Nadia Chauhan, Joint Managing Director & Chief Marketing Officer, Parle Agro Pvt. Ltd, is topper of IMPACT’s 50 Most Influential Women in Media, Marketing & Advertising List, 2018 for steering a legacy business towards modern cutting-edge practices and market leadership
BY SRABANA LAHIRI & CHRISTINA MONIZ
Ask Nadia Chauhan what is the X factor that makes her the successful entrepreneur she is today, and she says, “I think there are two big things that differentiate me from anyone else - one, I am fearless and two, I am very passionate and committed to whatever I do. So, whether it’s at work or at home, in terms of my family or anything that I take on, I love challenges. No challenge can break me; my eyes are steady through anything. That also gives a lot of confidence to an organization or a team that’s working with you - when you take on challenges without fear and as aggressively as possible.”
Chauhan is at the top of IMPACT’s 50 Most Influential Women list for contemporising Parle Agro, a legacy business, and moving it towards cutting edge practices and market leadership. With Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan as brand ambassadors, the company’s products are doing well. The revamping of Frooti as well as Appy Fizz has made the products much more edgy, while Parle Agro claims to be the only global Indian F&B company today.
GROWING UP AT PARLE AGRO
Chauhan tells us that the transformation that has taken place at Parle Agro since she was a child is akin to an evolution from the blackand-white era to an era of colour. She may have been only 10 years old but she recalls vividly how the entire campus would be bustling with activity and buzzing with great energy. “It was very different from what it is today,” she reminisces. “The entire compound would be filled with our soft drink trucks that would come in, load products and go into the market. You could hear the sounds from the bottling factory and on occasions, the sound of glass bottles bursting and breaking, something that is fairly common in a normal carbonated soft drink line. We had a huge playground, and this beautiful big fountain on the other side. We also had this little hut-like shop that I think we used to call ‘cool dude’ where visiting school students could buy merchandise from our different brands.”
When she was back home from school every day, Chauhan made her way to her father’s first floor office and would often be part of marketing and product development meetings. “I used to always feel very shy walking through that whole corridor before I could enter my father’s cabin. I used to literally rush through and enter very quickly,” admits Chauhan. “My Dad would always encourage me to participate and took the time to explain everything at the factory to me. I may have been only 10 or 11 years old, but he would ask me to attend marketing meetings, launch meetings and product development meetings. That was very intimidating. Also growing up, I was a shy child and quite an introvert. Often he would turn to me during the meetings and ask for my reaction, and I used to feel very shy.”
Going to the lab was also a thrill for the young Chauhan. Like any young, curious child, she enjoyed exploring and experimenting relishing the experience of placing her finger prints under the microscope to examine if her hands were clean or not. That’s where she first met Kavita Joshi, the head of R&D, who is still the head of R&D today at Parle Agro, working closely with and reporting to Chauhan. These formative years, growing up, pretty much laid the foundation for her journey and growth with the company. In testing new products, working the market during launches, understanding the business and challenges, Chauhan became better acquainted with the many nuances of the organisation and its brands. She tells us that one of her favourite launches as a young child was for the drink ‘Jolly Jelly’. This was back in the time when people had the misconception that jelly is non-vegetarian. “I remember going into the market with the sales team and even standing at Juhu beach and shouting ‘Jolly Jelly 100% vegetarian’. I was very young but each of those experiences added a lot to who I eventually grew up to be,” she smiles. In this journey with Parle Agro that she describes as “massively transformational”, she credits her father for encouraging her to learn more and do more within the company. “I feel very privileged because I don’t think many other children get that opportunity even if they are kids from business families. My father always welcomed us in the office, and didn’t ever look at us a nuisance or distraction but always wanted us to be a part of whatever he was doing and building. And I think that’s how it just sort of happened, but if I actually look back, I really can’t see the time that I was in school versus the time that I was at work. I just feel like I have grown up at my workplace.”
INDUCTION INTO THE COMPANY
Chauhan doesn’t remember specifically the time when her role in the company became a more formal one, but she believes it was a natural progression after spending her formative years in the company. “There is almost a blur in that sense. Whatever I was doing throughout my years in school and college, I was doing from the office and it became almost like a base for me,” she explains, adding that her induction into the company started with the role of an innovative marketing executive. “I formally joined the company around the time I was 18 years old. At that point in time I was only looking at Frooti and we were a very small setup. Our marketing budget also was very small. We had a very conservative approach towards marketing, so I remember at that point of time, we must have had a budget of only Rs 4 or Rs 4.5 crore for all our brands through the year. Today, we have a Rs 250 crore budget. That is the kind of journey that we have seen.” Starting off at the organization, marketing for just one brand, Chauhan didn’t have a cabin. She would be happy sitting with the team and working with them, as slowly her role in the company grew and she took on greater responsibilities.
