Door To Door Selling Taught Me A Lot – Rakesh Mohan, Chairman – Unilever – Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia & Laos
Rakesh Mohan, alumnus of NMIMS, class of 1983-85, is the Chairman of Unilever, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia & Laos. He has been part of Unilever for last 25 years, gradually climbing the ladder of success. Today he is leading a cluster of five countries with diverse market conditions. Let’s find out how his journey has been so far and his NMIMS memories.
How do you deal with leading a group of 5 countries with varied marketing environments together?
The cluster of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos indeed is a very diverse set of countries. Singapore, on one hand, has the maximum per capita income, highly premium and sophisticated market with modern trade environment. On the other extreme is Myanmar, just beginning to develop, low penetration of products and low incomes with mostly rural and small shop trade. Obviously, we need different mix for different countries. The communication, pricing and portfolio needs to be different in each market. To ensure each country gets what it needs, the operating framework provides flexibility. Each country is managed by a country director who has a lot of autonomy to respond swiftly to local needs, tailor communication to local insights and make appropriate investments. The central leadership engages in broad strategic direction, tracking business performance and progress on high impact actions, which are regularly agreed with the operating companies.
How do you manage your schedule in order to make time to travel for leisure?
I normally focus my energy on the key agenda and actions. I delegate and give space to my teams to manage the business. To ensure key areas get focused, regular reviews are done to ensure progress and holding people accountable for the key actions needed to drive business. These are normally scheduled well in advance so all have adequate time to prepare. My work plan is normally visible to all on my outlook calendar, at least a quarter ahead and all meetings/travel plans known to all months in advance. When making my quarterly work plan there is a structured approach to spend time on various areas like market visits, factory visits, routine meetings, skip level chats, etc. Normally I start work on time and leave office on time, start meetings on schedule and ensure decisions are taken and meetings conclude on time. This leaves enough time for a decent work-life blend. Take adequate leave to travel home and chill. While on holidays, I spend every day and hour to clear my mail so on my return there is no buildup of pending work.
What was the pivotal learning you gained from your first company, Eureka Forbes Ltd, after completing MBA? What insights would you like to provide to the present batch as a heads up before they join the corporate world?
I learned a lot during my initial years at Eureka Forbes. I was posted to Hyderabad, an unknown city to me, given a motorbike and a vacuum cleaner and trained to sell door to door. It is the most humbling experience of knocking doors from morning to evening, making demonstrations and trying to close sales, delivery machines and collect money. It taught me perseverance, selling skills, negotiation skills, humility. To date, these learnings stay with me when I have to deal with larger deals and negotiations and relationships.
If there is one thing that you would like to change and would have done differently during your MBA, what would it be and why?
We had a great time during our stint at NMIMS. It was the early years of the institute and very limited facilities. Now I suppose there are better opportunities for students to do community engagements, engage with industry, and latest learning tools.
What was the turning point in your professional life that set things on the right track for you?
Joining HUL was the nicest thing that happened to me. I am indeed lucky to have had the opportunity to have worked in this wonderful company. It has great values and a superb work culture. It is a pleasure to work with really competent and inspiring people. I truly owe my success to the opportunities that this company has provided to me.
You have worked for 15 years in Hindustan Unilever Ltd which is a very long time. Could you share a unique characteristic of HUL that has held you in the organization for so long?
The values of Unilever appeal to me. We believe in honesty, meritocracy, fairness, caring and pioneering. I truly relate with these and these are in sync with my philosophy of life. Further, our sustainable living program of caring for the environment, social impact and indeed noble vision which inspire me to participate in the success of our company.
Which is the most memorable moment during your 2 years MBA course in NMIMS that has contributed in making you the person you are today?
I suppose the campus placement success and failures are the most memorable. When I failed to make it to the HUL campus selection, I was sad and most happy when I landed the job in Eureka. When I join the dots of my life, likely these moments played a huge part in my life.
In a span of 15 years, you have served different roles and climbed up the ladder in HUL. How do you describe the transition from one role to another within the same organization?
The company offers plenty of opportunities for people to move across functions and geographies. We identify talent well in advance and provide them with the necessary learning opportunities to prepare them for the next role. Putting people into experiences helps them to sharpen their expertise. We accept that when we put people into new roles there will be mistakes and we accept that as part of learning. Normally there are enough processes in place that people in new roles can easily find support in their mentors, colleagues, line managers. Hence people normally quickly settle into new roles and contribute very soon.
How was your experience in NMIMS different from Wharton Business School? If you could incorporate one thing in NMIMS that you observed in Wharton Business School, what would it be?
Likely NMIMS has come a long way since the days I was in school. Wharton is an outstanding experience. The environment on the campus, diversity of people, learning tools, encouragement to experiment is memorable. Needless to say, for those starting a career from Wharton gives them a head start in the global corporate ladder. For those wanting to make a global career and have the opportunity to study in top B schools will surely benefit.
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