In conversation with Harshvardhan Singh Chauhan, Group Business Strategist, Godrej
Please tell us about your professional & academic background. Can you also brief us about your role in your current organization?
Academically, I have done my Bachelors in Technology in Computer Science Engineering from Jaypee Institute of Information Technology (JIIT). Thereafter, I pursued a Masters in Business Administration in Marketing & Operations (minor) from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM).
While this constitutes the formal educational background, my interests have been diverse. Even post my Masters, I continued to study a plethora of subjects including Sociology, Psephology and Public Policy. Continuing the learning curve has helped me see a diverse and holistic perspective of not only the business positions at various vantage points, but also see the bigger picture in terms of its multi-disciplinary linkages. Subjects like Sociology, bring me closer to understanding the ever evolving societal dynamics, Public Policy & Economics enable to see how the same business positions align seamlessly in a multi-stakeholder ecosystem spread on a continuum of Developmental Perspective and Growth Aspirations. I believe for any Marketer, it always pays to discover the fine balance between being Creatively Radical versus being Rationally Cluttered. The point being, realizing the fact that while businesses thrive in a societal ecosystem, they also have the ability to outgrow the ecosystem – provided that they are able to sense and leverage the latent drivers. A multi-disciplinary approach thus helps in unraveling such drivers.
Professionally, I started my career as a Business Intelligence Consultant with Accenture. While consulting for a US Utilities & Energy major, I was instrumental in rendering business solutions from a technology standpoint. In my next stint with ITC Limited, I was able to leverage my strong consulting led process oriented foundation from Accenture days, which culminated in the implementation of a new Hybrid Order Booking Model (HOBS) for its packaged snack food category – BINGO. This stint was the foundation on which I built an appreciation for Product Strategy and got deep into Sales & Distribution Strategy.
Subsequently, the work on Product Strategy for Harpic – Home & Toilet Cleaning Category & the extensive market experience during the Unilever’s – Shopper Marketing stint made me market ready to take up bigger responsibilities in the days to come.
Post this is an enriching half a decade experience with Godrej, starting as a Trade Marketing Manager, responsible for the Regional Marketing & Brand Management function. Next stint was as a National Category Manager – Kitchen & Cooking Segment and New Product Innovation Categories.
Currently, I am working in a Business Strategy role – focused at Pricing, Operating Costs and Domestic & Overseas Schemes Management. As a Controller, the role is at the cutting edge of strategic & tactical business decision making and technology platform through Business Analytics & Systems, which seamlessly run across all Sales & Marketing Functions.
As a very practical application, I get involved in areas ranging from Product Pricing, to Category Profitability, to Channel Margins & Payouts, to administering Business Operating Costs and eventually tracking the Sales & Marketing function’s bottom line.
Can you describe what a typical day @ office is like?
A typical day at office starts by looking at the various Dashboards like Business Revenues, Gross Margins, Collection Figures, etc. While this provides a general trend of business across various Categories and Channels, it also gives insights about the performance across geographies.
The next thing that comes is addressing issues related to any price dissonance in the market. While we have implemented a streamlined Price Matrix Based System, still the market dynamics require constant evolution of Pricing Systems. Recent developments like predatory pricing by various e-commerce players keep us on a constant vigil, in order to ensure parity across channels is maintained and above all consumer interests are secured. Only to be emphasized here that Building a Brand is much more than curing inorganic revenue spikes.
This generally gets followed by meetings with various Category Managers to brainstorm new schemes and offers for consumers and our channel partners. Formulating these schemes keeping Business, Statutory & Legal Dimensions aligned involves co-ordination with our Finance & Legal Teams.
Besides discussions with various Channel Teams, including General Trade, Modern Trade, E-Commerce, Exports & Institution helps to understand and address various business issues.
Also, I keep a constant track of Business Operating Costs, Sales & Marketing Function Budgets, and Channel Payouts. As a controller, I need to ensure that the business functions are in tune with the Strategic Plan and also in sync with the changing market dynamics.
