My Summer Odyssey With GCPL #KenyaKiKahaniyaan

On the eve of my International Economics mid-term, I received a mailer by Godrej Consumer Products Ltd. outlining my project details and its location, Kenya. In an instant, the mid-term was a distant memory and all I could think about was about my project. I was excited about the deliverables of my project yet apprehensive because of what I had heard from various uninformed sources about Kenya.

Fast forward a month and I am in the swanky headquarters of Godrej in Mumbai, aptly called ‘Godrej One’. The family at Godrej really knows how to treat their interns (Best FMCG Company to work For, Economic Times Survey, 2016) and it showed in the activities planned for the incoming Gurukul batch. There were a plethora of opportunities to interact with the top management, along with unique team building activities to get acquainted with my peers for the oncoming two months.

Post the enthralling induction, it was time to pack my bags and leave for Nairobi, Kenya. On my arrival, I was greeted with a chill in the air (Did not expect it) and the warmest driver cum travel guide for the duration of my internship. The weather was a cool 20 degrees throughout the course of my internship with the sky dispersed with clouds, and greenery all around. The freshness and raw beauty of the country enticed me instantly.

Incidentally, I landed on the Easter weekend and I had 4 days to explore the city before I got down to business. I was put up in an amazing guest house in an upscale estate. I was apprehensive and a little nervous as I was all alone, but I mustered the courage to see the city myself in these 4 days. This also marked my first interaction with the Kenyan people in general, and all my doubts were put to rest. They were warm, genial, valued me as a visitor and made me truly feel at home be it the security guard of my estate, or the attendant at the grocery store. By Tuesday, my first day at work, I could not have been more comfortable.

My mentor, the Business Head for the operations in Kenya, was as cool as a cucumber and gave me a free reign on how I charted the course of my project sharing valuable learning from his career and understanding of the market. I spent the first two weeks understanding the retail environment of Kenya, which is quite different from that of India. I travelled extensively within Nairobi and to upcountry markets in this two-week period which allowed me to gain an understanding of the channels, the trade perspective on the categories we operate in and the competition, in general. Having visited over 100 different retail outlets, I had a rough sense of what the company should start doing, stop doing and continue doing.

Data is a luxury in the continent of Africa, more so that there are some companies operating without even knowing their own share of the market. And hence, the need of the hour was to obtain, record, and analyse the data in a sustainable manner and I worked on improving the current processes and putting new processes in place that helped us work with data, an important pre-requisite from a trade marketing perspective.

The last piece of the puzzle was understanding the target Kenyan shopper and to accomplish this, I was allowed to conduct a shop-along research with shoppers from different demographics across different channels. This allowed me to understand how different shopper segments behave across different categories and channels. Interestingly, the target Kenyan shopper buys on promotions and places a lot of emphasis on the quantity of the product, which is driven primarily by his/her ability to spend. Based on the insights gained from the shopper research and data points collected from my trade visits, I was able to conclusively define a trade marketing blueprint for the coming year.

I was also able to design and drive my own customised promotion in select supermarkets (who gets to do that?!) based on careful calculations on the current sales and expected returns. I also got to oversee and manage a trade promotion for one of the upcoming brands for the company, closely interacting with the retailers as well as the participants in the activation process.

Godrej is a company which believes in challenging its employees to give their best, and that obviously means no hand-holding. It was not hunky-dory all the time and I had to adapt to the working culture in the country, which for the lack of a better word, is complacent. The impending elections in the country had put the market on the back foot. Not to mention, the lack of data. After a first few weeks of stress and ambiguity, provided by the Kenyan market in general, I could put all the pieces together. All this time, I remembered what my mentor told me “My job is not to seek clarity, but to make clarity”, a learning I will go back to all my professional life.

But wait, this does not mean I did not have fun! Every alternate weekend meant a visit to one of the many beautiful wildlife interactions centres in Kenya be it seeing Lions, White & Black Rhinos, Elephants, Giraffes, Cheetahs and what have you in the many national parks or eating the best of the game at the many exotic restaurants in Nairobi. There’s a reason I put on 4Kgs in 6 weeks. And of course, some crazy Friday nights which lasted till, well, Saturday mornings.

My project was all I could have asked for in terms of the depth and breadth of real-market learnings in the field of sales and marketing. It was a crash course on how to handle ambiguity and overcome it and allowed me some amazing weekend getaways in a country which otherwise wouldn’t have been on my tourist map for a long time (a grave mistake). Ticked all the checkboxes for the perfect internship! Thank you, GCPL.

Aayush David

The Author is a 2nd year student of the Full Time MBA (IB) programme at Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Delhi.