Turning Problems into Solutions and The Story of Blue Riband Duet Gin

[Featured Image by Amy Gizienski under Creative Commons]

In his 7th Founding Fuel Episode on New Rules of Business, Rajesh Srivastava tells us how to turn problems into solutions. He draws upon a very personal experience to convince us. This is the story of the birth of the Blue Riband Duet Gin. Watch the video below to know more. You can also follow the note below the video.

 

(Watch all previous episodes in this series here)

 

” Let me share a strategy that can help you achieve new and profitable revenue streams, at near zero cost.

It involves framing the right question—one that is ambitious in scope, challenges thestatus quo of the industry and is framed to reduce or eliminate the pain points faced by an enterprise or industry.

How can merely framing the right question lead to prosperity, you ask?

Let me take each promise and present examples of enterprises that have benefited by pursuing this strategy.

1. Improve bottom line and identify new revenue streams

Low-cost carriers (LCCs) operate on wafer-thin margins causing them to perpetually oscillate between profit and loss and often, more loss than profit. This is a major pain point of the industry. To bolster these thin margins, wasteful costs were done away with. The pain point was reduced but not eliminated. The industry denizens then decided to relook at cost from a new lens to bring it down further. They embraced the strategy that I have recommended and framed an ambitious question, which challenged the industry status quo: How can we convert cost to revenue?

They began to review all elements classified under cost. A recurring cost, refreshments served to passengers, was challenged: How can we convert refreshment, a cost, to revenue? The answer was self-evident. Do not serve it free; sell it on board.

Having tasted success, LCCs were encouraged to frame another ambitious question that  challenged the status quo of the industry: How can non-revenue elements be converted to profitable revenue streams?

This led them to identify non-revenue elements: aisle seats, boarding priorities, empty spaces outside and in the aircraft that could be offered to advertisers.

Each element was critically examined by reframing the question more specifically:How can non-revenue elements—aisle seats and boarding priority—get converted into revenue streams?

Again, the answer was self-evident: charge passengers for these premium services. And they did.

The solutions that emerged by framing the right question have  decreased the pain points of the industry. It increased revenue and simultaneously decreased costs, resulting in an improved bottom line.

2. Create revolutionary new business models that can catapult an enterprise into the Fortune 500 list.

Let me introduce Michael, a University of Texas (Austin) student, who, like others of his ilk, faced a problem that caused them severe pain. In the 1980s desktop computers were introduced. But they were expensive. Students who could not afford to buy branded desktops, bought individual components and assembled them. Michael took a similar path to avoid the pain point. Being mindful, he realized that when he bought the individual components and assembled them, the cost of the assembled PC was significantly lower. This prompted him to frame an ambitious question that challenged the status quo of the industry: Why should a computer cost 5x the sum of its parts?

Seeking to answer this question gave birth to a revolutionary business model—assembling computers and marketing them over the internet. The company would start the assembly after receiving an advance and the assembled computer would be dispatched only when the full payment was received. This ensured that there was no ‘bad’ debt. Also, by collecting money in advance, it had negative working capital. The world now knows the product of this revolutionary business model as Dell computers. Dell went on to become a dominant technology company and muscled its way into the prestigious Fortune 500 list.

3. Creating blue ocean products that can give an enterprise a competitive advantage.

If you are single and working in a metro, you probably skip breakfast because you are getting late for office. Although you may want to have your breakfast on the move, egg or milk and cornflakes or paratha-sabzi are inconvenient and messy to carry.

Mindful people recognized this pain point and put the strategy I recommended into practice to created a blue ocean product. They asked: How can we create a meal for people who are challenged for time, which can be conveniently carried in a pocket or purse and can be had on the move?

This led to the launch of the energy bar, which like a regular breakfast or meal contained cereals and other high-energy foods. It reduced the pain point of the target market and created a blue ocean product that became very popular.

I hope I have convinced you about the importance of asking the right question. Pursuing this strategy will help you identify untapped business opportunities, overcome intractable business problems and give your enterprise a competitive advantage.

Now let’s address another question that must be bothering you: How can I become competent at framing ambitious questions that challenge the status quo?

By keeping in mind the following rules of thumb:

1. Feel the pain of your enterprise. And having experienced it, frame a question that is so ambitions that the solution will eliminate the pain from the root.

