Events

Becoming the best version of yourself with Mr Nitin Paranjpe, COO, Unilever

SOIL Institute of Management has been running a series of webinars during this season. A friend forwarded me an invite and I attended a webinar today hosted by Mr Anil Sachdev, Founder & CEO of SOIL and the guest was Mr Nitin Paranjpe, COO of Unilever.

The topic was “Becoming The Best Version of Yourself”. Below are from the notes I took during the call, where Mr Nitin Paranjpe shared the following:

There were two major setbacks in my life:

  1. In 1997, when after say 9-10 years with the company (Hindustan Lever Limited India), I became the branch manager in Chennai. The state of Kerala decided to boycott our products and we had a big chunk of our sales and targets cut. I was and the entire team with me was under intense pressure. That’s when twice or thrice the CEO of the company called. He said a simple but very important message – “We stand with you and we will go with your recommendations as you are on the ground. Whatever we do, we will stand with the principals we have”. This gave me a constant adrenaline rush and with high energy, we managed the situation.
  2. After I became the CEO for the HLL (Indian company), in a few months itself, my Honeymoon ended due to the global financial crisis. That’s when I remembered a story I heard from Prof C K Prahalad, I had heard it before but forgotten, but suddenly remembered and started working. I was wondering whether it actually works in practice? We carried out a large human experiment. We did some crazy things. During and after that, I noticed that under different conditions the same team can do wonderful things, that we ourselves don’t believe. From say 25 a year we did 500 distribution partners. How was it possible? We were in pursuit of things we weren’t before. We are all afraid of failures, if we let go of it, then these things are possible.

This is what I heard from C K Prahalad: Once I was in a discussion with Prof CK Prahalad when he asked me what you want this company to stand by. I said all the usual things and be entrepreneurial like. That’s when he said what it means to be entrepreneurial. That’s when he wrote two letters “A R” in a row in a chart, then again below.

Prof C K Prahalad formula to differentiate a manager and entrepreneur
Prof C K Prahalad formula

He asked me what they mean. It meant nothing to me. He later explained:

  • A is Ambitions you have. R is the Resources you have.
  • The first row means “A” is lesser or equal to “R”. This is how a manager works, he/she can achieve only within the resources available with them, they try to play safe.
  • The second row means “A” is substantially greater than “R” is how an entrepreneur works. There is absolutely no correlation between the resources and the ambitions he/she has. There is no equality. This changes the equation, sharpens the mismatch. Innovation happens only here, only when there is a mismatch if everything is within the formula no magic happens.

It was unfortunate I had heard this profound idea from Prof CKP but didn’t act on it for 8 to 9 years, but now during that crisis, it came in handy.

During Crisis’s, failing in your own eyes is worse than falling in your bosses eyes.

Question: What did you discover yourself during this crisis?
Answer: I had already told you the incident with Prof CKP and it helped. The second one was like a large human failure. I reached a stage where I didn’t know what to do, wake up at 3 AM and keep wondering. That’s when it occurred to me, that I can just do the right thing and then things will work out because we had nothing else to do.

I strongly believe in life and in work, that when you do the right thing, the right outcome will come. To me, it is a law, like gravity. The solutions were just in front of me, I wasn’t seeing it. Our business is relatively simple. Look at the customer, just do the right thing, play for the long haul, don’t mind spending for a long time, face the discomfort, don’t delay, then things will work out.

In COVID times, we decided to stand with our people. Your values and value systems should guide you in these times of complete newness, there is no playbook on what to do in these times. We decided to add value to our multi-stakeholders, not only for our shareholders. In a recession, trust your team, give them hope and believe in them.

In one of the training I attended, a blind person, the expert trainer asked us “When was the last time you experienced (or did) something for the first time, and that was the last time you grew”. Again, a profound statement.

Nowadays I wonder, Why should you wait for a crisis, to discover the other self-limiting ideas/practices you may be having. For example, now in these pandemic days working from home and through video calls, we are able to run a global company sitting from our houses. Now what other possibilities are right in front of us and we are not seeing it?

In my early days, a friend asked, “Why do good guys come last?”. Can you not have simple middle-class values, and still deliver exceptional value and succeed in life/work. I would like to believe it is possible.

Don’t be afraid to fail, without that you are playing safe and not pushing yourself.

One quality I want in a leader, that’s almost a necessary condition – be authentic. Being authentic (natural) doesn’t make you a leader by itself, but if you are a leader and you are not authentic, no one is going to truly follow you.

Lastly, check out this great book – Why we sleep?

[Disclaimer: The notes above are not meant to be comprehensive or accurate, and if there are any mistakes they are due to my notes taking.]

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