‘WE ARE NOT AN EMPTY CALORIE COMPANY'
Forbes India|April 9, 2021
There is more to Suresh Narayanan than just being chairman and managing director of Nestlé India. He is a timekeeper. After joining the world’s largest food company in 1999 as executive vice president for sales in India, he was elevated to managing director in August 2015 when the Swiss multinational found itself in crisis management mode in India. Narayanan didn’t have the luxury of time to save the blockbuster product of Nestlé India, Maggi noodles, which regulators banned for allegedly excess lead content. Every second was used judiciously to restore the brand’s credibility and trust. “It was an existential crisis,” he recalls. Apart from firefighting on a war footing, Narayanan looked at the silver lining. “In every crisis, there is an opportunity.”

For Nestlé, it was the right time to do two things. First, reduce excessive dependence on the flagship noodles brand. Over the last five years, the FMCG major has rolled out around 80 new products, which now account for 4 percent of sales. There are another 40 to 50 new projects in the pipeline. “The innovation rate in the last five years is about 3x the rate we have ever had in the past,” asserts Narayanan.

The underlying message was to stay fearless and not take the foot off the innovation pedal. Post-pandemic, he stresses, consumers are veering more towards trusted brands, safe brands, better nutrition brands, and brands that offer greater immunity. “Har aadmi ka waqt aata hai. Usi tarah, har company ka bhi waqt aata hai (Like humans, there is a right time for every company as well). Nestlé’s time has come,” he tells Forbes India in an exclusive interview. Edited excerpts:

ON THE CULTURE OF ACCEPTING FAILURE

I have tried to incorporate, in a modest way, a culture of accepting failure... failing to succeed is also a learning experience. Most organisations do not like to fail. They try to plan and programme themselves into a zero-failure option. And, therefore, they either delay or deny themselves the opportunity. So, we said, it doesn’t matter if you fail. And if there is a failure, I—as the head of the family or the captain of the ship—will take responsibility. It is happening under my watch.

Failing to succeed gives the impetus for succeeding to succeed. You can’t be successful in everything that you do. There would be some failures. Our strike rate is 60 to 70 percent. So there are cases where we do not hit the yardsticks that we want to, but it helps us to learn from that experience and to recalibrate and improve ourselves for the future. I hit the target seven times out of 10. It’s fine. It’s better than hitting once out of 10 and hitting it perfectly.

ON HOW NESTLÉ SPICED UP MASALA-AE-MAGIC

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