She means business

Annie Samson
Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Sangeeta Talwar, said to be the first woman executive in Indian consumer goods industry, launched her book in Delhi recently. She talks about the corporate life, the book and more.

Sangeeta Talwar, who began her career as the first woman executive in India’s fast-moving consumer goods industry and has notched commendable achievements like helping to introduce noodles as a food category, says the fundamental approaches to building and growing an enduring brand continues to be unchanged.

Being obsessed with consumer wants, using strategies to deliver excellence in an innovative manner, daring to be different from the pack even when things are going right for you and developing a ‘fly vision’ — are among the key guiding principles to build extraordinary and enduring business, she says in a new book that was launched in New Delhi on Tuesday evening.

Drawing from her almost four decade-long first-hand experience of working in companies such as Nestle, Tata Tea (now Tata Global Beverages) and Mattel, she shares creative and strategic insights, especially for young people to grow and add value to their businesses.

The book
The trigger for writing the book The 2 Minute Revolution — The Art of Growing Businesses was the crisis in 2015, that threatened the survival of Maggi, the noodles brand of Nestle which had over a period of three decades, become beloved to many generations. The brand became mired in a controversy over its ingredients and packaging leading to a nationwide withdrawal of the product. It pulled through the crisis however.
“I remember on June 2, 2015, it felt that the rug was being pulled from under our feet. A brand that had meant so much to our lives was actually being destroyed, in a matter of 24 hours, mostly through the digital medium. As I was part of the company for a very long time, I thought there was a story worth telling and decided to step forward to do it,” Talwar said.

The tag line of the book ‘revolution’, says Talwar, signified both the food revolution that Maggi had created in India by birthing a new category of food, while being also a play on the word revolution itself. “…It is how I lived my corporate life. I was not branded a revolutionary leader because I wouldn’t revolt against my company but my thinking was revolutionary. I always challenged the status quo in whatever job I held and there are several examples of that in this book,” she says.

The journey
The management graduate from IIM Calcutta recalls her climb up the corporate ladder, growing from a greenhorn and moving up to the CXO level with stints across the culinary business, marketing, regional sales and human resources, holding positions of business head, director, vice president and strategic advisor at Nestle.

Now in her 60s, Talwar, who began her career in 1979 as the first ever woman in the management cadre of a leading multinational company, recounts the challenges of being a woman in sales in an era where there was no internet, no computers, no mobile phones, few landlines, no packaged food or drinking water and there was only one airline.

Among the various anecdotes peppering her book, Talwar recounts that it was hard for her as a sales manager, “travelling 26 days of the month, away from home, and living out of two small suitcases for almost a year.”
“…It was hard for me but I think it was hard for people around me as well to see a woman in senior sales position,” the author says.

Having a great strategy and a great commitment to succeed is also essential, she points out. She narrates the elation she felt when Tata Tea, where she joined as executive director in the year 2004 edged past competition to become the largest tea brand in the country and the largest brand in the world’s tea market, in terms of volume.

Not resting on the laurels, the company came up with the strategy to help grow the market for packaged tea as a whole, to appeal to a new section — the youth, for whom tea was, in general, something their mothers drank every morning and did not appeal to their ‘cool’ quotient. This was the genesis of the Jago Re campaign, one of the earliest social marketing campaigns of the country.

 “…Tata tea was suddenly warming up to become a medium of social awakening. Tea is meant to be rejuvenating and our campaign aimed to take tea from being a physically and emotionally revitalising experience to one that will challenge consumers to wake up to what is around them,” said Talwar.

Her philosophy
Being a firm believer of putting consumers at the centre of a brand’s universe, Talwar says brands should be consumer obsessed. “A good brand should outlive you and me …I would almost say that you should be consumer obsessed. What I mean by obsessed is that everything you do always makes sense to the poor guy at the end of the line who is buying your product — who spends that Rs 10 or 15 on your brand. I think it should be an enduring principle — how you run your business and I am sure you are going to enjoy it.”

Talwar also advocates developing a ‘fly vision’ — a 360 degree perspective vision of building and succeeding in a business. “I feel if you want to succeed in business, you need to develop a fly vision. New horizons emerge when you fly with the birds. You soar to 30,000 feet and at that height, the landscape changes and when new horizons emerge, that gives you the ability to give context on what your business is capable of,” she points out.

The corporate woman also talks about how to deal with setbacks in businesses. “Business is often a roller-coaster ride. You have to be prepared to hang in there on the way down or you simply cannot emerge on the other side… When you set the bar high, it is very important to learn to rebound and not let any turn of events hold down one’s spirit for too long,” she said.

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