SURESH NARAYANAN – Chairman & MD, NESTLE INDIA
Please describe your business to us in a few words.
Well, we are one of the leading food and beverage companies in the country. Nestle manufactures and sells some of India’s best known brands for 105 years. We are part of the Nestle Group worldwide which is the largest food and beverage maker and is a very diversified company. Our brands include Maggi, Nescafe, Kitkat, Milkmaid and Cerelac to name a few.
What is the big idea behind your business?
It is a sense of purpose to ensure consumers get healthy and nutritious food and beverage products across the globe and in India. To provide the highest quality of products at all times.
Obesity is clearly becoming an issue in India, where over 60% of the deaths are now reported to be because of non-communicable diseases. Issues relating to heart health, obesity, lungs and respiratory infections are the main causes of deaths. Nestle is well prepared to deal with the issue as globally the company invests more than $2bn annually on its research and product technology centres. The primary purpose of these centres is to work on key food ingredients in response to demand caused by lifestyle changes and nutritional requirements. Over the last couple of years, in some of our products we have made 30% to 40% reductions in the levels of salt, sodium and sugar.
In today’s business scenario, market volatility is a reality, your comments?
To me, the challenge of leadership in a volatile business environment is a very positive challenge. Volatility is here to stay – more volatile the World becomes, more opportunities arise for both companies and products. A leader who thinks the World will always be calm and serene, really needs to think again.We welcome competition because it expands the segment and also helps us to differentiate ourselves. It is good if more competitors are coming so long as they are able to expand and sustain it.
But, Nestle is not scared of doing business in India. On the contrary, the entire episode will help us come back stronger and all new projects are aimed at that. A crisis of that sort could have worked both ways. There are very few companies which have been tested, shaken, twisted or turned the way Nestle has been (in the past one year). We gained strength and confidence from that and Nestle will grow further.
We are now more focused on being a fast and flexible company, which can take such challenges head-on. Our decision-making takes less time and we can launch products faster.
You were sent here to steer Nestle out of trouble. Today, after Maggi relaunch, where does the brand stand?
What happened in the case of Maggi was most unfortunate, The company’s whole foundation is on food quality and safety, which was sadly questioned. During the crisis, I was personally very concerned about the future of Nestle here. Bringing back Maggi was the top priority that my team and I had. We have successfully done that. We could relaunch Maggi within days after the green signal, a testimony to how serious our people were about the brand. For us, the entire project was a tribute to the kind of equity Maggi has in the minds and hearts of consumers. Evident in that within four months, Maggi regained its leadership position in the market, with 51 per cent share in March. The new Nestle is a resurgent and a reinvigorated Nestle. We will rather look to the future than cry over it.
Nestle is a global leader in packaged water, chocolates, ice-creams and others but failed to play a dominant role here. Is it due to lack of interest in the Indian market?
That is not correct. In chocolates, for example, we are constrained by the environment here. Higher temperatures in India, compared to our bigger markets, restricts us from launching some of our leading brands. But, we are looking at bringing in some of our global products in wafers and tablets, with selective distribution in India. We already have a number of products lined up for the next five years and packaged water or ice-cream are not among them. We could reconsider, if the situation demands.
Amul, an Indian company has made tremendous progress with its products, your comments please.
Nestle is also present in India’s highly competitive dairy sector, which is dominated by large farmer cooperatives and their associated brands, such as Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation’s Amul brand. These cooperatives have strong customer loyalty and an assured supply of milk. Nestle’s strategy is to focus on value-added products, relying on nutrition and technology, such as UHT milk, dairy whiteners, chilled dairy products and milk-based nutritional products for children, who helped launch Nestle chilled dairy business in India in the early 2000s. We are not competing in the plain pouch milk segment or segments where clearly there are other people who can do a better job our standards of food quality and safety are fairly high.”
But Nestle still needs milk and India’s milk production is notoriously inefficient. Nestle collaborates with around 100,000 milk farmers in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, assisting them with cattle care and increase milk productivity.
What was your first paying job?
My first paying job was at Hindustan Lever in the year 1981 as a management trainee. My salary at that time was Rs. 1,100 and I was very very happy. I joined Nestle in 1999 and have been here for about 18 years.
Has there been a strategy behind your own career progression?
I have realized in life, things happen because of three things – First and foremost because of your own capabilities, own hardwork and initiative. Secondly, Luck also plays a big role – Being at the right place at the right time. And thirdly, support from your collegues, subordinates and bosses.
What would be your best business advice?
Take care of your people and the business will take care of itself.
What do you prefer to do in your leisure time?
In my free time, I love being with my wife and daughter, though she is oversees. I play a little bit of sport like cricket and a bit of golf when time permits. I also love reading books.
If you had to give a quote to the new generation of future leaders, what would it be?
The line that I like the most is by Harry Truman. He once said, “It is amazing what can be achieved if we do not care about who gets the credit “. That is definitely one quote which appeals to me the most.
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