From Managing Family Business To Building One Of India’s Biggest Brands: Harsh C Mariwala’s Entrepreneurial Journey

Harsh C Mariwala, addressing at AIMA’s 66th Foundation Day

Harsh C Mariwala, addressing at AIMA’s 66th Foundation Day

At AIMA’s 66th Foundation Day, Mr. Harsh C Mariwala, Chairman, Marico Limited elaborated on the journey of coming out of the premise of his family business and foraying into the Consumer Goods Market to build Marico.

An iconic businessman and the winner of AIMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award 2021. A Thought Leader on Entrepreneurship and Management, a multiple brand builder, and author of ‘Harsh Realities: The Making of Marico’, Mr. Harsh C Mariwala, Chairman, Marico Limited addressed one of AIMA’s 66th Foundation Day Sessions about his entrepreneurial journey.

Mr. Harsh C Mariwala came out of the premise of his family business and forayed into the Consumer Goods Market and build Marico, which is one of India’s biggest brands.  Ruminating about the past of the early 70s when one had to get a license to succeed in business, and in order to get one’s company licensed one had to travel to Delhi and do some lobbying, etc, he said that he was not in favour of all of that, and neither did he like B2B business where “one had to go meet buyers and take them out for dinners”. He’d rather interact with the traders and the final consumers. He further added that he went the ‘small way” to build his business in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Since he had no one to guide or teach him, he had to take small steps, and that is how he started his journey. He also said that competition is tough and in order to win for an entrepreneur, his company has to have a differentiator and that differentiator only comes from innovation. He said that Market Leadership has played a very important role in the growth of his company. Additionally, having a good culture and talent is also important for a company to scale up. The way to retain talent is not merely by offering a good salary but by upskilling them in the company itself. As far as culture goes, people should be able to enjoy work.

And in his own words, the employment of ‘right governance’ also plays a pivotal role in a company’s growth. “If you start taking shortcuts as an entrepreneur, people in your company will start taking shortcuts too.” He said that you need to sow good seeds in order to reap well.

So, why did he feel that it was important to build a good culture in order to thrive? When Marico was formed they recruited a good number of 30-40 managers within a very short period of time. And each of them was operating with their own set of beliefs in terms of leadership style and managing the company. The company became a melting pot of different cultures, and that is when he realised that having a unified culture is important. So, Mr Harsh C Mariwala spent a lot of time preparing the culture for the company. He got together with his team in finalising the company values. However, converting the values into the culture was a big challenge. The reinforcement of each and every value played a very important role in creating a strong culture that facilitated the company’s growth.

Also, recruiting resources from diverse backgrounds, empowering them, and encouraging them to take risks and experiment, went a long way for the company to prosper. In addition to that, the company also fostered the culture of having internal innovation awards.

So, did he in the journey of the company’s growth lose talents that had also moved up with the company? He elaborated on this by saying that in the initial stage of the company’s formation, the resources become pivotal for its growth. However, when the “company grows larger” and if the senior management is not able to change their approach or manage the scale of the business, it leads to a lot of demotivation. When faced with situations like these, one has to deal with the situation head-on, which means putting the organisation first. However, one needs to do that in a humane and transparent manner, he said.

Mr. Harsh C Mariwala also cited an incident about a tussle with Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) regarding a coconut oil product; Parachute of Marico and Nihar of HLL. Nihar’s penetration in the market was deep and backed with all the advanced logistics, so much so that Parachute was almost acquired by HLL. He talked about how Marico had to up their game in every aspect and finally not only win the market from Nihar but also acquire it, and that was also a sense of achievement for the company.

Lastly, talking about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Mr. Harsh C Mariwala said that along with CSR, he also believes in Personal Social Responsibility (PSR). A company as a whole needs to do something for society. However, even on the personal side, one also has to individually give something back to society. He said that more than providing monetary help or giving donations, he wants to be actively involved by giving his time, his energy and being passionate about the cause he is involved in. He said that he has chosen two subjects to mentor in; entrepreneurship and mental health. The ASCENT Foundation started by him helps groom entrepreneurs for the related challenges. The Mariwala Health Initiative focuses on making mental health help accessible to marginalised people and communities.

Watch the full session-

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