HUL Chairman’s Speech – Learnings galore

Thanks to the AGM of HUL being held on Friday July 26, the full-page speech-text was printed in The Economic Times only on Saturday, giving me time to read and re-read the entire speech. And man, what an amazing bouquet of thoughts ! My attempt here to summarise key highlights, and possibly to glean out some learnings…

  • The post-2008 world has been acknowledged as the key context of doing business itself. The war-term of Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) has been picked up to describe the extent of chaos in the global business world. SNAFU is another one which comes to my mind (Situation Normal, but All Fouled Up).
  • The speech identifies three mega-trends within the VUCA world, which are transmogrifying (I learnt this word from Calvin & Hobbes) the way business is being done –
    • Digitisation : Telegraph invented in 1840, Telephone in 1880, TV in 1920, IC in 1960 and Smartphone in 2000 (combining all of the above) – the world is never going to be the same again !
    • Shift of power to the developing world, and
    • The Importance of keeping Environment at the centre of business strategy.

Any company intending to do meaningful business globally has to understand, nay, internalise these mega-trends as part of its core strategy.

  • Historically, Business Growth was supposed to be comprehensive only if it was :
    • Profitable Growth,
    • Competitive Growth and
    • Consistent Growth (consistent over the first 2 dimensions).

Now, to win in a VUCA world, Responsible Growth has to be added to this list quite irreversibly. Society, Community has to be kept in mind while planning Growth.

  • Leadership required to achieve the 4-pronged growth and to succeed in the VUCA world should have the following traits :
    • Have an optimal mix of foresight and agility, the ability to balance the short-term with the long-term
    • Be consumer-centric, especially as consumers move across income bands, geographical regions and needs clusters
    • Ability to think local, act global : consumer insights are local, processes & best practices to act on these insights could be global
    • Values-led : values have to be non-negotiable, especially in bad times like now. Unilever Values can be described as “Spirited IRR”, covering Integrity, Responsibility, Respect and a Pioneering Spirit. Each company, each business has to firm up their set of values, and stick to them through thick and thin
    • Purpose-driven : purpose of the enterprise has to be over-arching, should far exceed the boundaries of business strategy,  and should be adding value to the lives of people  – both, consumers of the business and others.

Many Business Leaders may have thought through most of the above points for their Business; however, I found it interesting to see at one place such a beautiful amalgamation of inter-related variables, required to succeed in the new world order. And another point, I don’t think your company has to wait till it becomes of the size of HUL before one starts working on the above comprehensive landscape. In fact, if your company is small but growing, now is the right time to adopt such an all-encompassing, multi-directional approach…before it’s too late !

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