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BW Businessworld

Leadership Principles Don't Change With The Number Of Employees: Vijay Rekhi, Unibev India

Vijay Rekhi has started a super-premium and premium segments of brandy and whiskies in the Indian Alcoholic beverage industry under the name of ‘Unibev

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Vijay Kumar Rekhi served as the Managing Director of United Spirits Limited until April 19, 2011. He also served as a Non-Executive Director of United Breweries (Holdings) Limited from August 2, 2011 to May 8, 2014.

Looking for a new challenge for himself, he has started a super-premium and premium segments of brandy and whiskies in the Indian Alcoholic beverage industry under the name of ‘Unibev’. 

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Rekhi talks about managing employees in startups, taking on big brands and what transpired the change.  

How different is it to manage employees in a big brand compared to a startup?

The principles of leadership do not change. When I was heading a 6000 strong team at the largest beverage alcohol company in the world by volume, I had created centers of excellence and a strong managerial line up to grow each region in India as a separate profit center and together contribute to the annual targeted topline. As the management and domain expert at Unibev India, a start up in luxury beverage alcohol business, I have created the right human resource blend. I have created an ecosystem with the best in the business domain experts for all critical functions including manufacturing, quality, packaging, design, sales and marketing. Some of these resources including our master blender has been an authority in his domain for nearly fifty years.  I have drawn from the expertise of individual excellence and experience.

Given how consumer demands are changing in FMCG space, how is HR bringing about a change to improve sales and productivity?

I am an avid user of digital media and advocate using digital platforms to drive conversation around our new brands of luxury liquor from Unibev India. As a self-funded start up, we are taking measured approach to early profitability through distribution in high through put outlets. Our hiring accent for these functions focused on agile, out of box, go getters to create early engagement for users and trade channels.

Sales is all about strategy and timing, how should a worker be motivated in startups to achieve their target?

Unibev is a disruptive start up in beverage alcohol space. Our brands were created to shake up the status quo in premium and luxury drinks market. Our sales teams are confident and equipped with a differentiated product story and global excellence in packaging. Sales strategy is to optimize on high profitability markets and within those, high profitability channels. This has been arrived at with the help of data analytics for all markets. Sales teams are motivated to take on the leaders in the market.

What transpired the change from a big brand to your own startup?

Doing something new keeps you cognitively fit. I applied my management ad domain expertise to create a new company with minimal layers of hierarchy to create winning brands in the shortest possible time to go to market. I completed my tenure at United Spirits in 2011 and I was leading the Executive Committee until 2014. I incubated the idea of international quality brands at affordable prices for the new evolved Indian consumer for a little over two years. I proposed to float a new company to like-minded industry colleagues and Unibev brands were launched in 2017.

What roles were in mind when you formed your team? Did you face shortage of skills while hiring?

We did not face any talent shortage for the roles we were looking to hire for. Years of industry experience helped us cherry pick our top talent.

Are leaders born or learning and adaption plays a major part in shaping up a portfolio?

A bit of both – you need to have the quest for learning and application, layered with business acumen, risk taking, people management and most importantly, delivering value to the end users.  In my career journey, I have applied innate and acquired expertise to drive highly motivated teams and create winning stories in the market.

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startup alcoholic beverages whisky sales employees