'Exposure and learning received from working not possible through MBA' - Parle Agro CEO

1 Post  ·  2 Users
About this group
Parle's young and dynamic heir *Schauna Chauhan* has played a vital role in moving the company from being a run in the beverages market to being a major player in the perishable FMCG* market. In a freewheeling interview, the young CEO of Parle Agr...
Page 1 of 1

Parle's young and dynamic heir Schauna Chauhan has played a vital role in moving the company from being a run in the beverages market to being a major player in the perishable FMCG* market. In a freewheeling interview, the young CEO of Parle Agro talks to PaGaLGuY.com about women as managers, her family business and more in our special series on entrepreneurs and women managers.

How was your childhood like growing up in one of the top business families of India? What is the story behind your nickname 'lucky baby'?

I studied in the International School in Kodaikanal for seven years before I took off to Switzerland to pursue a degree in International Management. I used to come back home only during my summer vacations. During my stay I used to frequent the office and the factory with my father. I also at times used go to the market and visit the retailers to check the visibility of our products, what are the complaints or appreciation of the retailer and the consumers for our products.

I was always attracted to my fathers business, the reason being I grew up on Thumps Up and as I mentioned earlier we used to visit the bottling plants, the factory with my father. So I was familiar with the whole atmosphere of the organization and the people. I also took keen interest in the functioning and operations of the enterprise. As a child I took my first step in the office while playing and I assume it was a signal towards the future .Coca Cola entered the Indian market in the 70's. At the same time we had Thumps Up so when they moved out in 1976 that year was considered lucky for us. During the same time when they were leaving the Indian market I was born. Thus the name 'lucky baby' was coined for me.

You were partly responsible for adapting Parle Agro to the post-globalization Indian market. How did your bachelor's degree in management help you?

The market is moving rapidly and so one needs to keep innovating and coming up with newer and quality products. Some of the products introduced by Parle first include mango juice, introducing Frooti in small tetra packets, the first jelly drink Jolly Jelly. We constantly make sure that any product we launch should be the first in the market. This strategy basically enables us in being the market leader in that segment.

We were the first one to come out with Njoi, a milk based drink. Britannia did come up with a milk drink but there was a huge difference between the two, ours was more natural and wholesome so it caught the customers attention. The same was the case with Appy Fizz, which was the first carbonated fruit drink. Therefore we have always been different and we like to come up with original ideas and work a little faster than what the market is expecting.

The only thing my education abroad helped me was in handling human resources. When I joined we focused a lot on human research and development. Firstly I wanted to consolidate the management team. I was deeply interested in human resource development because according to me the people are the one's who make and build the culture of the organization. Without people one cannot do anything, as a result I worked hard to get the right people in the right jobs.

Initially when I joined we had an administration department, which handled the HR functions. But after that because I had studied a lot about HR and I was really interested in it, the first thing I did was I introduced an HR department in the organisation.

During that period many other Indian companies too had realized the importance of an HR department so I assume I entered at the right time. Bringing the new culture also helped the organisation grow in a definite direction at the same time we all worked as a team. I have always believed a successful organisation is a result of team effort and not a result of individual determination.

We believe a lot in team building. As a result we organise a lot of programs and activities for our employees. For example before Diwali we organised 'Bring in your Kids to work' day. Wherein the employees had to dress in their national attire and they had to get their children to the office who would also have to be dressed in the national garment. The children had to decorate their father or mother desk in anyway they wished after which we had lunch and movie for the children. The event helped everyone get involved and interact with each other. It also benefited the children know where their parents were working and to interact with the other employees and their children. These are few of the ideas we come up with in order to motivate and encourage our employees.

Do you feel an MBA is necessary to carry out a business?

According to me work experience is the best thing. I'm really glad I did not pursue my MBA and rather came back to India to work in Parle Agro. The amount of exposure and learning I received working here would not be possible by doing an MBA alone. The kind of drill and exposure one gets while working is simply amazing. An MBA degree cannot replicate the same scenarios and problems, which occur in handling a business. One can get their concepts and basics cleared while studying but implementing all of that is a different ball game altogether. Thus I wanted to pursue my MBA after working for a period of time so that when I am sitting in that classroom I would have my experiences and also I would have problems that I faced while working to share with the rest of the class.

But now I think it is too late for me to pursue an MBA degree because of the time constraints and workload. I do not think I can spare two years from my work to complete my degree at this stage of my career. Definitely somewhere down the line I will take up an executive MBA.

Were there a lot of women in senior positions at Parle Agro when you joined? Does having a woman in the senior most position of a company make it easier for younger women in the company to grow? How do you feel being a decision maker?

Before I joined there were women in the organisation but there were no women in senior positions. Even today there are no women in the senior positions except my two sisters and myself. But I believe whether you are a woman manager or a male, one has to always prove themselves at work. I would like to state that we have a lot of women in the organization but specifically as you mentioned we do not have women in senior most positions.

Actually every time we recruit I have not come across any deserving female candidate for the top line position. We do have women on senior positions but we do not have any women at what we call as the 'top line' positions. We do not lay special emphasis while hiring on having a specific number of men or women in the organisation. But it so happens that we usually get men who have the desired abilities and qualities for that particular position. Also we have a time frame for recruiting and consequently we hire the most suitable applicant within that span of time.

