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BW Businessworld

The Beast That Wants To Make The World A Wonderful Place

The size of an organisation does not matter… In the world that we live in, people define everything — goals, cultures, countries and most definitely companies

Photo Credit : Reuters

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Ever since GST has been a topic of conversation, on more occasions than one, Hindustan Unilever’s (HUL) name has come up; some early conversations were about bracing for the change. On implementation, the talk changed to how HUL passed on the benefits or how the first GST bill was issued from HUL, and then an earnings report that showed growth despite the economic headwinds.

This was not very different from what had happened during demonetisation last year. HUL was among the few to adjust to demonetisation as swiftly as it did; it showed growth in the very next quarter. This all sounds very well, and forms ground to look at the company more closely. But the bigger question is, after the initial headline, where did the numbers stand?

For me the answer came in a conversation with Ramesh Jude Thomas, president and CKO, EQUiTOR Value Advisory, who brought up HUL’s Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). In the last year, my own columns have delved on the thought process of ‘doing well by doing good’ or ‘doing good is good business’. I solemnly believe that irrespective of the various views that people can have — and some of which are really hardened over time — companies that are not focussed on a bigger nation and people-led picture, will lose consumers and a whole new generation of employees.

For the HUL cover story in this issue, I have had literally complete access to HUL’s thinking and its top management. I spent a lot of time with them to understand what their life is like around and beyond the numbers, and what makes HUL. Two things truly stood out for me.

The first was that HUL is walking the talk on making a real difference to the world. All its plans are based on its USLP approach and on being purpose-driven. The second was that HUL’s people culture has changed completely from what it was a few years ago.

And so has its business and revenue targets. HUL also has environment-related targets now. The company has made water a core area of focus. Its hygiene centre in a slum dwelling in Mumbai is impacting many lives. A hygiene centre is not HUL’s core business — but marrying that concept to its products was indicative of how HUL was thinking. Can it actually scale it up? Time will tell, but I for one am very hopeful that it will.

One statement in my conclusion in the cover story is that HUL has become much more humble as an organisation. My objective is not to say that it was arrogant once, but more like it has become so much more comfortable in its skin. It’s no longer fighting a fight where it has to prove itself to anyone or that it is the big daddy of the business. It has become collaborative in the true sense.

It is listening to its partners, to outsiders, just as much it is listening to its younger talent. HUL’s leadership, led by CEO & MD Sanjiv Mehta, is not trying to run the organisation; it is trying to create an environment and culture where its people take the organisation forward. It is letting them make mistakes without fear because that is really the way an organisation will find the next big thing.

The FMCG giant truly believes ‘what is good for India is good for HUL’. Hindustan not just precedes Unilever in company name but also in its thoughts and actions. I would be lying if I said that I now understand HUL, even though I don’t recall the last time I had invested so many hours on comprehending any company, but I do understand this — if HUL manages to attain the targets it has set for itself on its USLP and its purpose-driven approach, the world would be a better place by that much.


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