I was at the right place, at the right time. After Rajiv quit in 2001, Mathew Cadbury, one of the heirs of the Cadbury family, came to lead India; but he could not settle down and left within a year. The top job fell into my lap. I was CEO of Cadbury at 40! That gave me quite a kick. I’ve always been the youngest in most things — I had a double promotion in school, so was the youngest when I passed out of college and there-on was the youngest area manager, youngest branch manager, youngest marketing head and, now, the youngest CEO.
By then, I knew one thing clearly: we needed to keep things simple. You need to do nothing much to be a great company — set up the company on a fast growth track, for which my way was to create new categories to grow, not fight for market share; and secondly, make it a place where people love to work. The second part was already in place — it’s more fun to sell chocolates than toothpaste, hair oil and detergents!
For me, the best part as country head was that I was working for a British company — that largely left you alone to do what you wanted to do. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. We did so many things; we developed gifting and did so many new launches — Milk Treat, Chocki Celebrations, Rich Dry Fruit Collection, re-launched Perk and Picnic… and most importantly, built a great team.
After Cadbury acquired the confectionery division from Warner Lambert, we wanted to grow the candies business in India. But although we were pushing hard, we weren’t making progress. I understood why when I went on a field visit — the sales guy was clearly focusing on Dairy Milk chocolate and ignoring candy. He explained when I asked him why: one carton of Dairy Milk equalled 20 jars of éclair in sales, so it was easier to achieve targets by pushing the chocolate. Class A stores sell 80% of chocolate; chocolate requires depth, while candy required width.
I knew what had to be done — but there was resistance to my suggestion of having a different sales force for selling candy. Those were the days of consolidation and I was r