ANUJ PODDAR, Executive Director, Bajaj Electricals, always expected to run a business of his own, as is the default in a Marwari family. But life had other plans, and his entrepreneurial background only complemented his knack for strategic thinking as he went about working at companies such as Arthur Andersen and Viacom18. In the last three years at Bajaj Electricals, he has brought about a turnaround of the business as well as a change in thinking within the organisation, and says while the focus is on driving revenue growth, it still remains a constantly evolving ‘company in transformation’
BY SRABANA LAHIRI
Through your work across multiple industries - consumer, media, financial services, IT & ITeS, etc. - in different geographies, what are the experiences that have gone on to become big marketing lessons?
The most significant marketing lesson that I have repeatedly learnt is the importance of being very clear about your TG (Target Group), your brand’s purpose in their lives and the need to hold firm to that. It is an obvious and basic marketing lesson, but necessary to keep re-asserting as the pressure and temptation to stray from that and be opportunistic is immense. I have experienced this consistently through the content offerings and channel positioning over the years for Colors (the Hindi GEC), Colors international feeds (for US, UK, etc.), Colors regional channels (Marathi, Bangla, Gujarati, etc.), MTV and Nick. My tenure of managing Colors international and regional channels was a defining one for me in terms of gaining strategic experience and hands-on learning. These channels operate under the shadow of much more prominent and popular channels (Hindi channels in India and local mainstream channels internationally). Their ability to exist and grow against these larger channels is a function of finding purpose and staying true to the brand’s ethos. Nick is a great example of staying close to brand purpose and hence being a long-term performer.
What have been the highlights of the last three years at Bajaj Electricals for you? What are the opportunities you see ahead as a company?
The three years now feel like an eternity – from where we were, the issues at the top of my agenda then, compared to where we are now. I would summarise it to say that in these three years, we have come a long way not just in terms of the turnaround of our business and financial performance, but more importantly in terms of the organisation that we are today. Our workplace culture, agility, the quality of our thinking and discussions within the company, the focus and purpose, our collaborative teamwork, our aggression – all of these have dramatically changed. The credit for this pivot and growth goes to the entire team as it is seldom easy to deal with change. That said, we have a lot more to achieve on all fronts, to be where we intend to be. The external environment will always present great opportunities and unexpected challenges/constraints. Our sole focus is on being a best-in-class organisation driven by vision, alignment of purpose and excellent execution.
How do you assess the start of the festive season - is it sluggish or picking up pace? What is your outlook for Bajaj Electricals this quarter and next?
Unlike last year, this year has not only recuperated but is also showing signs of early recovery for the sector. At the company level, Q3 has always been the best season for us and has traditionally been a reason for celebration at Bajaj Electricals as well. The sales numbers go up, there are new innovative launches and the marketing department is in full action. Keeping the consumer at the core, we have launched new products with innovative features in LEDs, mixer grinders and water-heaters. These have witnessed great traction. To meet the market demand, we have ramped up our distribution network, both retail and e-commerce and it is helping us.
The festive season sales are reflected in our quarterly numbers and so we are optimistic about the third quarter. By the end of fourth quarter, the economy will be poised well and with augmented consumer’s spending power, we are assured of significant growth. Our sister brands; Morphy Richards and Nirlep too show positive signs.
From a marketing perspective, how different will your approach be now, compared to the traditional/previous years?
Not just marketing, but from overall business point of view, the pandemic has taught us all lessons on human values. Being a trustworthy brand aimed at providing solutions, we have designed products which offer comfort and make day-to-day chores easier. We see room for increased market-share with our innovative and buzz-worthy products. We are continuously evolving our marketing strategy according to consumer behaviour and revisions in needs of the market. We are also not shying away from spending on driving demand, and have spent more on advertising and promotions in the last quarter. Going ahead too, our marketing strategy would have a larger narrative but targeted on a quarter-to-quarter basis performance to support growth.
Last year, you had decided to go slow on new EPC projects, especially last mile power distribution work like rural electrification. How did that work out and what are some of the talking points in the EPC segment of Bajaj Electricals now?
The go-slow on new projects was a decision not made out of choice, but out of necessity. Traditionally, we would take on several projects but were less anchored on execution and closure. As a result, we had many projects open and ongoing for several years. Hence, we decided to shift our energies and focus towards project execution and completion rather than just adding new projects. This shift in core thinking and understanding has helped improve our performance. In future, we have decided to be more rational about projects.
Earlier this year, you signed a logistics optimisation and outsourcing arrangement with Mahindra Logistics Ltd. What do you expect from it? What other strategic initiatives are in the pipeline?
As a company, we are not and will never be at the cutting edge of logistics expertise – based on adopting the latest technologies, evolving global best practices, and the benefits of scale that can impact the metrics around logistics. That is the job and raison d’être of specialist logistics companies such as Mahindra Logistics Limited. So, a partnership model with them is meant to provide strategic advantages to Bajaj Electricals, apart from the obvious savings on our overall logistics costs.
There are always several strategic initiatives in the pipeline. But like I often joke: if I tell you those, I would have to shoot you!
What next from Bajaj Electricals? What is the outlook for FY21-22 vis a vis revenue and market-share? What are the goals you have set in terms of growth and expansion?
FY21-22 remains a challenging year with the second pandemic wave and unprecedented rise in commodity prices. So, our short-term focus remains to continue to drive revenue growth over the previous year while protecting our margins. As for our long-term goals, we remain a company in transformation – we have many aspects that we are continuing to address structurally and improve, particularly at our back-end of procurement, manufacturing, product costings, etc., and also our adoption of technology.
Your LinkedIn bio says “a blend of (Marwari) entrepreneurial/ business smarts with extensive professional experience”… please take us through your growing up years and evolution as a marketer. Did any early experience have a profound impact on your career?
I grew up in a Marwari business family with almost all my relatives in business – ranging from small businessmen to leading industrialists. By default, one is exposed to and imbibes a strong business and entrepreneurial culture. I always visualised myself as being in business, though not necessarily my father’s business. In the mid-90s, when I started working with Arthur Andersen (my first job), I was amongst the very few in my extended family holding a job. I imagined it as a short 2-3-year stint, post which I would find my way into my own business. But a lot of credit goes to Arthur Andersen for making me the professional that I am today. It changed my worldview in many ways as the firm was obsessive about professional excellence and challenging its people. My stint there groomed me in thinking laterally and also adapting to different sectors and situations. While that gave me a very solid footing in financial and strategic thinking, the exposure to marketing, consumers and brands came via my years at Viacom18. It was a different world for me initially, but over time, I realised that if you are willing to soak in and absorb, you can learn a lot. I was fortunate to have spent years in an organisation where we built and evolved an enviable portfolio of powerful brands and worked alongside colleagues who are much more brilliant marketers than me. What I truly value now is that combination of business smarts with what I would call reasonable marketing understanding.
What is one motto that you believe in strongly and follow in life?
I live by the adage: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." – J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
‘I HAVE A PASSION FOR GOOD AESTHETICS’
“I have many passions in life, and most of them revolve around good aesthetics. I spend a lot of time browsing and soaking in beautiful photography, design work, furniture and architectural design, and beautiful natural landscapes. A personal ambition would be to retire early and closely pursue these interests,” says Anuj Poddar.