November 25, 2021 12:00:47 pm
Harsh Mariwala, founder and chairman of Marico, is a well-known name in the business world with his journey being an inspiration for all budding entrepreneurs. He founded Marico in 1987, a fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) company that now has operations in 25 countries across Asia and Africa. Since then, the company and its products have become a part of every Indian household. Encapsulating this success story is his book, Harsh Realities: The Making of Marico.
In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, Mariwala, who recently graced the stage of Tata Literature Live!, opened up about his book, business journey, Covid-19 lockdown, crucial entrepreneurship skills and more. Excerpts:
What is the book all about, and what motivated you to write it?
The book is about my own journey, from the time I was born to till today. It focuses mainly on my working life. While a small chapter covers my personal life, it is mostly about my business journey. Whenever I spoke at various events in the past, the audience asked me to pen down my thoughts as those could be learnings for professionals and entrepreneurs. Also, after stepping down from the position in 2014, I had some time on my hands. That’s how the idea of writing a book came in.
View this post on Instagram
The book has a rather peculiar title. Can you share the reason?
I wanted a well thought-out and unique name for the book. Also, I wanted a very good cover for it. After the book was almost ready, I talked to the individuals and entrepreneurs I work with or am associated with, to give me suggestions. So, a lot of effort went into finding the right name for the book. I believe it’s very important to have the right name, which is memorable and unique. That’s how the name ‘Harsh Realities’ came about to be. We are very happy with it and received positive feedback on the same.
Writing a memoir can be challenging. How has the experience been for you?
I had never written a book so I was completely inexperienced. I was unsure of how to divide the chapters and if the book should be factual or like a story. I went through my learning curve in terms of how to structure a book in chapters and write it in a story format. The book evolved over a period of time. My initial thought was that the book would be targeted towards entrepreneurs and professionals. But after the feedback, I realised even students and housewives have reacted very positively towards it. So, now, I can probably say that the book has a lot of value depending on who you are.
In the book, you’ve elaborated on the decision of stepping down from the position of Managing Director of Marico. Was it challenging to do so?
Every organisation needs to create a long decision pipeline. If the pipeline is not good and something happens to you, then the whole business can get impacted. So, it was always my desire to step down at some stage and create a strong pipeline. Stepping down is a historic step, at least in the Indian corporate family. I strongly believe that the organisation should be managed by somebody who is best equipped and could do the best for the organisation.
View this post on Instagram
How would you describe your Covid-19 pandemic experience?
The lockdown was declared without much notice. At that time, there was huge fear among people. Sectors like tourism, retail, hospitality and aviation faced the question of survival because they were shut for a long period of time. Employees were not sure whether the business will continue. They were worried about supporting their families financially. Being cooped up in the house added to the stress. So, it was a very tough time. I think the corporate leaders did really well in this crisis. They had to be far more empathetic by helping in hospitalisation, oxygen and ventilators when somebody was hit by Covid-19. Additionally, by ensuring the vaccination of their employees. Leadership came out really well with high levels of communication, supported by care, empathy and authenticity.
You recently said that for startups, team building is just as important as the product itself. Can you elaborate?
When startups get successful and start scaling up, there’s a limit to which the founder can ride that growth because you need good people in your team. Otherwise, it is not possible to do everything on your own. When things start scaling up, your role changes as an entrepreneur from doing things on your own to getting things done from others. And, that’s a big shift because now you need to select the right team, ensure that they work together and have coordination. Many entrepreneurs may have very good ideas and potential. But if you don’t have good talent, then it gets difficult.
Startups often focus on building a product. But the truth is, building your team is just as(if not more) important. Your team determines whether you succeed or fail. #HarshRealities
— Harsh Mariwala (@hcmariwala) November 15, 2021
What other skills makes one a successful entrepreneur?
If you want to be successful, you need to have a strong ‘right to win’. How you create this is very crucial. The right to win in a highly competitive environment should be some differentiator in the business compared to the competition or doing something which others have not done. To work with consumers, having a great idea and executing it is the most important quality to me. Innovation, pioneering opportunities and some differentiators are important. If you do that and constantly improve yourself and create a right to win, then there are much higher chances of success than by doing something which is already done by many other entrepreneurs.
Doing something which nobody else has done involves a lot of risks. So, how important is risk-taking for entrepreneurs?
It is very important. At some stage, an entrepreneur has to take risks. You have to do consumer insights, you can test out your proposition with the consumer and can also do market research. But, market research is no substitute for launching a product. Many times, we may think that we have a great idea but it may just not get back from the consumer. So, it’s okay to fail. Out of failure comes new learning. And from that new learning, you have a new insight that you can use again to bring out something. It’s very important for entrepreneurs to not have fear of failure and the will to experiment.
Do you think philanthropy and social responsibility are essential for any successful and sustainable organisation?
There are two aspects to philanthropy. The first is personal and the second is corporate responsibility. For a company, it is very important that you look at all the stakeholders because all of them are interconnected. If you want to be in a country or society, your company should be respected. If that society respects you, you can leverage it for success by attracting good talent. I think the payback is very high if you do something that has a huge impact on society and its needs. We did it much before this statute came about giving it as a part of corporate social responsibility. You should be passionate about the process you are backing because only then you will be able to make an impact. We don’t want to just give a donation to something that doesn’t help. I believe that ‘active giving’ is very important. By active giving, I mean that you should be actively involved as an organisation by involving your people. I spend 10-20 per cent of my time on corporate social responsibility and personal social responsibility. There’s a feel-good factor of helping somebody. I think that it is very important for any organisation to be involved in social responsibility.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.