2. Disregard the existing rules of the industry. Usually, the existing rules of the industry perpetuate the pain-causing problem. Hence do not be influenced or guided by them.

3. Follow experts’ advice with caution. Do not accept an expert’s advice blindly. It has been statistically proven that there is marginal difference in the accuracy of predictions made by an expert and a layperson. It may not be out of place to say that an expert is akin to a hammer to which every problem appears to be a nail. Moreover, if experts had a solution, the problem would have already been resolved.

4. Do not fall victim to ‘learnt helplessness’ syndrome. Just because you may have failed in the past does not mean that you will fail in the future too. Start every effort with confidence, without permitting the weight of past failures to demoralize you. Be positive and confident.

5. Be observant of things around you. Observe how other industries have resolved intractable problems. Seek inspiration from them. And attempt to bring the best practices of other enterprises/industries to yours.

6. Become childlike when framing the question. All of us were at our creative best as children. In a child’s world the word ‘impossible’ does not exist. Be childlike to arrive at creative, audacious solutions to industry pain points.

7. Courage of conviction. Have strong conviction to frame a questions that is so bold that their solution isn’t incremental but transformational. It should change the contour of the industry.

Did I follow the process that I am so strongly advocating to you and succeed?

Indeed yes, by growing an existing enterprise at a faster clip and improving net profit margin too.

In the 1990s, during my stint at the UB Group, the gin segment contributed a measly 4 percent to the alcoholic beverage market and was growing at a sluggish 4 percent per annum, while the rest of the industry was growing in double digits. Compared to whisky, an equivalent brand of gin commanded lower price. Within the gin segment, UB Group’s Blue Riband Gin had a dominant market share. The business problem faced by us was to grow the gin market at a faster clip and also command a higher price premium, which would result in improved net profit margins.

To achieve these business objectives, we embraced the strategy I have so passionately advocated. We decided to frame the right question by identifying the existing pain point of gin drinkers.

In India, just as whisky is usually had mixed with water, we found that 76 percent of gin drinkers have it with lime-juice cordial (LJC). So, when the mood sets in, gin drinkers search for LJC for mixing with gin. Here they encounter either one or all of three problems: the LJC is over because the children of the house have made sarbetand finished it; because the LJC bottle’s cap was not properly closed, fungus has set in and it has become spoilt; LJC was over and it was not replenished.

Because of non-availability of LJC, gin drinkers could not have their drink. This was the pain point of gin drinkers.

Having understood the pain point, we decided to frame an ambitions question addressed to ourselves, which challenged the industry status quo: What can we do to make sure that LJC never gets over for gin drinkers?

The answer was self-evident: create a gin where gin and lime are pre-mixed to perfection. The product we created was called Blue Riband Duet and was launched at a more premium price than Blue Riband Gin, the market leader. Blue Riband Duet was a blue ocean product and gave momentum to the gin market. It started growing at a faster clip. And the higher price improved the net profit margin.

When you become an expert in framing the right question you will witness that transformational solutions become self-evident. Result: your intractable business problems melt away and in the process open up new business opportunities.

 

(Reproduced with permission from Founding Fuel Publishing Pvt Ltd. This episode is part of a special weekly show The New Rules of Business, hosted by business strategist Rajesh Srivastava for Founding Fuel, a new generation digital media and learning platform for the entrepreneurial community. Rajesh has a related column with every episode, which can be accessed here)

 

 

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An IIM Bangalore Alum’s Journey With Marico – #TheFMCGLIfe

Eric Maisel, an American Psychotherapist, Author, Teacher and Coach once said, “We have enough experiences in a day to make art for a decade.”

What kind of experiences would a person have, who has worked with a company for over a decade? Well, they may or may not have the ability to turn their experiences into art, but surely their experiences elevate their work to the level of art. This week, we interview Avik Chatterjee who has been with Marico for over ten years.

Avik is an IIM Bangalore alumnus and currently working as a Group Product Head in Marico. This interview will give you a peek into everything you need to know about FMCG Life at Marico, covering his journey from Sales to Marketing and what all encompasses a transition from a Management Trainee to a Group Product Head in a span of ten years.

