Up, Close and Personal with Indrajeet Sengupta and Kamlesh Sharma at IIM VISTA
“Values are the biggest differentiator for us.”
It was enriching. It was engaging. And, it was entertaining as well. One couldn’t ask for more as the VISTA 2019, the International Business Summit of IIM Bangalore, got off to a rousing start with a lively chat session between HCCB leaders and the students. In a freewheeling conversation with the moderators, who were the students of IIM Bangalore, the two leaders of HCCB, Indrajeet Sengupta, Chief Human Resources Officer and Kamlesh Sharma, Chief Communication Officer, shared their views on emerging job opportunities, provided their perspective on leadership lessons and offered some other useful management tips.
Here are the excepts from the interaction session:
Moderators: There are two questions we want to ask. First, how has Coke kept itself live and fresh? Second, how has HCCB, in the past two decades grown to be among the top five FMCG companies in India?
Kamlesh: HCCB was established in 1997 which in many ways was the time when liberalisation was taking shape across India. In other words, we were getting into an era of choice. The construct for us was to offer beverages that our consumers wanted. So, we built our business on this premise of choice. We also took it upon ourselves to make our products available within an arm's reach of desire. It’s almost a credo for us in HCCB.
So, we are also a company built on the prowess of distribution. And, the third and the most important pillar of our existence is the human resource. We take pride in nurturing talent that can anticipate what the consumers of future want.
Indrajeet: It’s heartening indeed to see today’s young workforce of our country. One can clearly see the spark in them; wanting to change the world. And, this is what differentiates us from rest of the world. At HCCB, we believe in creating an environment where people learn on their feet, pretty much every second, every day. In my view, this is one of the reasons why HCCB has continued to grow this fast.
Moderators: As we know, you've been associated with the Coca-Cola family for more than 13 years now. So how has the journey as a CCO been so far? And what has made you stick to this company for so long?
Kamlesh: It has been extremely fulfilling and thrilling all along the way. It is an organisation that provides its people an option to say, I think you should do this and also ask do you want to do this? That's the level of empowerment that we have in HCCB and the level of confidence the organisation has in its people and their skills. Besides, HCCB is an organisation that gives you a framework but does not tell you what to do within the framework. So, as long as you have not really transgressed that framework, you’re free to do what you think is appropriate for this company. It is a people’s company. Even our Instagram page, is the story of the little things that our people do within and outside the company.
Moderators: So for a corporate brand like HCCB, how has the journey been in with respect to the digital marketing aspect?
Kamlesh: The first question is easy to answer. While HCCB is a brand built on digital, there’s no compulsion on pushing the content out. We almost always go back and say who's our community. What do they expect from us? And if it checks all the boxes, that’s when a story goes out on a platform. Besides, because it's digital, it is in your control, you can curate your own stories. It gives you a lot of creative scope to come up with the kind of storytelling that you want to do. So yes, it's, it's very liberating in a way.
Moderators: How is the working culture at HCCB different from other companies? Secondly, how do you instill that feeling of togetherness within the HCCB employees?
Indrajeet: Every company has its own uniqueness in terms of how it works and the values it promotes. Within HCCB, what we absolutely believe in is the soul of the company. There is a curiosity in everything - there is an intent of questioning and finding out what we can do different that we haven't done before. There is an absolute amount of freedom. And, the other big piece for us is to keep exploring on the ways and means to become more inclusive. So, the decision-making that we have comes with both the agility, as well as our ability to include everyone. I think these are some of the values that are ingrained in everyone in HCCB. And I think that's the hallmark of this company.
Moderators: We are aware that organisations hire from the campuses and they also hire laterally. Our question is what’s the difference between the two and what’s your advice to the young students like us who are going to start their careers.
Indrajeet: Just like many of you, I started my career the same way years ago. Through my professional journey I have come to realise that there is a disproportionate amount of investment that organisations usually make for all their management trainee programmes. This is critical to nurture and develop talents for the future. And, the lateral hires, who have relevant domain experience and expertise are brought in to fill the skill gaps. They too are already trained. As regards my advice to the young talents, I have only one thing to say – do not give up. It really baffles me to learn that some people change their jobs three times in five years. There is nothing right or wrong about changing jobs, but sometimes I think when you join a company, you have made an investment in yourself. I think it is worthwhile to be resilient and seek out as many opportunities as you can before you really give up and say I don't think this is the right place for me.
