Harsh Mariwala, Founder & Chairman, Marico Ltd, shared his words of wisdom in a webinar series, “Becoming The Best Version of Yourself”, hosted by Founder and Chairman, SOIL Institute of Management, Shri. Anil Sachdev. In this conversation, Mariwala highlighted the lessons he has learned over the years and spoke about the impact of COVID-19.
Emphasizing the importance of reinventing oneself, Mariwala said that it’s about trying different things, getting things done and influencing others. He recalls the time when he stepped down from his role of Marico’s Managing Director, a company he built from scratch, it was one of the most difficult decisions made by him, but he knew it was necessary for the organization. He added that in that moment, he wasn’t worried about what would happen to him, instead he was excited for the new experiences and new learnings coming his way.
Drawing upon his experiences at the company that fostered innovation, Mariwala said, “Whenever any of our innovation has succeeded, (many have failed too, which is okay) we have seen an impact on our top line and bottom line. It has led us into a market leadership position from a weaker player”.
He reckoned that it’s not only about succeeding, but also failures and learning from failures. This belief kept on being reinforced as they grew, with every success, hence, he wanted to make innovation a part of the organizational culture, ensuring that even if tomorrow if he wasn’t a part of the organization, innovation and experimentation would continue.
In 2003, innovation was not on the top of the agenda of corporate leaders, and he saw a huge opportunity for India’s growth journey and social journey- agri, health care, education, as there are immense possibilities in all these areas. That's how Marico Innovation Foundation came into being, as they wanted to talk about it at various levels. He realized that in a competitive environment they had to do something differently, that’s where he caught the trend before it became a fashion, or even relevant. Today, the Foundation provides a platform for brilliant minds to showcase their innovations, with 1000+ registrations, making for a great learning experience.
Sole effort on building entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs add a lot of value to stakeholders in our society, create jobs, but also struggle to grow, with sometimes being unable to find answers as to how to handle business. There wasn’t a network earlier, where they could communicate with each-other through a peer-to-peer support initiative. Mariwala took this initiative to conduct webinars - it provides a platform for all the entrepreneurs to connect and interact. This enables them to grow faster, with advice on key areas of concern for them, along with access to mentorship, which exposes these entrepreneurs to leading CEO’s.
It is important for an entrepreneur to identify what will succeed in the market, to have a proposition which is different, said Mariwala adding, “They cannot have a me too business proposition.”
They need to test it out among potential customers, and make the necessary changes, prototype it on a small scale, experiment it. “It’s important to have the right quality of talent which will help in executing the ideas and grow.”
“Entrepreneurs need to identify what gives them the joy beyond just building a business”. He urges entrepreneurs to identify the purpose in their life, identify a cause and give their time and energy to the cause.
Leadership during COVID-19
Mariwala stresses the importance of taking into account all stakeholders and not just your own self - it's about being conscious about what they are going through, to make them feel comfortable. As they say, “never waste a crisis, try and learn from it. Whether it is leadership style, business model, or portfolio products, or cost structure.”
He lays emphasis on 3 things - mindset of the employees, mindset of the associates and the mindset of consumers. “First and foremost, it’s imperative to understand the mindset of employees, which can happen through regular communication sessions.” During these trying times it is important to keep them and their families engaged, which in Marico was done through baking sessions, or sports sessions. “The key is, how can you be authentic, how can you be empathetic, how can you communicate in a manner so that gets people to believe you and makes them feel they are in the right hands”
According to Mariwala, understanding the consumers and their needs is also necessary. “As of now their need is health, immunity - so can you launch new products catering to those needs?”
A leader in his opinion should not be very autocratic, they should be someone who can build consensus, involve others; someone who is ambitious, has the energy, that energizes others, a burning desire to succeed, an ability to think differently, not afraid of failures and willing to take risks - to innovate and experiment.
A strong sense of consciousness, a fabric of the organization
In order to build this culture of consciousness in Marico, Mariwala spent the first 3-4 years involving people in driving the identified values, and strategizing how to reinforce them on a perpetual basis. He had to ensure that it happens in a structured manner. Generally in organizations, culture building happens through the Founders’ mindset, but at Marico he ensured to involve as many people as possible.
“Crafting values is very easy, but actually ensuring that you convert those values into a strong culture is the difficult part,” noted Mariwala. He went on to say that it’s about how to sustain the culture over longer periods of time. “Here HR plays a vital role - to ensure that the culture is maintained.” Every year at Marico, they conduct an annual survey on their values which is answered by all the employees. This helps in identifying the weaker scores, and that’s where HR steps in to work on improving the score.
He insisted that it’s important to maintain the culture not only among employees, but at the board level as well.
Mariwala emphasises on the importance of culture, values, innovation and the power of entrepreneurship. For him it is important to know about the purpose, it's important to contribute to society, to have the values of the organization engraved in such a manner that it has a long lasting impact. “It's about thinking differently, taking risks, innovating, and constantly reinventing oneself.”