Sanjay Kumar, CEO & MD, Elior India – India’s Transformational Leaders 2019
Over the years, my experience across different industry sectors such as Consumer Durables, Oil and Gas, Technology and Food services has tremendously impacted the decisions I make today.
My decision-making process has been largely influenced by a few key elements. To begin with, one must identify the type of the market, then go on to pinpoint the areas of operation in said market. Developing an understanding of the working of the organisation and its culture is vital. Next, a strategy should be created for marketing the product or service. One must also develop a keen understanding of the target audience, what they require, and then come up with a clear cut procedure on how to sell the product while keeping in mind the resource needs for both people and capital.
An accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?
My career revolves around driving two key business factors- turning around existing businesses, and setting up new businesses. Personally, I think convincing the Elior board to invest in India, and then being able to fully set up the business in India, is one of my proudest achievements. Since this was Elior’s first entry into India, I had to identify suitable acquisition targets. Most of these acquisitions were completed as scheduled and integration was planned as per the submissions to the shareholders.
Over the next 2 years, the business objectives required for the market entry was achieved. This is quite rare since it is difficult for large companies to achieve their market entry objectives in India due to the existence of various complexities. Therefore, given the difficult nature of the market, it was quite challenging to convince a 7 billion dollar French conglomerate company to invest in India through acquisition driven strategies, and then grow the business to meet the shareholders’ objectives and deliver the returns expected by them.
How do you integrate corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility as a part of your business strategies?
The Elior Group and I believe that corporate social responsibility in our business should be sustainable as well as a contributing factor to the society and the environment that we operate in. The key drivers for us in India has been to reduce food wastage and to ensure that the practices we follow in the process of procurement and production are the best in the country.
While our peers in the industry follow a different strategy when it comes to procuring agricultural produce, at Elior we follow sustainable methods to gather agricultural produce. In regard to reducing food wastage, we pride ourselves in having the technology and processes to monitor as well as consistently predict consumption levels that help reduce the wastage created due to improper planning and forecasting.
What has been your driving force or philosophy in life?
To give everything that you do, your best. So, if something unexpected happens, you won’t have to look back or think “I could have tried harder.”
What are the other philanthropic works you are involved in?
On a personal level, I support a very commendable and charitable organisation called Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It is involved with the education of poor children in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Success is the ability to cope with failure. I try to measure up to this by living through my failures just as I have been able to celebrate my successes.
We are constantly making things better faster smarter and less expensive. In other words, we strive to do more with less. Tell us about a recent project or solution that you have made that is smarter and faster or less expensive.
There are several initiatives being implemented in our enterprise in relevance to that category. Our entire human resource and attendance tracking system for four thousand employees are on a biometric system which is linked to a human resource management system. This allows us to process payroll without any human intervention or manual attendance keeping.
The second initiative that we have introduced is the first of its kind in the food services industry. We have developed our very own technology platform that allows our guests to view the menus online, make selections and place their orders. This has reduced confusion and order misplacements drastically. It also helps us understand consumer tastes and preferences better; allowing us to tailor our menus to suit the palate of different consumers and thereby reduce wastage.
Through this technology, we have been able to predict the amount of consumption more accurately. We can also create diverse menus digitally, which has enabled consistency in the recipes we create. This will also ensure that consumers get the value for the price they pay. In addition, this technology is linked to our backend inventory management system that enables us to reduce the likelihood of perishable items that we hold in the inventory.
What is the most significant aspect of leadership?
I think that the ability to deal with failure is the most important aspect for any leader. A leader has to accept that they cannot be right all the time.
Your perception of an empowered society, how far can your organisation contribute to the same?
An empowered society, to me, is one that recognises the rights of all its members. I think there is an evolution underway currently in the foodservice industry. An evolution in which more importance and recognition is being given to the rights of consumers, the rights of service providers and, most importantly, the rights to all those who help produce the raw materials. Farmers need to be respected and understood as a crucial part of the food production industry. They act as sustenance to the well-being of all the other aspects within the industry.
One thing that you want to change and one thing you want to retain in your industry
The one thing I would want to change in the industry is its attitude towards safety, which lacks in comparison to most other developing and developed markets.
The one thing I would wish to retain is the importance we give to fresh food. In India, we love to eat our food fresh. So, food continues to be made and consumed on the same day which drastically reduces our dependence on frozen food in comparison to the western world.
One thing you have to let go as an entrepreneur or leader?
Ans: The thought that “I have the ability to control all the events around me.”
Whom do you owe your success to?
Well, there is a list of leaders whom I looked up to right from the beginning.
To name a few- S.L Ghoklani, former managing director of Eureka Forbes, is somebody who I learned a lot from. Next would be Shell, who has an inspirational leader called Bruce Rosengarten. Then, there is Harry Brecklemans, who was one of my supervisors in a strategy driven endeavour I pursued in the recent past.
I dedicate my growth as a leader to Phillipe Salle, who was the previous CEO of Altran. I also owe it to my current supervisor – Phillipe Guillemot, Elior Group CEO whose extraordinary leadership in following and ensuring that the processes, the focus, and the governance is in line with the best organisations of the world.
The best thing about your job
Every day is different.
A message from you to all the future entrepreneur and leaders
The earlier you prepare for failure, the better are your chances of success.
About Sanjay Kumar MD and CEO of Elior India, a subsidiary of France based Elior Group and India’s largest standalone food services company.
With over 4000 employees, Elior India serves over 1.5 lakhs freshly prepared meals every day to Fortune 500 and Multinational companies. The company, under Sanjay’s leadership, has won 3 major awards – Most Innovative Product/Service of the Year by Indo-French Business Awards 2018, The Extraordinaire Brand by Brand Vision Summit, and Best Caterer of the Year by Asia Food Congress & Awards 2019. Sanjay is responsible for Elior’s entrance into the Indian market. He led the high-profile acquisition of Megabite Food Services and CRCL. His core expertise is in setting up new businesses and pushing multinational corporation market entries or expansions in India. In 6 years, he has completed 7 acquisitions, which includes a mix of asset deals, joint ventures, and share purchases in existing entities.
With an MBA in Marketing from IRMA, Sanjay started his career as a Management Trainee at Marico Industries Ltd., where he designed a commodity procurement system to save on sourcing costs. Prior to joining Elior, he was the MD and CEO of Altran Companies, India. He was responsible for growing the company, 4 successful acquisitions and for turning around the company from a loss-making enterprise to being one of the three most profitable companies within the group. Prior to Altran, Sanjay was a part of the Royal Dutch Shell Group for over 18 years. He was also a member of the Global Leadership Team that reported to the CEO and board of Royal Dutch Shell.