Moderators: Going back to the HCCB brand, we feel that the HCCB logo is pretty impressive. It has very vibrant and fresh aspect to it. So maybe you could explain a bit about the story behind what went into making this logo.
Kamlesh: Thank you very much for the compliment. I take this on behalf of the team. Let me begin with the letters used in our logo. You will notice that none of the letters in our logo is perfect. We have deliberately kept the letters imperfect because one of the core values that we have at HCCB is that we do not strive for perfection. Instead, we always push for progress, and the logo is reflective of that. The other couple of things you will notice is the two Cs add up to make the numeral 8 and if you watch closely, they together look like infinity. The two Cs also denote the number 8 - a representation of the 8 occasions of the day when our beverages can be served to an adult. And, the imperfect look and feel of the letters in the logo is simply an assertion of our core value of not striving for perfection but for speed and progress. And if you just do the maths, of where we are today, and where we can be - we have infinite opportunities to grow. The final thing you should note that there's a lot of white space between the 2 Cs. The white space is symptomatic of the canvas available for us at HCCB to paint the future the way we want.
Moderators: You have talked about training and how in HCCB you train people from the very start. But, we all know that training is a humongous task. So, how do you meet that challenge?
Indrajeet: HCCB is one company where I've had the least challenge when it comes to learning and development. I can say this with fair amount of confidence and conviction that among all the budget cuts that might happen because of changes in business plans and so on, learning and development at HCCB is one area which remains untouched. We see L&D as a big investment.
Having said that what we have done is design and develop several kinds of programmes customised for different people at different levels. So, we have classroom education and digital learning that play out. There are partnerships with Harvard, LinkedIn, and Cornell University to ensure that you can learn at your own pace, at your own time.
Moderators: In today's era of scrolls and where you know communication happens in less than 140 characters, how do you as the CCO handle such a challenge? How do you connect with your social media community?
Kamlesh: So, if conversations are happening in 140 characters, you guys are to be blamed for it. (laughter, applause!!) Because when we grew up, we would read long form content, long articles. But it's a relevant point. We try to keep things simple at HCCB. For all our digital communications, we look at 3 things. First, we try and see, what does the community expect from us. If we have a point of view, and if that point of view is relevant to the community, then we engage. Second, we try to assess what is in it for the audience? If they can derive something out of what we say, then that content goes in for publishing. And, finally, we almost always go back to say - who is HCCB? Does this warrant a comment from a company called HCCB or are there better people placed in the horizon, wherever they are, across the world, who have a much better locus standi to comment. Once we check all those 2-3 boxes, then it becomes easy.
Moderators: How do you think are the prospect of the B school students in the FMCG industry?
Indrajeet: FMCG is one of the most talent developing sectors today. I think the big question that you should ask yourselves is what you really want to do when you join an FMCG company. Because for us, when we are hiring anyone, the expectation is that some of you will go on to lead the company in the future. With that in mind, it is never about lowering the standard. The other key principle is that you need to broaden your expanse. That is the single biggest reason why you will grow in the company. In a company like HCCB, you will have the opportunity to explore roles in supply chain, in the market operations, commercial etc. And finally, values are the biggest differentiator for us. This is one thing we never compromise with.
Moderators: With the growth of the artificial intelligence and industry 4.0 coming in, there is a fear that all the jobs will be taken up by computers and man would not be required. How far the trend will impact your industry in general and the company in particular?
Kamlesh: I can say with certainty, especially in an Indian context, there is no replacing human beings. We are a very touch and feel country. We like emotions being exchanged. Having said that I would urge you to keep reskilling and upgrading yourself to stay relevant in fast changing world. Remember, the skill of today becomes dormant very quickly tomorrow.
Indrajeet: Today, we are actually surrounded by software and devices everywhere. Now imagine if this is the world in which we live, the single big thing that all of us will struggle with, is what do I make sense of all this data that is around us. So, if you keep that in mind that I think there is a clear argumentation that you can see between what artificial intelligence can help you and what you will be able to do with artificial intelligence. So the jury is still out as to whether there is a job loss or not. While AI will help us analyze and anticipate trends and give us a lot of augmenting capability, the creativity, collaboration decision-making will continue to be with the human beings.
Moderators: Thank you.