Harish Manwani, Chairman, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), while addressing shareholders at the company’s 82nd Annual General Meeting held at Mumbai spoke about the imperative for companies to adopt an inclusive approach to serve and thrive in a country as diverse as India. He underlined the need for corporate India to be a part of the solution for the many challenges that lie ahead to reap the rewards of the India opportunity.
HUL – a part of the India growth story
In the speech titled ‘Serving Many Indias’, Manwani spoke about how HUL participated in India’s growth agenda over the years with the firm belief that ‘what is good for India is good for HUL’.
He spoke about how HUL’s growth and evolution has reflected the needs and development of India. He elaborated on how the company took the lead at critical junctures when the country needed the support of businesses to contribute to the national cause, be it its pioneering initiatives towards integrated rural development or manufacturing investments in backward areas as well as its renowned leadership and skills development programmes.
Manwani said, “At HUL, we have a simple model to ensure that we leverage the full opportunity that India presents by serving the many Indias within the country. This is essential for the long term growth of the Company and more importantly it also fulfils our commitment to contribute to India’s growth and development in an inclusive and sustainable manner.”
Serving many Indias
Manwani argued that serving many Indias essentially requires having a portfolio of brands that reach out to a wide section and ensuring that everyone has access to our brands - rich or poor. “Through our operations, we create a virtuous circle which benefits every geography of India, and we build talent both in terms of leadership as well as skills across the value chain of our operations,” he said.
Speaking about the need to serve diverse consumers, he said, “Our approach of developing innovations with consumer price as the starting point is at the heart of our inclusive innovation strategy.” He also spoke about how HUL’s extensive sales and distribution network helps the company reach diverse markets in India making its brands available in every single town and most villages in India. He spoke about how the company was leveraging technology to reach out to consumers in the most remote and media dark villages but at the same time engaging with the digital media savvy urban youth who are increasingly making their buying decisions online.
Speaking about the recently introduced operating framework ‘Winning in Many Indias’ (WiMi), he elaborated that this was a major organisational transformation that HUL embarked on with the underlying objective of winning in all parts of the business and across channels and geographies. Under this framework, HUL has segmented the market into 14 consumer clusters that are homogenous and added a fifth branch in Central India, an underpenetrated but high-potential region. “This model helps us serve our diverse consumer base in a more differentiated and relevant way across the country”, he said. He gave the example of how West Bengal enjoyed a higher concentration of consumers of premium beauty products. “This knowledge allows us to differentiate our marketing efforts in each of the regions and meet the needs of our consumers more effectively,” he added.
Serving diverse communities
Manwani spoke about how HUL’s wide manufacturing base of 30 factories across India has helped create industrial ecosystems and enhance livelihoods in the communities around them.
“Our wide manufacturing footprint has opened up unique opportunities to reach out to communities and build on our larger purpose, which is to make sustainable living commonplace,” he said. He spoke about ‘Prabhat’, a community development initiative running across HUL’s manufacturing units, which focuses on promoting health and hygiene, enhancing livelihoods and water conservation in and around HUL factories.
“HUL’s experience of developing the local ecosystems around its manufacturing units, offers a perspective on just how well the ‘Make in India’ agenda can be scaled across the country to make a difference,” he added.
Developing inclusive talent
Manwani spoke about the need for companies to have an inclusive people agenda to be able to successfully serve the many Indias. “Building ‘employable’ talent is key to securing the long-term socio-economic progress for India. This is an agenda that has to be addressed by the government as well as corporate India. We need to equip the youth with the required skills to enable them to reap the economic benefits of India’s development,” he said.
Manwani highlighted how HUL was endeavouring to develop skills and capabilities of people across its value chain, from the smallholder farmers to its suppliers, distributors and factory workers. He gave examples of various programmes that the company has taken up for capability building among factory workers. He cited the example of ‘Stepping into One’ programme that develops technical and leadership skills among shopfloor employees, providing them with career advancement opportunities into supervisory roles. “It is initiatives like these that help to drive our efforts to develop talent in an inclusive and sustainable manner,” he added.
Manwani also argued for the need for leaders who have the vision to understand the challenges and leverage the opportunities that a country as diverse and complex as India presents. “We need leaders who have a point of view on the future. We need leaders who can combine the right values and vision to drive inclusive growth so that we not only deliver sustainable growth but also serve the many Indias at the same time,” he said.
Serving India through sustainability
Manwani spoke about how the low human development index in India was a barrier for socio-economic progress which denied millions of people access to a decent standard of living. “Fundamental to inclusive growth and serving many Indias is providing the basic needs of health, hygiene, nutrition and a clean environment,” he said.
He spoke about how businesses, which work alongside the government to address social and environmental challenges, will thrive in the long term. “It is this belief that led us to launch the ambitious Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) in 2010 which aims to double the size of our business while decoupling our growth from our environmental impact and increasing our positive social impact. The USLP lies at the heart of our business model and is firmly embedded across every part of the organisation,” he said.
Manwani elaborated on the various social and environmental initiatives that HUL has taken up as a part of USLP and how these were helping address some of the basic challenges that India faces. Speaking about Lifebuoy’s behaviour change model for handwashing with soap to help prevent child mortality due to diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia, he said, “We have already helped over 60 million people through our various handwashing programmes. Last year, we entered into a partnership with Children Investment Fund Foundation and the Government of Bihar to promote handwashing behaviour change among children in Bihar. The main aim of the programme is to help prevent childhood illness and mortality. We piloted the programme in two districts of Bihar – Begusarai and Khagaria, reaching out to nearly one million people. We are scaling up this initiative and over the next three years, we expect to reach out to an additional 45 million people.”