended to good old Mumbai, flashbacks of my day kept me smiling.

The biggest lesson of the day was my economy class seat. It resembled the person I wanted to reach out to with my values. It resembled the compact lives we all live. The seat personified the ‘aam janta’ (common man) of India who has no time for ‘jugaad’ (quick fix), but enjoys a sip of water from a perfectly sized plastic container with the perfectly scented hand towelette in a small square pack. It is the consumer of India that economizes on the rupee and enjoys the value a company like HUL brings to his life in mundane activities of his day. Then a new product idea struck me – Soulflower Aromatized Wet Tissues for that economy passenger.

I drove home with peace of mind and a personal connect with Mr. Mehta. Thank you would not be sufficient,I concluded. I decided not to take the easy way home. I had to pick the tough right!