Interview with Rishiraj Singh Pruthi – Head, Customer Marketing at Abbott Nutrition.

A career in FMCG marketing remains one of the dream destinations for MBA grads and aspirants alike. However, a successful career requires much more than a good campus placement from a top B school. In our bid to give readers a complete perspective on how to build a career in FMCG marketing, we are proud to do an interview with Rishiraj Singh Pruthi – Head of Customer Marketing at Abbott Nutrition.

Rishiraj Singh Pruthi is a post-graduate from JBIMS Mumbai and started his career in 2005 with Marico. He was Area Sales Manager, Orissa, Mumbai and Gujarat. He then moved to Dabur, and worked as Trade Activation Manager for the western zone, winning a number of accolades along the way. He is currently head of Customer Marketing at Abbott Nutrition. Rishi also got swept into the CA wave at Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics but was unable to crack the CA Foundation exam which now seems like one of the best things to have happened to him. He was the Chairperson of the highly popular festival ‘Umang’ in the year 2002 and also NM College’s general secretary. He stood 2nd in the MH-CET entrance exam and secured himself a seat in the prestigious JBIMS Mumbai. Among the many awards he has won, recently he won an award for “Star of Abbott Nutrition” at the Annual Sales Conference in 2010 and “Best Employee – 2011”.  His Linkedin profile speaks for itself

Given below are some of the excerpts of our conversation with Rishi:

  • InsideIIM: You have spent almost a decade in the FMCG industry. How relevant do you think are the skills taught in Bschools? Do you think there is an industry academia gap?
  • Rishiraj Singh Pruthi (RRSP): Theory helps you understand marketing principles. So If I want to know what ‘Brand Identity’ is then my B-School concepts give me a head-start; but the real gap comes when you try to understand how something is sold.  I have primarily handled Sales in my career and it is here that the concepts don’t help unless you have experienced it first hand and learnt on the ground.
  • InsideIIM: How should Management Grads aiming for a career in the FMCG industry prepare?
  • RRSP: People say you need functional knowledge. But, for me what you really need is a perspective. So how does one build a perspective for FMCG? Doing case studies is one way. Participating in a competition is another. When I say participating in a competition it is without doing a cut, copy paste from the internet. You need not be participating only in FMCG-related competitions. It could be any industry. Say Steel Industry, or Retail or Airlines. Participating to win is an added incentive but if you participate in these competitions to learn and if you go through a detailed exercise 15-20 times in a year you are sure to build a good perspective. And you never know how these competitions can help you after years. For e.g. I was trying to solve a problem on stocking and I used the insight I got during an Airlines case study I was doing years ago on in-flight efficiency.
  • InsideIIM: A lot of grads feel they need not go through the grind of a Sales stint in a non-urban setting and directly want to work in the Brand Management/Marketing team? A few companies also believe in this e.g. P&G. What are your views on this?
  • RRSP: It’s not that you cannot be a brand manager without doing a Sales stint. But it’s about how firm or hollow your base is. It is about whether you will make two mistakes before you get it right or five mistakes before you get it right. You need to understand the impact of those mistakes. As a brand manager, one mistake can cost an organisation six months. Another six months will pass in understanding the mistake, rectifying it and coming out with something new. I believe an on-the-ground experience of handling sales gives you a great foundation for marketing. Most organisations would expect their new joinees to go through a sales stint. Now it could be 1 year/2 years/3 years depending on the organisation and the person but it is very important. It is important to understand your internal customers – Distributors, Stockists, on-the-ground executives etc. You cannot get that insight without doing a sales stint. They say 70% of the decisions are made inside the store. You can only design strategies around that if you have done a sales stint. The biggest problem with fresh B-School grads today is their attitude towards sales. Sales is not how it was perceived 15-20 years ago – a Eureka Forbes salesman going from house to house. It is a strategy. It is a process. You have to look at it as a science rather than an art.
  • InsideIIM: You are a B.Com grad from Narsee Monjee College. How much do you think has your undergrad experience helped you?
  • RRSP: The non-academic part of my under-graduation really helped. All the extra-curricular activities I participated in and all the leadership positions I held helped me deal with the ‘people’ aspect. From my experience in B-School, industry and working with people across the world I feel that what we really lack are in elements of focussed group activities and team work. We are good thinkers but it doesn’t get us anywhere. For e.g. In a Bschool if you have an assignment – One person takes the lead and the remaining four hope that the one person prepares the entire assignment and they just turn up to present it. This is unlikely to happen in South-east Asia or say in Europe. What is critical is accepting other people’s ideas, extracting the best out of each one in the team. That’s how your ideas gain acceptance and you execute it as a team. Just ideas don’t help. (Question : Do you think your undergrad extra-curriculars helped you compensate for this lack in your learning ?) Yes. But the larger point remains  – What about the vast majority in a college of 5000? We were just 50 of us so intensely involved in those activities.
  • InsideIIM: What do you love the most about your job?
  • RRSP: I don’t get stressed when it’s Monday morning. It was never about selling soaps for me. It was about the dynamism of the industry. I have worked in 3 different organisations and it has been so dynamic each time round. Things change so fast and it’s the excitement that drives me.
  • InsideIIM: How important do you think is the B-School tag? What would you say to students without a reputed B-School tag?
  • RRSP: Well it definitely matters when you join but not in the long term. People without a reputed B-school tag start 3-4 years behind.  But beyond that what matters is your performance and how you have done in your work experience. When I take an interview of an experienced professional, I don’t look at the B-School tag. Only thing of consequence is the achievements in professional life and performance.

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good article…hope to see similar articles on other industries…will surely help aspirants gain an understanding