JBIMS days groomed Nitin Paranjpe to become a true leader

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MBAUniverse.com News Desk |
December 4, 2012
His rise from a management trainee to the highest echelon of the organization is testimony to hard work, far sight, power of decision making and adaptability to the changing time
People often talk about the choice between top line and bottom line. To me, that is a false choice. It is always both
Mr Nitin Paranjpe is the chief executive officer and managing director of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL). His rise from a management trainee to the highest echelon of the organization is testimony to hard work, far sight, power of decision making and adaptability to the changing time. He is perhaps the only corporate honcho who has not seen a slowdown. The sheer audacity of that statement may surprise many, but Mr Paranjpe, 49, attributes his confidence to the bricks Leverites (workers of HUL) have laid out over the past few years to “delight consumers”.

Education: Nitin Paranjpe had his schooling at St. Xavier's Boys Academy, Mumbai. Mr Paranjpe holds a bachelor degree in engineering (mechanical) and got his MBA degree from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai. Mr Paranjpe mentioned in a number of interviews that he had a dream to work with Hindustan Lever (as it was then called).

Professional career: Nitin Paranjpe joined Hindustan Lever as a management trainee in 1987. In his early years in the company, Mr Paranjpe worked as area sales manager – detergents, and then as product manager – detergents. In April 1996, he became the branch manager, and in February 1999, he was appointed a member of the Project Millennium team. In 2000, he moved to Unilever London and was involved in a review of the organisation structure.

During 2001, he was an executive assistant to the Unilever chairman & executive committee in London. On his return to India in 2002, Mr Paranjpe became the category head – fabric wash and regional brand director (Asia) for several laundry and household cleaning (HHC) brands. In 2004, he became vice-president – home care (laundry & HHC) India, responsible for the entire home care business.

Mr Paranjpe was appointed executive director for the home & personal care business in March 2006 and became the managing director and chief executive officer in April 2008. He is the youngest-ever person to hold the post. He is also an executive vice-president of Unilever Companies in South Asia.

USP: Nitin Paranjpe is perhaps among the few corporate heads who does not choose between top line and bottom line. “People often talk about the choice between top line and bottom line. To me, that is a false choice. It is always both.” HUL’s financial numbers during the past few quarters echo Mr Paranjpe’s words.

Understanding the psyche of rural and urban customers is a quality that has played a defining role in his ascendency. HUL is perhaps the only company to have resorted to changes in products in line with consumer preferences in different regions and different pricing for the same brand. For example, Brooke Bond tea tastes differently and is priced differently in different parts of the country to suit local tastes and purchasing power. Similarly, Wheel detergent has a hard water mix for north India and a soft water mix for the south.

Beliefs: Nitin Paranjpe has greatly been influenced by legendary management guru C K Prahalad, who was roped in by the HUL board in 1999 to mentor some executives destined to play a larger role in the company. Mr Paranjpe learnt from Mr Prahalad that “managers have a mindset... where ambition (A) equals resources (R), a steady state of condition. There is no entrepreneur who starts off believing that A= R. They have virtually no resources, but they dream big.”

An insatiable hunger to learn new things has driven Mr Paranjpe throughout his life. Even after occupying the corner office at the HUL headquarters, when it would have been natural for him to move around lecturing people on how things ought to be done, he chose to become a student. With the social media becoming all pervasive, Mr Paranjpe learnt how to navigate it from a 25-year-old HUL employee. 

Up for challenges: Be it personal or professional life, Nitin Paranjpe likes to take up challenges and this quality has helped him attain success in areas beyond charted territory. According to an article published in The Economic Times in August 2008, Nitin Paranjpe’s family used to call him a “modern-day Aurangzeb” given the distance he kept from the finer things in life. Two summers back, his brother finally agreed to drop the nickname only if he could develop an ear for music. Music was something for which Mr Paranjpe had neither time nor inclination; but determined to live up to the challenge thrown by his brother, he started taking keyboard lessons. He can now play about 100 Hindi film music tunes and has formed an informal team of Leverites who play the keyboard along with him. His family finally dropped the nickname.

Family & personal life: Notwithstanding a busy and strenuous daily routine, Nitin Paranjpe is a family man to the core. Mr Paranjpe will in no way compromise on time he wishes to spend with his family even if that means starting work at 5 am. The person he treats as his idol is his father, a retired IAS officer. “I didn’t have to go too far to learn the power of integrity,” Paranjpe once said during an interview. His fondness for teaching his children — even his neighbours’ children at times — comes from his mother, who, even at the age of 70, runs a school for underprivileged children. The school has more than 1,000 students.

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