Ra­jesh Ra­makr­ish­nan

The Brand Reporter - - NEWS - abid.bar­laskar@afaqs.com

Per­fetti In­dia’s new MD is a ‘right-brain’ man.

Afew weeks back, Italy-head­quar­tered Per­fetti Van Melle In­dia ap­pointed Ra­jesh Ra­makr­ish­nan as its new MD. He has been with the com­pany for four-and-a-half years, ini­tially as the MD for Bangladesh, then as chief trans­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer (CTO), a role that brought him to In­dia.

An en­gi­neer from BITS Pi­lani, with an MBA from XLRI (Jamshed­pur), Ra­makr­ish­nan started his ca­reer as a man­age­ment trainee with Reckitt Benckiser (then Reckitt and Col­man). His early rounds as a sales man­ager took him to North and South Kar­nataka fol­lowed by stints in Orissa, Bi­har and Tamil Nadu. Ra­makr­ish­nan worked on brands such as Cherry Blos­som and Robin Blue; it was eight years of sales and mar­ket­ing with Reckitt. This was fol­lowed by two years with Marico, where he worked on non-Para­chute brands such as Shanti Amla and Hair & Care.

Then for another six years at Frito Lay (Pep­siCo) he looked af­ter Kurkure for a while and did a brief stint in Bangkok in a re­gional role - with Quaker on in­sights and in­no­va­tion. He then stepped out of FMCG for a bit with a year at Apollo Tyres look­ing af­ter global mar­kets for the Apollo Brands and then it was on to Hin­dus­tan Times for two years.

Ra­makr­ish­nan, who has been in the in­dus­try for over 24 years, is a pho­tog­ra­phy and trekking en­thu­si­ast (he re­cently com­pleted Ever­est Base Camp and Kilimanjaro) - and things that ‘stim­u­late his right brain’, as he puts it. Edited Ex­cerpts

From MD of Per­fetti Bangladesh to In­dia head of ‘trans­for­ma­tion’, and now MD of In­dia ops... Tell us about these roles.

The con­fec­tionery mar­kets in Bangladesh and In­dia are sim­i­lar on the prod­uct front, but Bangladesh is a much smaller mar­ket... and in terms of stage of evo­lu­tion, is a few years be­hind In­dia. The in­ten­sity of com­pe­ti­tion here (In­dia) is much higher.

CTO was a newly-cre­ated role; the idea was to op­ti­mise our busi­ness model which in­cludes dif­fer­ent facets such as the prod­uct port­fo­lio, the go-to mar­ket strat­egy, the op­er­a­tions and, of course, the peo­ple and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The job was to lead these mul­ti­ple projects in a struc­tured man­ner. While be­ing CTO was more about man­ag­ing all these projects, be­ing MD is more about man­ag­ing the whole busi­ness. It’s a big­ger role. It’s like a mix of op­er­a­tions and strat­egy.

You’ve spent the bulk of your ca­reer in FMCG but have also worked out­side it. From a mar­ket­ing point of view, what’s the big­gest dif­fer­ence?

In FMCG, mar­ket­ing drives the com­pany. Mar­ket­ing drives strat­egy and strat­egy drives growth. In non-FMCG com­pa­nies, mar­ket­ing prob­a­bly plays more of a sup­port role and is not nec­es­sar­ily the prime driver of growth. For in­stance, at Apollo, man­u­fac­tur­ing would play a far big­ger role than mar­ket­ing. In a me­dia com­pany (Hin­dus­tan Times), me­dia mar­ket­ing or sales is a big­ger role in driv­ing the agenda, whereas mar­ket­ing is just about mak­ing sure that the right sup­port is pro­vided. But in FMCG, it’s mar­ket­ing that drives the en­tire think­ing for the com­pany. That is the big­gest dif­fer­ence.

And within FMCG, how is con­fec­tionery mar­ket­ing dif­fer­ent from mar­ket­ing across other kinds of sub-seg­ments?

The fixed price-points - like 50 paise, one ru­pee, two ru­pees... it’s slightly sim­i­lar to mar­ket­ing snacks. In the con­fec­tionery cat­e­gory, price elas­tic­ity be­comes a chal­lenge. When we are at a price point of `1, we can­not shift to `1.20... we have to jump di­rectly to `2. There are con­sumers who drop out be­cause of the price. In the con­fec­tionery cat­e­gory, prod­ucts also get ex­changed as cur­rency (re­place­ment for loose change; an in­sight Paytm has milked in its ads).

The fre­quency of con­sump­tion is another dif­fer­ence. I’ve worked on cat­e­gories such as shoe pol­ish and fab­ric care. You pol­ish your shoes maybe once a week — if you re­ally de­cide to! Sim­i­larly, you may use sham­poo or toi­let cleaner once in a week or maybe once ev­ery three days. But con­fec­tionery is dif­fer­ent. If I eat a candy in the morn­ing, I can still eat a candy two hours later. Due to the sheer fre­quency of con­sump­tion, the num­ber of trans­ac­tions is huge.

Also, con­fec­tionery is eas­ily avail­able to peo­ple, it’s so in-your-face that it’s a ben­e­fit. You don’t have to tell too many peo­ple about it; ev­ery­body knows about it, which is a good start­ing point.

What are your key points of sale?

Most of our prod­ucts, as Nielsen de­fines it, are sold in paan out­lets which make for a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of sales. Then there are gro­cers and gen­eral stores/ki­ranas. We are avail­able in mod­ern trade too. E-com­merce for con­fec­tionery helps to customise of­fer­ings to cus­tomers; that’s one of the di­rec­tions we see it mov­ing to­wards in the fu­ture. We have a huge foot­print of dis­tri­bu­tion. There’s head­room to grow, es­pe­cially when it comes to some of the higher price points like the `5 and `10 packs.

For an im­pulse-driven cat­e­gory such as con­fec­tionery, can you ex­plain the role of ad­ver­tis­ing?

Ad­ver­tis­ing is mostly rooted in a prod­uct in­sight; it starts there. It then has to link back to what the brand prom­ises and have some cul­tural an­gle as well. It’s a tri­an­gu­la­tion of these three things.

Let’s talk about the way DS Group’s Pulse candy took the con­fec­tionery seg­ment by storm a few years ago. What do you do when you see this kind of phe­nom­e­non cre­ated by a ri­val brand?

Who­ever picks it (ri­val brand do­ing well) up first — maybe the sales team or the op­er­a­tions team — brings it to ev­ery­one’s no­tice. We then look at it and say — ‘is that an area of in­ter­est and op­por­tu­nity for us?’

Once we de­cide to re­spond, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand what they of­fered to the mar­ket, what ele­ment of the mix worked for them... if we see a big­ger op­por­tu­nity, we look at how we can ad­dress it. We then lever­age some of our strengths and take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity. I don’t think any­thing hap­pens as a knee-jerk re­ac­tion. It’s well planned out and ex­e­cuted.

“In FMCG, mar­ket­ing drives the com­pany... In non-FMCG com­pa­nies, mar­ket­ing prob­a­bly plays more of a sup­port role and is not nec­es­sar­ily the prime driver of growth.”

RA­JESH RA­MAKR­ISH­NAN

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