Courage Carries Him Forward
Suresh Narayanan’s stint in Nestlé is associated with innovation, new product launches and an ability to bravely confront tribulations
Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma
Suresh Narayanan, Chairman and Managing Director, Nestlé India
“Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.”
— Nelson Mandela
Suresh Narayanan has been Managing Director of Nestlé India, a subsidiary of Nestlé S.A., since August 2015 and the company’s chairman since October 2015. Prior to this, he has served as the CEO of Nestle Philippines. Armed with a Master’s degree in economics, he began his career as a management trainee with Hindustan Unilever, moving on subsequently to Colgate Palmolive in India, before joining Nestlé.
Narayanan has been associated with the FMCG sector for three decades and courage is a quality one easily associates with him. Through his tenure at Nestlé, this soft-spoken leader has steered his team forward confidently, even in times of turbulence. At the start of his career with Nestlé he is credited to have set up the chilled dairy business. During his tenure as managing director of Nestle Singapore Pte. (2008-2010), the overall business witnessed a sustained growth despite the economic downturn. While he was Chairman and CEO of Nestle Egypt, Narayanan’s initiatives led to growth in business notwithstanding the turbulence and volatility caused by the Arab Spring revolution.
In June 2015, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) imposed a ban on Maggie ostensibly because the samples contained monosodium glutamate and excessive levels of lead. Later in the year, the ban was lifted by the Bombay High Court. “Maggie is an iconic brand, and I am blessed to be a steward for this brand. The brand itself is a strong entity, built over a number of years with millions of consumers giving us the benefit of their love,” says Narayanan.
When asked what the critical elements of effective crisis management are, Narayanan says, “I believe that if you address the harshest criticism with dignity, with respect, and with transparency, you are able to come back and are able to have a second chance.” In 2017 Nestlé set up a food safety institute (NFSI) at Manesar in Haryana to provide guidance and training on food safety, with the support of the FSSAI. The institute was established to conduct training programmes on food safety management systems, testing methods, regulatory standards and to offer training to state food officials in these areas. Nestlé runs similar institutes in China and at Lausanne in Switzerland.
Over the last few years Nestlé has been focused on innovation. The company has launched more than 40 new products across all categories. Nestlé India has embraced a digital strategy quite strongly in terms of consumer engagement and consumer insight generation. The company has recently launched India’s first AI-enabled nutrition platform called Ask Nestlé. The platform gives consumers access to the much-needed nutrition-related information, such as dietary recommendations etc. The platform helps debunk perceptions people have about nutrition that are not scientifically validated. Nestlé being a foremost food and beverage company, has a lot of scientific facts at its disposal, which it has decided to make available to consumers in a user-friendly format through this platform.
In the last quarter of the financial year ended March 2019, Nestlé’s profit rose by 9.26 per cent to Rs 463.28 crore. The company’s sales increased by 8.91 per cent to Rs 3,002.95 crore.