 

Avik photo4

 

Could you throw some light on the ‘Young Board’ (or the ‘Shadow Board’) – a unique initiative at Marico that you’re a part of?

The members of the young board give ideas to the actual board of the company with respect to two things. First, we work on ideas around new businesses that Marico could look at in the future. Second, we give inputs on how to enhance the culture at Marico – in terms of careers, challenging roles at work, experience with supervisors and everything which enhances the experience of working with Marico and making it a better place to work.  The whole idea stems from the fact that the board members are fairly senior and we, as shadow board members, being younger, can give a fresh perspective to both the issues at hand.

Largely, it is a cross-functional team of people that work together as a young board. So, for example, the board I’m a part of, has people from Manufacturing, R&D, Sales, International Business, etc. The idea is to have people with diverse experiences and expertise come together so that they bring different points of view to the table, resulting in ideas that are much richer.

It’s a new and creative way of working. Till date, what we’ve done is, we’ve given some ideas for new businesses and culture enhancement at Marico and prototyped these ideas. So, this is the value the organization derives from this concept. Once the ideas are prototyped, we figure out which of these work and finally scale them up. The Young Board is a small group of people who are actually empowered to bring about change through the kind of ideas they bring in and their ability to implement them.

 

In 2007 you joined Marico. 10 years later you lead Saffola Foods – one of Marico’s most recognizable food brands. How does it feel?

I joined Marico in 2007 and since then I have moved through two functions – first sales and now marketing. In marketing, I started off as a brand manager. In Marico, you are given responsibilities very early on. It may take you years to get the same opportunities in other organizations. Marico is structured to provide its members maximum growth professionally. I started handling the brand Saffola at an early stage in my career. Every stage is designed to challenge you and is an opportunity in itself. It, of course, comes with a lot of responsibilities but the best part is the freedom to take your own decisions, building and consolidating the brand and charting out how Marico should operate in the category in the future.

Avik Chatterjee-marico-insideiim

 

 

You cut your teeth in Sales before you switched to Marketing within Marico. How important is it for a brand manager to have sales experience? Do you think it has made you a better brand manager?

Even when I was interviewing on campus, I was very clear that I wanted to pursue sales and then move to marketing. The thing is that when you’re just getting out of a business school or any college, you don’t have a sense of how the business really operates. What sales does is, it lays it out there for you and helps you absorb the basics of the business. My sales experience at Marico holds a significant place in my professional journey as it helped me hone skills that I would later require during my stint as a brand manager. The work one does as a brand manager is also something that translates into business. If you don’t understand the basics of the business, you cannot plan or foresee upcoming trends as a brand manager. A sales stint helps you with these aspects and hence to become a better brand manager.

 

As per our data, an average b-school graduate switches and works in 3-4 organizations during a 10 year period. What made you stick with Marico for an entire decade?

Marico gives responsibilities to its members early on. At any point in your career at Marico, the role you would be given would be far richer in terms of responsibilities than what some of your peers in other organizations would be doing. The scope of the role that you have at Marico is far larger.  At an Indian multinational like Marico, the India business is the primary stakeholder in our brands, hence there are no brand guidelines or communication platforms handed over by a regional or global development center. The teams have a high level of autonomy and hence the responsibility to create and define brands, develop communication platforms from scratch and even roll them out through 360 degree campaign touch points.  The culture at Marico allows you to take your own decisions; you are encouraged to express your opinion to people, even those who are far more senior in the system. What this does is that it enhances the way you feel about yourself and your contribution to the company, the company’s growth and the brand that you are working on. All of this makes you feel like you are really valued in the whole setup. Also, since it is a highly meritocratic system, if you do well, you are bound to be recognized. As an organization, we are open, innovative & agile and a lot of the conceptualization and decision-making is inevitably done by people who are not so senior in the organization. This helps Marico move faster than companies that have a bureaucratic culture.

One instance that comes to my mind that highlights the dynamic nature of Marico is, when I started working on the brand, I realized that the environment had changed significantly. There was this whole advent of olive oil and other premier oils from various countries which compromised what people perceived and said about Saffola. I remember that in the first 3-6 months, there was an opportunity to work on the entire business communication strategy which Saffola had been following over the past 50 years. We launched new variants to counter the effects of the competition in the market. Making changes in something as important as a communication strategy, so rapidly, was a significant change and a remarkable thing. Such changes take years to happen in other organizations but at Marico, people are very responsive to change and as a young brand manager you’re allowed to facilitate such changes.  