Whereas the growth for women in the organisation is concerned its enormous. We had a woman who entered the organisation as a secretary. After two years of service one day she came up to me and requested for a growth in her position. I accepted her request and fixed an appointment with the HR department. The reason I suggested an appointment was in order to know what exactly she wanted to pursue further as a career in the organisation as that would help in deciding the most appropriate post for her. Before coming to a conclusion, even I researched on her and which department she would prefer to work in. Currently she is a part of the purchasing department.

We believe in internal growth. We look within ourselves to fill the vacant positions before venturing out. I think the best CEOs and leaders can be found within the organisation because they already know the culture and functioning of the organisation. They also have the zeal and the feeling of belongingness for the enterprise. Thus first we try inside our organisation then we look outside. We place ads all over at various offices and factories so that if any one is interested they can apply to the HR department.

Being a women decision maker did not make much of difference simply because I have been coming to work since I was very young and the senior employees were always aware of me. I did not start working fulltime as a CEO. When I joined I had to start from scratch and initially I used to sit outside my fathers cabin. In fact I didn't even have my own cabin I used to sit with the rest of the employees. I worked with all the departments in the organization and I always sat with the rest of the employees. I have actually typed invoices, understanding how the whole accounts work. I went through the whole process before I was allotted a senior post. Once I started sitting in the cabin I assembled all my employees and actually made sincere efforts to know everything about them starting from their background to their tenure with the company. I also requested them to give their feedback regarding the company in terms of the changes they would like to see and what have been the positive or negative points of the company so far. This helped us in knowing in what direction the company was moving and in which direction we you would like to take it in. I believe in complete teamwork, without a supportive and efficient team it is impossible for an enterprise to reach great heights. Having such a wonderful team is the reason behind coming up with the innovative products. Also we are looking at a 100 percent growth soon.

Definitely changes take time but I can see a marked difference since I joined and till now and I know there has been a lot of hard work in implementing those changes. I think because my team has accepted me that I have been able to achieve so much. I feel being a women decision maker hasn't really changed their perspective about me.

Do women have to work a lot harder than their male counterparts to achieve leadership positions?

I do not agree that women have to work harder than their male counterparts. Neither have I seen this in my organization nor in any other organization. According to me this is a very old concept because in today's day and age such things are happening. Even if you look at the Fortune 500 individuals many of them are women. To quote another example would be Ms Indra Nooyi, CEO Pepsi, who is a part of the ten most powerful women in the world. Today people do not question her ability just because she is a woman. Initially women faced a lot of trouble getting and maintaining their leadership positions because of various other responsibilities. But nowadays there are so many alternatives available for women in order to maintain a good balance between work and home. For example there are crches for children, one can keep part time maids and have dabbawallas. We too are planning to start a crche soon along with other recreational facilities for the benefit of our employees.

What is your advice for aspiring women managers when it comes to crossing personal and family barriers? Would you advocate some degree of rebellion as a solution for women from restrictive and conservative backgrounds?

I believe it's not that tough to handle work and home simultaneously. I being a woman can handle my work and home like many others. Firstly I think women can be the best managers because they manage their home and families. Actually I feel these days there is not much of a difference between a woman and man; they have to work equally hard to achieve great heights. But an important thing for both is that one should be passionate whatever they take up.

I think every woman must work to earn, to get financial independence. Being able to fend for oneself gives a woman many rights and creates a distinctive personality. They must not ask for privileges. Secondly they must be adaptable, flexible and committed in their attitude. Thus women should choose a job profile, which they can manage along with their household duties. Thirdly, women tend to be emotional. They should not allow emotions to hinder their career path. The environment today is very conducive for women to work thus they should make best use of this.

If women are brought up in a restrictive atmosphere they should go out and work. I'm very determined and focused. According to me if one believes in something and your family does not allow you, then one should find other alternatives. For example women have various options for work they could take up and execute it from home, as one does not need to always go to an office to work. There are lots of jobs, which can be easily done from home. Nowadays there are also a few companies who allow women to work from home.

In our company we cannot provide facilities such as working from home to women because all our work is done on the shop floor where the presence of a person is essential.

Which are the new products in the pipeline from Parle?

One can expect a lot of new products from Parle Agro in the near future. I would not like to disclose any of those right now because they are still in the planning stage. I can only say is they are new concepts in the beverages market. We currently have five plants and we have come up with a new plant in Hyderabad. We are also looking at another in Bangalore as well. We are growing really fast now because I feel the economy is also growing and one has to catch up fast. The current phase is not going to last forever and one must take full advantage of the present situation in order to move ahead.

There were a lot of product launches, which we had to postpone from this year to the next year because we did not have that much of capacity. But by end of this year we would have finished the modification of all our manufacturing plants in order to increase the capacity and improve the working environment for the employees so that the efficiency also increases. Along with all this our hiring process has also taken a boost. We have a special team who is assigned for recruiting which we never had earlier. We have introduced several new systems for recruiting as the numbers for hiring have gone up. Therefore we are making all essential arrangements in advance for our next season, which commences in January.*

Commenting on this post has been disabled by the moderator.