#TheFMCGLife – A Woman In A Man’s World – A Series Brought To You By Marico Ltd.

FMCG companies are often considered to be the very pinnacle of high-quality business processes and breeding grounds for future industry leaders. Yet, they are mired in mystery and hearsay when it comes to understanding what it’s like to work in a top FMCG. So, the good folks at Marico Ltd. have decided to help you make sense of the FMCG life in this new series. Read on to experience #TheFMCGLife right from the horse’s mouth.

This week we talk to Nitya, who has seen Marico both as an HR manager and as a Sales manager. Let’s give it a read, shall we?

Nitya is currently working as a Brand Activation Manager at Marico. She joined Marico in 2010 as Learning and Development Manager after completing her M.A. in Human Resources and Labour Management from TISS, Mumbai.

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 Why FMCG? Why Marico – What do you think makes Marico special?

On campus, we were told that the FMCG sector had the most evolved HR practices and hence, it was the Mecca for any aspiring HR professional. I don’t know if this is what stayed with me or whether it was the energy and zing I associated with the sector, but I steadfastly believed, perhaps irrationally so, that FMCG was the sector for me.

I had done one of my fieldwork assignments at Marico and was immediately struck by how great the people were! People make the culture of a company and I remember being pleasantly surprised by how young everyone was, how much freedom I got to work on my project, how easy it was for me to interact with Function Heads (still is, despite our rapidly increasing turnover- from Coldplay concerts to in-market strat, you can discuss anything and everything with them) and how much I loved coming to work every day! Despite being an emerging market MNC, the organisation behaved (and still behaves) like a start-up. You get exposed to a host of experiences, you enjoy flexibility at work, you get ample opportunities to experiment and do something new and you are your own boss in the truest sense.

I think what I love most about Marico is its innate ability to protect, nurture and celebrate each member’s individuality- the amalgamation of our admirable qualities, flaws and idiosyncrasies which make us who we are. You are not slotted in a certain category, role or function, enabling you to discover your strengths, passions and drivers along the way, without the burden of having to follow a set path or a prescribed method of working.

Through the years, because I felt pressurized to conform, I grew and evolved with the organization (I was only 21 after all, when I started working here) at my own pace; there was no obsessing over faults, no nit picking of shortcomings, no anxieties and tensions and this emotional security gave me the space to stumble and fall, pick myself up and totter and eventually gain the confidence to take long strides, thus allowing me to truly enjoy my journey of personal and professional growth. The shy girl who joined this organisation from campus has evolved into a strong woman who has gained confidence in an environment which feels secure without being stifling.

 

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You first joined in for the HR function but now you’re a Brand Activation Manager. Could you elaborate on this transition?

When I started out, I was managing Marico’s Campus Program and as a part of the role, I got an opportunity to interact with Business Heads quite often. Also, since I was a part of the review panel for Management Trainees and Summer Trainees, I had to learn as much about business as I could since I couldn’t start asking questions like ‘tell me about yourself’ in the middle of reviews! As time went by, I grew increasingly intrigued by business and its levers, was deeply involved in helping Trainees with their projects thereby learning a lot myself, dabbled in business projects and initiatives which enhanced my business acumen. Marico decided to offer me an Area Sales Manager role in Hyderabad, knowing that I did not have a business degree or experience to back it up! My first role as an Area Sales Manager handling general trade was quite eventful and was such a departure from my life as an HR Manager. From employee rages to stock coverages, from candidate selection debates to wholesale rates, from changing employee mindsets to chasing primary targets and from training needs to trade schemes, I was living life on cartwheels. I loved every minute of it and after a year, for a holistic Sales experience, moved to the role of an Area Sales Manager handling Modern Trade for North. Modern Trade is considered to be ‘5 star Sales’ considering the stores are in air conditioned malls. However, managing this business poses its own challenges- your channel partners are not entirely dependent on you for their profits, your buyers chase performance metrics which are diametrically opposite to yours and channel conflicts make you invoke your favourite deity daily.

I enjoyed my Sales roles so much that I decided to continue pursuing my interest in business roles. After a year and a half as an ASM for North Modern Trade, I moved to a role in Marketing a few months back.

 

Do you think it is more difficult for a woman in FMCG sales? We often get queries from students on InsideIIM where there is a perception that FMCG Sales is a man’s world.

On Business School campuses, different functions get “gendered” over a period of time. For example, it is commonly said that Sales is for men and HR is for women. Fortunately, Marico has managed to insulate itself from this social conditioning by ensuring that gender stereotypes have no place in its culture. Hence, I got an opportunity in Sales to experience all the pressure that the role demanded without being treated with kid gloves.

Throughout my two and a half years, I slogged everyday like an Engineering student 6 hours prior to the exam and pushed myself like a first-time runner during the last few kilometers in the marathon. I won every contest there was and enjoyed many international trips with my team. I wanted to be the best Area Sales Manager there was – male or female, and I wanted no one to think that I was an HR Manager who had made a frivolous choice of doing Sales as a “stint”.

Yes, Sales is a world in which you are surrounded by men – your team, your distributors and your dealers will most definitely be all male. But that is exactly why excelling in such an environment gives you an unparalleled high! Sales gives us the unique opportunity to shine in an environment which is stereotyped as being “male” in its nature- it’s aggressive, high pressure and unforgiving. We, women, may sometimes be underestimated and undermined but when we sparkle, which we inevitably do, the sight sure is a marvel.

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Do you have a role model? If not, anyone you really admire?

I have had a lot of role models through the years – some still with Marico and some who have left. These are people who have motivated me to give my best, who have challenged me to contribute more meaningfully and most importantly, have been my anchors in this maddening world. I think to a great extent, we become only as good as the people around us and I have been extremely blessed to have been surrounded by phenomenal people who have been a constant source of wonder and inspiration and been kind enough to teach me whatever I have learnt so far.

I also have the most amazing set of parents. They raised me to be a confident and independent woman (actually, we were never treated like ‘girls’ at home but that’s another story). They’ve been extremely supportive of all my decisions – whether it was to chuck the comforts of an air-conditioned office to walk in the dusty alleys of Hyderabad or to live like a nomad – and have been my pillars of strength. Their upbringing has instilled steadfast courage in me which has helped me take risks and push my own limits and I don’t think I would’ve been where I am today without them.

 

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