Besides, there is a constant focus at innovation to ensure that the organization is at the cutting edge of Business Analytics and Intelligence Technologies which enable all Sales & Marketing functions to address business problems in real time.
What are the factors you look at while devising an optimal business mix for your organization?
An optimal Business Mix balances between growth and profitability dimensions. While, Growth considerations focused at Market Share, Reach, Addressability, Net Realization, Channel Mix etc. levers ensure that Product Penetration and Market Off-take is optimum, Profitability considerations focused at Net Margins, Contribution Value, Channel & Category Contribution, etc. levers ensure that the Categories individually and eventually the business have a sustainable bottom line.
Here, constant innovation across Products, Channels, Systems & Processes cuts across both Growth & Profitability dimensions.
Such optimization takes place at Product, Category & eventually at Business levels.
At Category level, the Product Portfolio is optimized in such a way to drive Volume & Value simultaneously. Three threads run parallel, one to drive penetration & availability at low contribution, second to drive assortment for brand blocking at medium contribution, and the third one to drive innovation & premium pipeline at a higher contribution.
At Business Level, different Categories serve the same purpose to drive growth & profitability. Besides, Business considerations work on a long term plan (often a Strategic Business Plan for 10 years). The idea is to keep the business offerings relevant and functionally innovative for consumers, while consistently re-inventing New Spaces for vertical growth & Adjacent Spaces for Horizontal growth. Considerations of consistently moving up the value chain through Technology, People & Processes for a Sustainable and Socially Responsible Business form the cornerstones of such a plan.
How important is Business Analytics when it comes to being part of your strategic planning? What are some of the business analytic tools that you use?
Business Analytics form the heart of every business and renders life to any strategic planning effort. Analytics seamlessly connect multi-dimensional levers of Availability & Shares, Channel Mix, Pricing, Gross/Net Margins, People Impact, Innovation Index, etc. Besides, a long term trend, tactical patterns and at times even a vision for future gets emanated from analytical insights. Analytics now connect every part of the business right from Sales Management, Channel/Dealer Management, Pricing Systems, Credit Control, Inventory/Warehousing Management, to more complex dashboards and matrices like Branch/Region Profitability/Performance, Channel Partner Profitability/Impact on Business, Category Profit Pool, Industry wide Price/Product/Profit Index, to Multivariate Consumer Insights etc.
A Strategic Business Plan builds on a multidimensional platform – wherein it grows both top-down & bottom-up. Growth & Profitability visions of every region, channel partner, product line, category converge with the Strategic Business Vision. Analytics help in connecting these two threads, while ensuring practicability and aspirations are balanced.
Currently a BAAN cum INFOR based platform is used, aided by a custom development front-end suiting the business development precisely. To continuously adapt to changing industry & business dynamics a dedicated team facilitates real time development support.
You’ve worked across a variety of roles – from being a trade marketer to being a brand manager earlier. How diverse are all these roles and do they influence your thinking when devising a sound strategy for any business?
I believe all the roles have three major learning in common, one Being Entrepreneurially Collaborative – owning the business problem from the first day while letting others own their part of solution of the whole problem, second understanding the oft stated cliché called Leadership – which I see as part of Social Intelligence and third being Trans-disciplinary – which is connecting all your life learning and maneuvering swiftly amidst them.
These three things find a common connect in the roles that I have worked in. As a Trade Marketing & Regional Brand Manager, I was able to conceive & execute a marketing property within a fortnight of assuming the role, which became one of the best practices that year (the Key to Freedom Campaign), but not without the people who supported. Subsequently, managing a Marketing Budget for all ATL/BTL properties, I collaborated across Industries (for example with ITC- Kitchens of India, Catch Spices, Heinz,etc.) to find synergy in common properties while leveraging the Marketing Spend by as high as 4x Multiple. Some Properties conceptualized and executed single handedly like Kool – Summer Dreams Offer became one of the biggest Regional Co-Marketing Tie-ups that year – where a Kannada Block Buster Movie was seamlessly scripted, shot & promoted keeping the synergy with the brand and movie’s cinematic value intact – it’s impact can be gauged from the fact that the hero became much more popular as Godrej Ganesha in later times, while giving us around 3X Marketing Leverage Impact in PR, ATL & BTL combined. Most properties I developed were less as spend and more as a gain, as either Super Value Deals (example up to one-third media cost + 2 times impact through PR/Cross Media Collaboration + consumer engagement) and 360 engagement (multiple sequential touch-points for experiential consumer engagement).
