Harish Manwani, Chairman, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), while addressing shareholders at the company’s 85th Annual General Meeting held in Mumbai last Friday, emphasised the need for companies to win back the trust of society by not only running a business that delivers great performance but also doing good for the society.
In the speech titled ‘Great to Good – Lessons in Leadership’, Manwani recounted the experiences from his 42-year-long career with the company. Upholding HUL as a great example of a company that is ‘built to last’, Manwani called out the key elements that have helped the business sustain its success over the years – serving communities, serving all consumers, developing talent, embracing change and a set of non-negotiables.
From great to good
Acknowledging noted American author Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great’ that talks about the need for businesses to transform from good to great, Manwani said, “In the current context, to win back the trust of society, companies need to move to a new paradigm of ‘great to good’ – running a business that delivers great performance and is also good for society.”
He said that HUL is a great example of a company that has stood the test of time and added, “Throughout its history, HUL has sustained its reputation for being, not just a high-performing company, but also a company with the highest levels of integrity and governance.”
Serving communities – living our purpose
What has enabled HUL to stay on top, to not only remain relevant to its shareholders but also to every stakeholder? Manwani answered this by highlighting the five key characteristics of the company. “We have always kept communities first,” Manwani said.
“For the company, it has never been about selling soap or soup, it's about making sure that in the process of doing so, we can change people's lives. Small actions, big difference,” he added.
Serving all consumers
Nine out of 10 Indian households use HUL products. “This is a result of our strong belief that we are in business to serve all consumers from every income strata,” said Manwani. He explained how HUL’s brands straddle the consumer pyramid serving consumers in every economic strata and how its robust distribution channels reach every consumer through traditional and modern trade as well as through the emerging e-commerce channel.
Talent is key
He went on to explain how over the years, right from the ‘Indianisation’ of the company, HUL has always upheld talent development and meritocracy. “Our leadership development programme ensures that our managers are equally comfortable in the dusty by-lanes of rural India and in the corridors of Unilever House,” he said.
Citing change as the only constant, Manwani narrated how HUL has time and again navigated change over the years. He talked about innovation that is inevitable in today’s changing world and said, “Our belief has been that innovation must embrace not just products but also business processes.”
According to him, “Our (HUL’s) guiding principle has always been that we need to keep one foot in the future even as we remain firmly rooted in the present.”
Emphasising the need for businesses to have a clear set of non-negotiables, Manwani said, “Great companies have a clear code of business principles, but they also have an unwritten moral compass – a set of non-negotiables and a collective conscience that binds the organisation together.”
Manwani concluded by reiterating his mantra of the four Gs of growth – consistent, competitive, profitable and responsible growth. He spoke about HUL’s commitment to ‘doing well by doing good’ and said, “Our history is one of growth powered by ideas and values. Products, brands and profits followed in their wake. And while we have changed to meet the challenges of our times, our values have not.”