Harsh Mariwala says most entrepreneurs are not able to take their companies to the next level because they want to do everything themselves. He recommends hiring professionals better than themselves who can then be empowered to lead the business successfully.
“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing..." I strongly believe that it is important to take risks and not be afraid by the fear of failure. Every failure has a learning. And it is this experimentative, thinking out-of-the-box, and risk-taking ability that led me to create a world-class consumer brands company.
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When I started working in 1971, Marico was a traditionally family-managed company. I had to start from the ground up. Most of my business learnings came from seeing and observing people and using these insights to address a business need. Thus, revamping the packaging lines to introduce smaller packs of oil, building a more robust sales force, and engaging an advertising agency that went on to create memorable ad campaigns for the various brands — all of these were a result of my efforts to grow the consumer brands business.
Another challenge was hiring reluctant professionals to join a top-heavy family-managed business. Unfazed, I initiated a dialogue with my cousins as I realised that they had difficulties meeting their business aspirations and that we all had a common desire to modernise the business and diversify the product mix. Looking back, this was a watershed moment that led to the birth of Marico as a professionally managed and globally competitive consumer brand company.
I believe in perpetuity, and I think the business should be able to continue to operate successfully even without me. In terms of the organisational culture, purpose, and strategy, I have established mechanisms through the board, which I believe will continue to play a crucial role in the future.
Following are the four mantras that have guided me and ones that emerging entrepreneurs would do well to consider:
Invest in the right talent
Since its inception in 1990, Marico has seen leadership changes and new business acquisitions while expanding into several geographies. However, what remains at the heart of Marico is a lesson I learned early in my career that has guided the company’s journey.
I was clear that if I had to build a sizeable fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) business, I had to create the right conditions to help me recruit the best talent — including people who may be better than me. This belief was crucial to Marico's success. Most entrepreneurs today are not able to take their companies to the next level because they want to do everything themselves and maintain control. I recommend hiring professionals better than themselves who can then be empowered to lead the business successfully.
Another issue I see among new entrepreneurs is the sense of entitlement where they think the company belongs to them. In running a public limited company, a person can be a majority shareholder or even the founder. That does not mean he can call himself an owner, especially if the company has other shareholders.
When I was at the helm of Marico, I didn’t claim it was my company despite holding a majority stake. Unfortunately, many promoters and entrepreneurs put their interests ahead of the company. The entrepreneur should create value for all stakeholders, which will trickle down and create a culture of ownership.
Corporate governance and sustainability
High standards of corporate governance boost investor confidence. When Marico was founded, the perception was that it was a family-managed organisation. However, I was very clear that this would have to change, so I set about building a board that would be dynamic and thus become a source of competitive advantage.
In hindsight, I can say that the Marico board has contributed immense value to company strategy, talent acquisition, and building competencies. It is also important that the board's composition should be refreshed periodically, ensuring a consistent flow of new blood and proficiencies.
Need for mentorship
The journey of an entrepreneur is often hard and lonely. Having gone through a similar experience, I felt the need to share my learnings to help budding entrepreneurs with their dilemmas as they go about building their dreams. This led me to start Ascent Foundation in 2012 as a peer-to-peer platform that leveraged the power of the collective through self-facilitated groups — called Trust Groups.
Beyond its cohort, Ascent engages with the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem in India to give them a taste of governed mentoring and peer learning through a yearly flagship Ascent Conclave. Over six years, the conclave has featured over 120 speakers, thought leaders, and innovators interacting with over 4,000 entrepreneurs as part of day-long curated knowledge and motivational sessions. My goal with this is to create a supportive and non-judgmental environment where these change makers can share, inspire and celebrate their experiences and learn from each other. On November 24, we will host the seventh edition of the conclave, themed "Thriving on Change”.
The last two years have been drastically evolving for entrepreneurs worldwide, prompting them to reconsider age-old standard business practices and readying them to adapt to change and thrive. Finally, the legacy I aspire to leave behind through my organisations and foundations is one of creating value and making a difference to all stakeholders.
- The author is co-founder and chairman of Marico.
Most entrepreneurs today are not able to take their companies to the next level because they want to do everything themselves and maintain control. I recommend hiring professionals better than themselves who can then be empowered to lead the business successfully.
First Published: IST