The biggest learning here was to realize that marketing need not be a cost function and if your properties are good enough, people would pay/collaborate/co-market for a mutual leverage. While, business learning in this stint was tremendous, the art of Social Intelligence was etched in blood.
Next, working as a National Category Manger – Kitchen & Cooking and New Product Innovation Categories, I had the opportunity to reconcile my learning towards a more strategic viewpoint. While such a role, entails a direct P&L responsibility of the category, it also allows you to leverage the consumer insights that you have developed so far to innovate in New & Adjacent Spaces. The launch of India’s First Pizza & Kebab Maker was one such initiative. Being a Category Custodian, it’s like running a SBU, giving an all round perspective of managing the bottom line. This stint I sum up as the learning of being Entrepreneurially Collaborative, as it brings you in direct interface of Sourcing, Manufacturing, Marketing, Pricing & Selling your products.
Finally in the current role, learning is about being Trans-Disciplinary. The role as a Business Controller entails major aspects of managing any business including – Pricing, Channel, Schemes strategy & Operating Cost Management. The role entails interface with various teams- Marketing, Category Management, Sales, Commercial, Finance, Legal, Sourcing, Service & Operations. Understanding requirements and articulating solutions to varied business problems is an integral part of this role.
Conclusively, if I have to articulate the impact of the diversity & impact of these roles, I would connect back to the three learning’s, which I believe in an ideological but significant way impact any business strategy.
A Sound Business Strategy is about Being Entrepreneurially Collaborative, Developing Social Intelligence and Being Trans-disciplinary.
What personal skills are important for a business strategist?
This is where I connect all the dots again and sum up the personal skills as: one Being Entrepreneurially Collaborative – owning the business problem from the first day while letting others own their part of solution of the whole problem, second understanding the oft stated cliché called Leadership – which I see as part of Social Intelligence and third being Trans-disciplinary – which is connecting all your life’s learning and maneuvering swiftly amidst them.
One has to operate in a Multi-Stakeholder Ecosystem and look through from a Strategic aspect i.e. see a problem moving from one situation to another and evolving into another situation and eventually be able to find a competitively advantageous proposition from the problem for all stakeholders – from a financial, legal & statutory perspective. Strategy in its real sense is finding a unique & valuable position, and thus gets understood in such a role.
A Client-centric attitude with a Problem Solving, highly objective-analytical approach and Multi-disciplinary methodology surely yields a high performance.
About Harshvardhan Singh Chauhan:
Harshvardhan, a Professional Certified Marketer (PCM®) by American Marketing Association, is based out of Mumbai & currently works as Group Business Strategist with Godrej. Previously, he has successfully managed Kitchen & Cooking and New Product Innovations Category for Godrej – a leading Indian conglomerate.
Harshvardhan is an accomplished marketing professional having managed brands and achieved complex marketing objectives through a combination of Category Management, Brand Management, Trade Marketing, Product Marketing, Category Promotions, Retail Activations and Sales & Distribution. Harshvardhan has over half a decade of Business strategy focused marketing experience with Godrej and significant albeit small associations with ITC Foods, Unilever’s & Reckitt Benckiser.
While marketing has always been his interest and fascination, being an Engineering graduate, he started his career developing Business Intelligence systems for Accenture technology and consulting. He is an amateur script writer & actor dabbling in Avant-garde plays. He is also interested in Sociology and Psephology.