POWERING ON WITH PASSION
At the age of 18, Chauhan recognized just how much impact passion and conviction can bring, when she took on the task of revamping Frooti’s packaging. The decision to revamp came in 2003 in the wake of findings from a research company that indicated that Frooti had stagnated in its image, and needed a make-over to restore its appeal to the young. Chauhan found herself making her first ever presentation to a man named Henrick, the managing director of Tetrapak. She recalls, “One of the things I had worked on was how to actually look at packaging because packaging is the first form of advertising in the truest sense. When I made the presentation to Henrick, my proposition required a large investment from them (Tetrapak). I remember it was a 13-minute session and we created it like an experiential session. I believe he was really sold on our idea and invested in it, possibly because of the passion with which I communicated the idea.” Henrick went on to sanction a very large budget for Parle Agro, giving Chauhan the go-ahead for Frooti’s packaging revamp.
ON WINNING THE TOP SPOT IN IMPACT’S 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN LIST
Thank you, IMPACT and the exchange4media group for this honour. It’s been a fabulous year. I remember the day I joined Parle Agro almost like it was yesterday… Frooti and I are coincidentally almost as old as one another, and we’ve grown together as best friends. Growing Frooti has been one of the most amazing experiences, yet one of the most challenging experiences ever. The last four years have perhaps been the biggest game-changing experience for us when we decided to rebuild the brand. I remember when we first introduced the new packaging by Pentagram, there were so many people who wrote in and commented, wondering whether we had lost it. Often, this is the biggest challenge with older brands - breaking out of the mould that gets created just by time. It was honestly one of the most frightening decisions and the fact that someone had developed something so good but at the same time so frightening made us all the more excited to take that risk and really go out there to disrupt. The conventional, the same old, often do not get you anywhere. Ever since Frooti grew in rank from Number 3 to becoming Number 2 nationally, it further achieved the Number 1 position in many markets. Today, it is growing rapidly, far ahead of the category, at a double-digit growth rate for the last three years. So many people have been a part of this journey with Frooti, and I want to recognize the contribution of Sagmeister and Walsh, our creative team in New York, for really opening up this whole new world of design, advertising and collaboration for us. The willingness to break boundaries and explore with curiosity is critical to all leadership. I’d like to believe that it is that which has brought our brands and me to where we are today. And I encourage you all to do more of what scares you, do more of what pushes the limit and do more of what isn’t being done. Good luck and congratulations to everyone on the list this year. Thank you again, from Frooti and me!
It’s exciting. Recognition like this is very important from an organization standpoint. It makes people within the organization feel very proud and excited. So, this is a great achievement for us as an organization and as a team. With this recognition, you have made an entire organization stand up with great pride over our achievement.
TAKING ON THE LEADERSHIP MANTLE
Over the decades, Nadia Chauhan, the shy 10-yearold student in her father’s office, has grown to become one of India’s most prominent marketers. She admits the journey has not been easy and has come with a fair amount of challenges, the biggest one being grooming a team that shared her ambition and open-mindedness. Putting together her core team therefore was a bit of a challenge. “When I did come in, a large number of people who were part of the team had a slightly more conservative approach. If I look at myself as a leader, I am extremely ambitious but I follow that ambition through quite aggressively. So being able to groom a team up to that level was a big challenge, but I think that today the team that I eventually set up as my core team has been with me for the past 14 years that I have worked here. They have worked very closely with me and grown with me.” Chauhan and her core team of 10 people share the same vision for the company today, and she believes that shared vision is at the heart of any organization’s success.
Chauhan’s endeavour is to make Frooti the leading brand across India, even though it has achieved the No. 1 position in several States from a business perspective. The key to doing that is hyper-localization, she believes. “Today we live in a very diverse country. When you travel the breadth and width of India, you see two different countries altogether. One of the largest needs for us, specially with the kind of business that we are growing into, is to keep that pace up, hyper-localization plays a very important role. So whether it’s in terms of our sales and distribution inputs, or whether it’s in terms of brands and SKUs, looking at every aspect from a localized perspective is a big change that we are trying to bring about within the company.”
What gives Frooti an edge is its bold, passionate and aggressive quality, says Chauhan. That coupled with its innate Indian-ness has worked in the brand’s favour. “We don’t shy away from taking big, calculated risks and really going into the market very aggressively. We are confident of what we have to offer, and the fact that we are Indian is a big edge. I think that our country sometimes doesn’t value it as much as well. But, we are an Indian brand and we understand the Indian palate very well. In fact, today some of the other leading brands in the country are brands that we have built in the past. I believe that a lot of these factors give us a big edge.”
Under Chauhan’s leadership, Parle Agro has seen significant changes in the Sales and Distribution processes with the introduction of new technology. One of the large parts of the entire S&D transformation has been the inclusion of IT within the process itself, automating it and allowing for real time information to flow. This enables quicker and more accurate decision making, explains Chauhan. On the manufacturing front too, cutting edge research has led to robotics playing a key role over the past three years. With Chauhan at the helm, the future definitely looks bright for Parle Agro.