 

Any message for the Class of 2017 graduating in a few months?

A lot of students these days know which sector they want to work in and the kind of work they’ll enjoy more, which I think is great. It’s very important to know what it is that you want and find a job that you really like, instead of just ‘going with the flow’. The first few years of work life are the best in terms of getting a varied exposure and figuring out whether you want to pursue a particular sector or company for a longer period of time.

Embrace diverse challenges. Make the most of these early days of your work life which are the foundations of a happy and fulfilling career.

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Of FMCG Operations, Marico And More – #TheFMCGLife

 

FMCG is considered to be one of the most preferred sectors to build a career in. Having said that, have you ever wondered what the life of a person working in an FMCG company looks like and what makes it a unique sector to work in? So, the members of Marico Ltd. have answered these questions and more in our series called the #TheFMCGLife. Experience FMCG life the Marico way.  

This week we talk to Nirlay, who has been a part of Marico for over 6 years. Nirlay is currently working as the Head – Procurement for Non-Agri, Packing Materials and Food. He joined Marico in the year 2011 as a Supply Chain Manager – International Business. Nirlay has completed his masters of Management from IIT Bombay, SJMSoM in General Management. So, let’s look at the FMCG World through the eyes of an operations specialist.

 

What would you tell graduates from the 2017 batch who want to get into FMCG Operations and Supply Chain? What can they look forward to? How is FMCG operations different from operations in other sectors?

FMCG and consumer durable companies are undergoing a complete transformation due to the upcoming GST and demonetization led digital economy. The beauty of FMCG operations is the dynamism and the excitement stemming from dealing directly with consumers. The Indian FMCG sector is at the tipping point of a revolution and I foresee superior use of innovation and technology to solve the un-met consumer needs. Hence, it becomes an exciting time to enter the industry. For example, if you look at the entire FMCG landscape today, the biggest challenge the industry is facing is how to get to the bottom of the pyramid and serve the masses at affordable prices. A classic example of meeting the un-met need of reusability is a simple innovation that we did – a Spout Pack for Hair gel (Set Wet) at an affordable price of Rs. 10.  

spoutpack

 

Do you think one needs a special orientation to do well in an FMCG company? Do candidates need to learn and prepare differently as compared to other sectors when preparing for campus placements?

Honestly, right attitude and sincere efforts can help you do well in any company. With these soft skills in place, you can excel everywhere including FMCG companies. Yes, FMCG is more dynamic than the others, but it is also exciting.

As I mentioned earlier, it is at a tipping point and this makes it a very good time to enter an FMCG company. If you are passionate about the sector and envision yourself working in a dynamic and exciting workplace, then the FMCG industry is for you.

 

Do you think being from SJMSoM has given you an extra edge in your career since the course is more geared towards Operations and Supply Chain?

One of the biggest advantages of doing an MBA from SJMSoM is that they offer a degree in General Management which not only develops your core competency in operations and supply chain, but also gives you a choice of units in the other functional areas, like finance, strategy, HR. For example, during my MBA stint, I was pursuing a degree in General Management with a focus on operations, yet I had one course in Financial Engineering. Very rarely do you find an operations management course offering such a diverse range of unit options in other functional domains. This kind of a curriculum helps in building an overall understanding of the business.

Back at SJMSoM, I had the option to take up courses in various other Engineering Faculties at IIT Bombay which allowed me to gain a more balanced knowledge of all streams. For example, I had done chemical engineering before my MBA and through these courses, I learnt how I could scale up some of the engineering innovations. Of course, they are non-credit courses but even so, it is great that as an MBA student at SJMSoM has the choice to take them up should they wish to.

20161002_110528

 

Can you throw some light on your journey at Marico, specifically in Operations and Supply Chain?

My journey at Marico has been very challenging, fulfilling and enriching to say the least. Over the last 6 years, I have handled various roles in both domestic and international spheres in work areas as varied as procurement, planning and manufacturing. I’ve had the opportunity to work across international geographies in various areas of supply chain when I first joined in 2011. I’ve also headed a project on Value Enhancement which gave me a very different exposure in project management and on how to drive large scale initiatives. My current role as a Head – Procurement for Non-Agri Products, is helping me get a deep understanding of procurement driven initiatives in the Indian context. So, if we look at my Marico stint, it has been a beautiful mix of delving into a variety of work areas.

