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Harsh Mariwala: The Making Of A Home-grown FMCG Multinational
In an interaction with BW Businessworld, Harsh Mariwala, Chairman, Marico Industries shares the story behind his recently authored book Harsh Realities: The Making of Marico which chronicles the making of a homegrown FMCG multinational
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Harsh Mariwala, Founder and Chairman of Marico recently wrote a book, ‘Harsh Realities: The Making of Marico’, which is co-authored by business guru Professor Ram Charan. According to Mariwala, his maiden book is a memoir about his business journey, learnings of the industry, and experiences from working with his family. The first-time author wanted to pen down a business book full of emotions and anecdotes along with insights and facts. In a recent conversation with BW Businessworld, the veteran businessman put forward the thought behind his book, the best of his tales, and the need to build a culture of innovation.
The thought behind the book
When Mariwala attended events even in the pre-Covid times, people would usually suggest to him that he capture his journey in a book since he has lived a life full of experiences to learn from. “This passively was stuck in my mind, and I was sure to write a book at some stage of my life. Then I stepped down as the Managing Director of Marico, however, I still hold the chairman’s position.”
Mariwala believes that writing a book is not an easy task. “Also, I had no experience in writing before.” The entrepreneur-turned-author went through his learning curve to carve his narration and even decided how the chapters should look like.
“Fortunately, I roped in Ram Charan, who helped me structure the book properly,” says Mariwala. However, the businessman was still unsatisfied, as he felt the book lacked emotions even though it was compelling from a business point of view. “I wanted the book to be in a story format — to have emotional content and anecdotes.”
During the pandemic, Mariwala’s wife helped him revisit the memory lane of his journey. “My wife went through all the written material and improvised on that. She made me add a lot of anecdotes and stories, my failures, learnings, and thus made it far more interesting.”
Mariwala believes the result was far more interesting. “My wife brought in emotions and circumstantial episodes. This would have been a dry, factual, and a typical business book. However, I am glad this book is in a story format with an easy reading. Besides, Professor Charan’s inputs and insights at the end of each chapter have a lot of takeaway value.”
Anecdotes that stand out
For Mariwala, there were a few incidents in his life that completely stood out. “I would number the incidents. The number one would be how to disentangle from the family in terms of starting a new company. The second one is how to build a culture, which is extremely crucial for success in the business. The third one is how to use innovation to drive growth, which happened in the case of Parachute for us. The fourth on the list is how do you fight international players in the FMCG sector and take them on without fearing them by taking the right steps,” he recounts.
Mariwala continues, “Lastly, it is about the role of promoters. They have a certain role to play and at some stage, every promoter has to realise what they are meant for. Also, how do you reinvent yourself to do something new is important to know.”
The unique culture
Culture is extremely important for any organisation. Mariwala shares how he always wanted to create a culture and environment of innovation. He states that innovation played a crucial role in his initial journey as well.
“In a highly competitive environment, innovation is necessary not only for new products but also the existing ones.” The business tycoon believes that innovation plays an important role and it has to keep playing that role perpetually.
“It can only happen when you create an innovative culture around you. To create such an environment, we say we need to attract the best talent,” says Mariwala. Having the right person for the job makes it so much easier, undeniably.
Mariwala says, “We go to the campuses or job markets and create an employee value proposition that would attract people to us. In our case, we say we are a highly empowering company. Secondly, we will go with a very flat structure of layers within the organisation. Thirdly, we will have a culture that is open, transparent, and boundaryless because innovation does not happen immediately,” He adds, “An idea develops with time. But this is not enough.”
Importance of taking risks
How do you encourage people to take risks? “If people are afraid of failures, they won’t take risks.We should not have any fears and it is okay to experiment, do something new,” says Mariwalla, adding, “The organisation’s role, if and when something does not succeed, is not to punish you.”
It is indeed true, as reiterated by many great men of the past, that failure cannot be punished if it is an intelligent failure. “You have to move on to encouraging people to experiment and take risks by prototyping on a small scale, and also have innovation awards that again reinforce innovation.”
It is a widely accepted belief among the high achieving organisations that the top management behaviour should be to encourage innovation. “A whole host of initiatives would drive innovation on a perpetual basis and not just in product management or development but across the organisation,” Mariwala states.