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Why HUL's Harish Manwani thinks Digitisation is dramatically altering consumer habits

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Why HUL's Harish Manwani thinks Digitisation is dramatically altering consumer habits

Harish Manwani, Chairman, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), while addressing shareholders at the company’s 83rd Annual General Meeting held at Mumbai today spoke about three mega trends – digitization, the imperative for sustainability and a changing world economic order – and how they have profound impact on shaping the new world.

A defining moment

In the speech titled ‘Building a Global Enterprise’,  Manwani said that India stands at a defining moment in its journey to take its rightful place in the world economic order. According toManwani, this new world presents a momentous opportunity for Indian businesses to expand their footprint globally and build truly world-class enterprises.

He explained, “A close examination of the characteristics that help global organisations such as Unilever and others to thrive, presents important learnings on how to build global enterprises which are successful and relevant.”

Building a global enterprise

 Manwani spoke about how Indian businesses have built a formidable presence domestically and urged that they must now strengthen their footprint globally to build truly world-class enterprises that are capable of competing with the best.

Globally leveraged locally relevant

Manwani spoke about the paradox that defines this age of global connectedness. “While trends are gaining global scale and significance, consumers are becoming more rooted in their local cultures and identities,” he said.

He emphasised the need for businesses to combine global capabilities and Research & Development (R&D) expertise with local consumer insights. Citing the example of Unilever he spoke about how the company understands the needs and preferences of local consumers and leverages its global R&D expertise to customise solutions that best fit the local market.

Manwani cautioned against the tendency of companies to become either ‘mindlessly global’ or ‘hopelessly local’. He elaborated that while managing multi-country operations, businesses should strike the right balance between seeking international leverage in terms of innovation and R&D with local relevance for meeting consumer needs and aspirations.

Organising to win

Speaking about the importance of organizational agility in building global enterprises, Manwani said, “In an increasingly connected world and volatile environment, speed is the currency”. He spoke about the need for companies to empower local markets to focus on consumers and customers while driving product innovation and functional excellence globally.

  Manwani said that to be a truly global enterprise, businesses need to balance global leverage with local relevance, build an organisation that is diverse and agile, and embrace technology to serve the fast-changing needs of consumers everywhere.

Everyday great execution (EDGE)

 Manwani spoke about the need for businesses to make strategic choices on portfolio and markets as they expand to multiple countries. “It is the ability to rapidly convert strategy into action and plans into ‘P&L’ across each of the markets that makes enterprises successful globally,” he said.

Speaking about the need for organizations to have a sharp focus on 'everyday great execution' in every single market, he clarified that while there are global organisations, there are no global consumers. “Multi-country enterprises use the might of their global capabilities and scale, and combine that with the most effective ‘route-to-market’ to meet the needs of local consumers,” he said.

Serving digital age consumers

 Manwani spoke about how digitisation is changing dramatically what consumers watch and where consumers buy. “The ability of global organisations to leverage new digital capabilities and roll them out rapidly across markets is an important aspect of winning in this new digital world,” he said.

He elaborated on the various initiatives that Unilever and HUL are taking to leverage the emerging business opportunities with digital media becoming ubiquitous and the fast growth of E-Commerce. “Unilever has been investing in building world-class organisational capabilities to ensure that its brand portfolio enjoys a fair share in this emerging channel. A global network of teams has been created to test and rapidly roll out different models of servicing the e-commerce channel in a variety of markets including India,” he said.

Diversity of talent

Speaking about the importance of talent in building successful global enterprises, Manwani emphasized the importance of diversity of talent. “In order to compete in this connected and networked world, companies need talent that has international experience and importantly a global mindset,” he said.

He spoke about how Unilever attracts, develops and deploys some of the best talent globally. “In fact, the Unilever ‘top 100’ team has as many as 25 nationalities, making it perhaps one of the most diverse management leadership groups in any company,” he said. He also referred to how HUL has emerged as the CEO factory in India and its importance as a key talent pool for senior managers within Unilever.

Purpose-driven and values-led leadership

Speaking about the need for companies to build a strong reputation and foster trust with the local communities, he emphasized on the need for purpose-driven and values-led leadership.

“The ultimate glue that holds an organisation together is not just operating manuals, but a common purpose and shared values,” he said. Manwani spoke about Unilever’s purpose of ‘making sustainable living commonplace’ and the values of integrity, responsibility, respect and pioneering. He elaborated that the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), launched in 2010, is Unilever’s blueprint for sustainable growth. He spoke about the various initiatives that HUL has taken up in India to achieve the goals and commitments made as part of USLP.  Manwani urged companies to adopt the model of responsible growth and go beyond mere compliance to laws and regulations in order to be successful in a world where societal trust in business is eroding.

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