 

Marico’s stated purpose is ‘Make A Difference’. You seem to be really living that motto?

I have worked with Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF), a non-profit organization that works towards innovation and spearheaded some amazing projects such as, ‘Educate Girls’ which is a startup working towards educating women in the rural areas. This aspect of working with Marico is the most fulfilling and enriching experience I’ve had, as it allows you to work on CSR projects along with your regular work.  You are given an opportunity to create a real impact on the society by participating in various initiatives by Marico and MIF. The beauty of Marico’s purpose is that it actually allows you to live it – it is deeply entrenched in our daily work and as our Chairman, Harsh Mariwala fondly says, “The purpose of life is a life with a purpose’.

One very relevant example of this would be what we started in procurement – a unique approach to vendor registration. Generally, people like to work in the area of CRM because that’s where the business comes from, but we work in the area of SRM – Supply Relationship Management. At Marico, the philosophy is that even our vendors should feel that we are making a positive difference to them, through our association. We have come up with various initiatives for them, one of them being a platform to celebrate business partnerships, in the form of an annual event called ‘Samyut’. Here we recognize and reward the good performers – in terms of the vendors who have demonstrated good performance, in lines with the Marico Values. For example, one of the vendors ensured quick supplies to meet our sudden surge in demand (Marico Value –Bias for action). Another vendor ensured 100% supply on time and without any quality issue (Marico Value – Excellence). ‘Samyut’ and other such events are conducted by us, at our expense, to communicate to our vendors our business plans are and what these would mean for them. The fact that we value our suppliers and spend so much time and energy on them is one of the lesser-known, unique aspects of Marico that you would rarely see with other organizations.

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You’ve been at Marico for 6 years now! What do you think makes Marico different?

I think what makes Marico different is that it trusts its members to take up, challenging tasks and this is what brings out the real potential of its members. From a career perspective, there are a lot of wow factors here at Marico. From being an empowering workplace, offering a meritocratic work culture & member-friendly policies to transparent business practices, Marico seems to have ticked all the boxes. Essentially, this is why I firmly believe that Marico is truly unique in its approach towards business.

 

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Help Will Always Be Given At ABG To Those Who Need It – Hrishikesh Kashyap – ABGLP Stars

What is it like to work in one of the top conglomerates? What does working in diverse businesses in the duration of your first year do to your managerial abilities? How does a good leadership programme transform a professional into a STAR? These and many such questions are going to be answered in our new series, ABGLP STARS.

 

 

In this video, Hrishikesh Kashyap – an XLRI Alumnus, currently working on Talent Portfolio at Aditya Birla Retail, talks about his past and current roles and how ABG has provided him with a huge canvas to work on. He also talks about his various projects over the years in different parts of the country as well as why he chose to be with ABG for so long. Watch the video to know why ABG is THE career destination for those who want to work at a company which provides a plethora of opportunities!

We bring to you a series that gives you the inside dope on the most exciting leadership programme on offer to business graduates across top business schools – the Aditya Birla Group Leadership Programme. Come and get a flavour of the adventure that awaits you, should you choose to accept it.

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What is it like to work in one of the top conglomerates? What does working in diverse businesses in the duration of your first year do to your managerial abilities? How does a good leadership programme transform a professional into a STAR? These and many such questions are going to be answered in our new series, ABGLP STARS.

 

 

In this video, Hrishikesh Kashyap – an XLRI Alumnus, currently working on Talent Portfolio at Aditya Birla Retail, talks about his past and current roles and how ABG has provided him with a huge canvas to work on. He also talks about his various projects over the years in different parts of the country as well as why he chose to be with ABG for so long. Watch the video to know why ABG is THE career destination for those who want to work at a company which provides a plethora of opportunities!

We bring to you a series that gives you the inside dope on the most exciting leadership programme on offer to business graduates across top business schools – the Aditya Birla Group Leadership Programme. Come and get a flavour of the adventure that awaits you, should you choose to accept it.

