As you stand in queue for your entry pass into Hindustan Unilever’s (HUL) headquarters in suburban Mumbai, your eyes turn automatically to the posters lining the walls on either side — these are ads for some of HUL’s most prominent brands, some of them over 100 years old. Walk past these posters of a different era and you enter what looks like a mini-mall. The large, open lobby has small stores on either side — Lakmé Salon where employees can get their hair cut and regular beauty treatments; U Shop, which stocks all HUL products (no, there’s no discount); Bru Café, where small teams discuss anything from creatives to budgets; and a Kwality Walls ice cream parlour. In between, there’s a counter where all new products, from soups to skin creams, can be sampled — yes, employees are the guinea pigs.
There’s also a sort of phone booth where you can pick up a receiver to hear live conversations with customers calling with feedback or complaints. And, of course, there is the ubiquitous whiteboard where employees scribble everything from tips on how to cook up a tasty dish using Knorr masala to critical feedback on products. It’s buzzing. It’s anything but the office of a 128-year-old manufacturing company that has been in India since 1888.
It’s been two years since the FMCG giant moved to this swanky building from its earlier headquarters in south Mumbai. The relocation from that hierarchical closed office to one that is more open and informal has certainly created room for creativity and innovation. And that change is visible in HUL’s numbers. In the past three years, the company has seen its sales accelerate by nearly 15% per annum (See: Second wind) on the back of an overhaul in portfolio triggered by a host of internal changes it implemented with renewed rigour. The new buzzword for CEO and MD Nitin Paranjpe is “customer centricity”. Not that it had been forgotten earlier. But, explains Paranjpe, “In the past two years, the consumer-centric focus has been ingrained into every one of our employees.”
HUL has seen strong topline growth
backed by volumes in the past t