WE NEED TO REACH OUT TO MILLENNIALS GLOBALLY
Business Today|February 21, 2021
Bata shoes are an integral part of almost every school-goer’s life in India. That is why most Indians believe that the brand — founded in what is now the Czech Republic in 1894 and headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland — is local, despite operating in over 70 countries. The company, which does a ₹3,500 crore business in the country, recently appointed India CEO Sanjiv Kataria as its global head. Kataria, who had taken over as India head in 2017 and under whom Bata India’s profits rose 46 per cent, tells Ajita Shashidhar how India’s diverse footwear consumption habits have given him a unique understanding of customer needs across the globe. Edited excerpts:
Ajita Shashidhar

It will be interesting to know what the pandemic has taught you ...

The pandemic has been a great learning experience. The first is the huge effort of the team to ensure that our stores are open and our supply chain fully functional despite working remotely. The huge collaboration has flattened the organisation in many ways. The other part is ability to take innovations forward. The organisation has shown tremendous agility. We have launched store-on-wheels to get close to consumers, and WhatsApp calling, through which our people have been able to reach out to Bata Club members and meet their requirements at home, apart from new collections such as washable footwear. The pandemic has shown us organisation muscles we were not aware of. It will put the company in a great position to go forward.

What did you tell your team when operations came to a halt and business began to shrink?

When the pandemic first broke out, the most important thing was to ensure that everyone was safe, and more importantly, aware of what was going on in the organisation. That was a period of over-communication, having town-halls with our managers across the country every fortnight, every functional leader reaching out to their teams at least twice a week to make sure they knew what was happening and how we were moving ahead. We said there would be phases, and the first phase was survival. Then came revival. We started reaching out to consumers. Then there was the revitalise phase, when we said we can see footfalls, so how can we expand our reach, how can we get closer to consumers? We are in the revitalise phase, getting sharper, getting our act on products and channels right. Our ability to bring in learnings from several markets and use some of those in India helped us plan for the future.

You talked about the pandemic helping you flatten the organisation. Can you elaborate?

When you are working in a physical environment, the number of people you can reach out to is limited. Let me give you an example. Pre-Covid town-halls had people only from our head-office in Gurgaon as we could accommodate only 100-150 people. When we went into the new world, all our 1,100 managers, across locations, could hear me at the same time.

Did those town-halls generate ideas for some of your recent innovations?

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