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What is it like to work in one of the top conglomerates? What does working in diverse businesses in the duration of your first year do to your managerial abilities? How does a good leadership programme transform a professional into a STAR? These and many such questions are going to be answered in our new series, ABGLP STARS.

 

 

In this video, Hrishikesh Kashyap – an XLRI Alumnus, currently working on Talent Portfolio at Aditya Birla Retail, talks about his past and current roles and how ABG has provided him with a huge canvas to work on. He also talks about his various projects over the years in different parts of the country as well as why he chose to be with ABG for so long. Watch the video to know why ABG is THE career destination for those who want to work at a company which provides a plethora of opportunities!

We bring to you a series that gives you the inside dope on the most exciting leadership programme on offer to business graduates across top business schools – the Aditya Birla Group Leadership Programme. Come and get a flavour of the adventure that awaits you, should you choose to accept it.

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What is it like to work in one of the top conglomerates? What does working in diverse businesses in the duration of your first year do to your managerial abilities? How does a good leadership programme transform a professional into a STAR? These and many such questions are going to be answered in our new series, ABGLP STARS.

 

 

In this video, Hrishikesh Kashyap – an XLRI Alumnus, currently working on Talent Portfolio at Aditya Birla Retail, talks about his past and current roles and how ABG has provided him with a huge canvas to work on. He also talks about his various projects over the years in different parts of the country as well as why he chose to be with ABG for so long. Watch the video to know why ABG is THE career destination for those who want to work at a company which provides a plethora of opportunities!

We bring to you a series that gives you the inside dope on the most exciting leadership programme on offer to business graduates across top business schools – the Aditya Birla Group Leadership Programme. Come and get a flavour of the adventure that awaits you, should you choose to accept it.

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What is it like to work in one of the top conglomerates? What does working in diverse businesses in the duration of your first year do to your managerial abilities? How does a good leadership programme transform a professional into a STAR? These and many such questions are going to be answered in our new series, ABGLP STARS.

 

 

In this video, Hrishikesh Kashyap – an XLRI Alumnus, currently working on Talent Portfolio at Aditya Birla Retail, talks about his past and current roles and how ABG has provided him with a huge canvas to work on. He also talks about his various projects over the years in different parts of the country as well as why he chose to be with ABG for so long. Watch the video to know why ABG is THE career destination for those who want to work at a company which provides a plethora of opportunities!

We bring to you a series that gives you the inside dope on the most exciting leadership programme on offer to business graduates across top business schools – the Aditya Birla Group Leadership Programme. Come and get a flavour of the adventure that awaits you, should you choose to accept it.

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What is it like to work in one of the top conglomerates? What does working in diverse businesses in the duration of your first year do to your managerial abilities? How does a good leadership programme transform a professional into a STAR? These and many such questions are going to be answered in our new series, ABGLP STARS.

 

 

In this video, Hrishikesh Kashyap – an XLRI Alumnus, currently working on Talent Portfolio at Aditya Birla Retail, talks about his past and current roles and how ABG has provided him with a huge canvas to work on. He also talks about his various projects over the years in different parts of the country as well as why he chose to be with ABG for so long. Watch the video to know why ABG is THE career destination for those who want to work at a company which provides a plethora of opportunities!

We bring to you a series that gives you the inside dope on the most exciting leadership programme on offer to business graduates across top business schools – the Aditya Birla Group Leadership Programme. Come and get a flavour of the adventure that awaits you, should you choose to accept it.

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What is it like to work in one of the top conglomerates? What does working in diverse businesses in the duration of your first year do to your managerial abilities? How does a good leadership programme transform a professional into a STAR? These and many such questions are going to be answered in our new series, ABGLP STARS.

 

 

In this video, Hrishikesh Kashyap – an XLRI Alumnus, currently working on Talent Portfolio at Aditya Birla Retail, talks about his past and current roles and how ABG has provided him with a huge canvas to work on. He also talks about his various projects over the years in different parts of the country as well as why he chose to be with ABG for so long. Watch the video to know why ABG is THE career destination for those who want to work at a company which provides a plethora of opportunities!

We bring to you a series that gives you the inside dope on the most exciting leadership programme on offer to business graduates across top business schools – the Aditya Birla Group Leadership Programme. Come and get a flavour of the adventure that awaits you, should you choose to accept it.

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