- OnFebruary 13, 2016
MUMBAI/DELHI: Ritesh Srivastava speaks with the fervour of a true believer. “I am a lifer here. The work and systems are as professional as any other FMCG company. But the work culture and what the brand stands for in terms of living with a purpose is totally different.”
Four years ago, Srivastava joined Yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. as senior manager marketing and sales from Himalaya. He’s not alone in his enthusiasm. In the past six months, as many as 250 executives have joined Patanjali from established fast-moving consumer goods companies. Patanjali itself has in the meantime been winning market share from its rivals as becomes a strong contender in the FMCG stakes.
Executives have joined from Hindustan Unilever and Procter & Gamble, apart from domestic companies Himalaya, Bisleri and Emami. The company is deluged with applications, it says.
Apart from the controversial Ramdev’s charisma, many are drawn by the prospects for career growth, the chance of taking a business to new heights and the ethos of the company.
“Ours is not a corporate culture–it is a spiritual culture and it is purpose-driven,” said managing director Acharya Balkrishna.
Ramdev says people are drawn by Patanjali’s objectives of reinvesting in society and nation building.
“There is no company that can be compared to Patanjali,” he said. “Professionals earlier did not have a place where they could take care of their family needs and at the same time work for a purpose, to give back to society and be proud of what they do.” It isn’t looking for top-bracket, Indian Institute of Management-trained professionals who command crores in pay.
“Our compensation packages are in line with industry standards,” said managing director Balkrishna. “We do not seek great qualifications. During our interviews, we only make sure of two things–that the applicant does not smoke or consume liquor and should be of Satvik nature.”
This has led to questions about its ability to recruit the best talent, especially at the senior level. But that’s exactly what may be a draw for some.
Sharad Bharadwaj, who joined Patanjali as western zonal manager in 2015 from P&G, said he was taken by the swadeshi model and the emphasis on treating employees well.
“At least 70% of the talent in MNCs is sidelined,” he said. “At Patanjali, they do not give up on an individual. If someone is not up to a task, he is trained to do things that he is capable of. That does not mean there are no targets and we are all very aggressive about that. In that sense, it is like any other FMCG company with accountability.” There is criticism that the system isn’t professional enough. “Patanjali does not have a professional CEO who can attract top talent,” said the CEO of an Indian soaps and detergent maker. “Their systems and processes are still rudimentary and until they improve that, attracting senior-level talent will be a challenge.”
Vibhav Dhawan, managing partner at search firm Positive Moves Consulting, said, “While there will always be people Patanjali will be looking to hire, the A-grade, top-notch talent looking for sustainable career growth and pedigree are unlikely to join the company.”
But people are keen on joining, said Abneesh Roy, vice president at Edelweiss Securities. Patanjali is seeking to professionalise the management and incorporate processes and technology in the work culture. “During our visit and interactions, we found there any many professionals who are managing different units and have past work experience in companies like Dabur, Shahnaz Hussain, SGH Labs and Alkem Laboratories,” he said.
Gurvinder Pal Singh, who joined eight months ago from Bisleri, said Patanjali was the ideal FMCG company to his mind. “Bisleri distributors were co-distributors of Patanjali brands and I was hugely impressed with their admiration for the brand and product quality,” he said. “I was also a consumer of the brand–toothpaste and atta–and the product quality was very good. That further motivated me and in the last eight months I have learnt more in Patanjali than in my previous 12 years.”
Ramdev is closely involved, participating in discussions with advertising agencies, on marketing plans or research, said a senior manager. “Baba Ramdev is an astute manager with exemplary oratory skills,” said Rahul Nene, managing director of Witthaus Management Consulting, a talent search company. “Nobody has probably understood rural marketing so well and in such a short time… this is probably the magnet for officials to move out of established firms.” Besides, a growing firm offers greater opportunity than mature ones, he said. Pratima Kumari, who joined Patanjali as a marketing manager from DDB Mudra four months ago, echoed this view.
“I get an opportunity to grow along with the brand,” she said. “In the mid and junior levels, I see the kind of respect this organisation gives its employees, which is missing in other companies.” Seniors are enjoined to treat colleagues with respect—rude behaviour is frowned upon. The dress code is white—it’s probably the only FMCG company where an executive can wear a kurta pyjama to work.
Started as a pharmacy in Haridwar in 1997, Patanjali is now a Rs 2,000 crore company with about 1,500 employees. Reporting to Balkrishna are three vice-presidents: CP Nagpal heads foods and juices and used to be with Dabur; Ravindra Kumar Chaudhary leads the cosmetics business and was previously with Emami; and Rakesh Sharma is chief of sales and marketing, having worked with HUL earlier. Sharma, who used to handle HR as well, elaborated on hiring practices.
“We do not follow the conventional FMCG system of hiring IIMs or IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) candidates or those with fancy degrees,” he said. “We are also recruiting youths, around 250 from several non-metros in each market, training them and taking them on our rolls as territory in-charges… Corporates tend to view non-English speaking youth as unqualified, when the fact is it has nothing to do with the actual skills required.
Rajesh Sharma joined Patanjali as senior manager of sales and marketing a month ago after 14 years in companies such as Revlon and JL Morrison, having been struck by a Discovery Channel report on the big profits that multinational FMCG companies made in India.
“When I heard about Patanjali, I was willing to even take a pay cut to join,” he said. “Patanjali not only matched my compensation expectations but also offered a work culture rich in diversity of talent in the truest sense.”
Patanjali prefers people without experience, he said. “All they need is enthusiasm and commitment. I have seen a mix of city and rural employees, some of whom you think are almost illiterate, but their work enthusiasm and commitment are amazing.”
A CLSA report last year didn’t stint on praise, bearing the title “Wish You Were Listed.” Patanjali has pitchforked itself into the top league with profit said to be in excess of such companies as Jyothy Laboratories and Emami, it said.
“The plans are even more interesting as the company is now looking at ‘traditional’ ways to expand and targets to more than double the top line in coming years,” CLSA said.
Rishabh Sinha, a regional manager who joined a year ago from HUL, said the nature of the company appealed to him. “That this was a swadeshi company and the culture based on spirituality appealed to me,” he said. “In all other senses, the level of professionalism in the company and systems and processes are as good as any FMCG company,” he said.
Damodar Mall, CEO of Reliance Retail, pointed out that “Elitist FMCG is a homogenous club. Mavericks do not fit well there. The lure of an untreated marketing challenge appeals to such people.”
Managers at some rivals are dismissive of those who’ve left to join Ramdev’s company. Patanjali executives put this down to envy.
“That is always an elitist view of established players,” VP Rakesh Sharma said. “Earlier, they wrote off the company. Now, they cannot believe the numbers coming in.”
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