Week 1: Marico - Building a global FMCG powerhouse from India

In our new column, ‘26 Weeks of Business Inspirations’, Siddharth Banerjee distills inspiration on building businesses in India - across 2024.

By  Siddharth BanerjeeJan 25, 2024 9:37 AM
Week 1: Marico - Building a global FMCG powerhouse from India
A lovely case study in the book is about the launch of Saffola Zest as a snack food innovation based on the hypothesis that there was a significant market for healthy snacks for the heath concious consumer, writes Siddharth Banerjee.

Week 1 of 2024 was a fast start to the year, with both massive work and family commitments. In the first weekend of the year, I managed to read through (over successive cups of well-crafted cappuccinos at Fig – Malcha Marg), the very insightful story about the making of Marico from the book – Harsh Realities by Harsh Mariwala and Ram Charan. Given my foundational years at HUL / Unilever, I resonated with the book and found 5 key takeaways which I would like to pen down for anybody considering building businesses in India.

First point and one that summarises the Marico growth journey - As India becomes a playground for big, global brands coming in, the Marico story serves a good inspiration of several actions one can proactively take – from being a powerhouse on consumer insights to building a meritocratic culture to attract great talent and from building a robust, dynamic products & services portfolio to exemplary corporate governance with a strong board of directors. It is foresight and a ton of blood, sweat and tears which has made Marico the institution it is today.

Inspiration number two - Loved the story in the book about the faceoff of Marico’s Parachute with Hindustan Lever’s Nihar. What was interesting to note was the advice that Harsh got from Uday Kotak, to travel to Ahmedabad and meet Karsanbhai Patel, the founder of Nirma. The inspiration here is to seek help from likeminded people who might have traversed the same path earlier or fought a similar battle, especially so when you have a David v/s Goliath situation on your hands.

Inspiration three, and this is true as traditional businesses in India embrace change and business transformation. As Harsh Mariwala reminisces, “the change in thinking and approach, as it evolved, came in small incremental steps, hardly perceivable as it happened.” There is an important lesson for CEOs trying to drive change especially in family businesses about patience and the ability to put runs on the board slowly but surely, and not aim for only fours and sixers. It will be a Test match!

Lesson four was about taking risks, based on assumptions, and resilience, Not everything that Marico launched was a success story. I loved reading about the way Harsh Mariwala would explore categories, build a set of assumptions before launching a new product or a brand extension. A lovely case study in the book is about the launch of Saffola Zest as a snack food innovation based on the hypothesis that there was a significant market for healthy snacks for the heath concious consumer.

And finally inspiration number five was beyond business to building the ecosystem. It was interesting to read about Harsh conceptualising the peer-to-peer ASCENT platform to provide a forum for entrepreneurs to share their experiences and learnings with each other. While it is fairly common in today’s context to have support groups and communities, we are talking about 2012 when ASCENT was launched, with interventions like Trust Groups and Power-Up programs.

There were some interesting nuggets also, which were of interest to me as an avid trivia buff. The origins of Mariwala surname in the family trading pepper (pepper in Gujarati is mari) in its early years. Marico is the first Indian FMCG company to establish a business in Bangladesh. Marico played its role early in the start-up ecosystem in India with Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF) which seeded start-ups like Rivigo and Atomberg.

Here's to fortnightly inspirations & distillations across 2024. Would love to have you on the journey.

Siddharth Banerjee is a business leader and a well-regarded marketer across diverse industries. All views expressed are personal. In ‘26 Weeks of Business Inspirations’, Banerjee is distilling inspiration on building businesses in India - across 2024 - by engaging every fortnight with noted business leaders, insightful business books and key business events.

First Published on Jan 25, 2024 9:36 AM

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