For ITC, Change at the Top Brings Sense of Con­ti­nu­ity

San­jiv Puri, who took over from YC Devesh­war as CEO on Sun­day, has been dig­ging deep into group busi­nesses for the last cou­ple of years

The Economic Times - - Brands: Creating Desire - Wri­tankar.Mukher­jee @times­

Kolkata: On Sun­day, the pris­tine white Vir­ginia House in down­town Cal­cutta got a new oc­cu­pant in its cor­ner-room, herald­ing as much con­ti­nu­ity in the de­par­ture of an icon as in the ar­rival of his suc­ces­sor.

One of In­dia’s rare board-driven com­pa­nies that pri­mar­ily re­ward ca­reer-pro­fes­sion­als, ITC chose as the head for its iconic Chowringhee home 54-year-old San­jiv Puri, who like pre­de­ces­sor Yo­gesh C Devesh­war, 70, be­gan his ca­reer in the cig­a­rettes ma­jor and later helped steer the com­pany’s en­try into busi­nesses that cush­ion reg­u­la­tory risks and help the 106-year-old com­pany con­sis­tently rank among the top five on the coun­try’s mar­ket­cap­i­tal­iza­tion leader­board.

In the vis­i­ble tapestry of con­ti­nu­ity, how­ever, were wo­ven hid­den el­e­ments of drama: Two di­rec­tors once con­sid­ered fron­trun­ners in the suc­ces­sion race quit amidst Puri’s el­e­va­tion to the role of chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer six months ago. How­ever, to Devesh­war, the IIT-Delhi alum­nus who mid-wifed ITC’s jour­ney into soaps, sham­poos, ho­tels, and re­tail­ing be­yond the baili­wick of leafto­bacco and cig­a­rettes, the suc­ces­sion meant con­ti­nu­ity of his 21-year legacy as chair­man.

“I am sure ev­ery­one joins ex­press­ing our col­lec­tive faith in his lead­er­ship to take this in­sti­tu­tion to its ex­alted destiny with your com­mit­ted, in­spired and pas­sion­ate sup­port,” Devesh­war wrote in an in­ter­nal note to his col­leagues last week ahead of Puri’s ap­point­ment. “I am more op­ti­mistic of the fu­ture of ITC now than ever in the past.”

The suc­ces­sion plan in ITC, which sells 4 of 5 lo­cally made cig­a­rettes, was keenly watched by in­vestors and com­pa­nies alike in In­dia, where fam­ily firms dom­i­nate the list of com­pa­nies mak­ing up bench­mark in­dices of the na­tion’s two big­gest stock ex­changes in Mum­bai. Devesh­war was not only at the van­guard of an ef­fort two decades ago to re­tain the lo­cal SAN­JIV PURI | CEO, ITC

I am more op­ti­mistic of the fu­ture of ITC now than ever

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