Nadia Chauhan is the Joint Managing Director and Chief Marketing Office of Parle Agro.
When she assumed her position at Parle Agro, Nadia Chauhan became the youngest “brand manager, sales and marketing head, CMO” in India.
Likewise, Nadia Chauhan also became one of the “youngest JMDs” in the country when she took her role in the company.
Since 2003, Nadia Chauhan “has taken the company from INR 300 crores to almost INR 7000 crores delivering double-digit growth every year.”
Because of Nadia Chauhan, Parle Agro became a “multi-brand organization which now leads various beverage categories.” She also “brought in significant changes with a massive scale up in the company’s infrastructure, systems, and processes.”
Also, Nadia Chauhan “pushed for a digital transformation to a more data oriented and analytical organization in order to extract the maximum possible value out of the market.”
How Nadia Chauhan conducts business is inspiring. She is “progressive in her thinking and never takes up anything that doesn’t make her nervous.”
About marketing, Nadia Chauhan follows a simple rule: “Work without a formula.”
In time, Nadia Chauhan wants to make Parle Agro “the No. 1 beverage company in India and a leading player overseas.”
With her unwavering passion for business and her unquestionable commitment, Nadia Chauhan should turn her ambition to reality.
It’s been a phenomenal journey so far but we still have miles to go. Nadia Chauhan, Parle Agro
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Nadia Chauhan: I’d love to. I was born into a Business Family where I was the youngest of three sisters.
The age difference between them and me was almost 10 years, so they were always away, either in boarding school or in college.
As an outcome, you could say I grew up as an only child and I got to spend a considerable amount of time with my father, watching and listening to him talk about his business, something that he dedicated his entire life to.
It was always intriguing and exciting when he brought home products from work, talked about new launches and shared new ideas that he was thinking of. It’s safe to say I’ve been a foodie since then.
Also, having two elder sisters (who I Idolised) meant that I was always in a hurry to do what they were doing, a big hurry to grow up.
I would spend my summers and most holidays at office, even if it was just sitting in my father’s cabin while he worked.
Back then there was no world wide web. We just had one MAC at a corner table with the software called Encarta, an online Encyclopedia, and I would simply go through that and keep myself entertained.
I was 11, growing up in an Indian family that unlike most were very open minded & encouraged growth & learning in every way.
My father decided it was time to get me to attend some meetings & spend my time, even as a 11 year old, more productively in office.
He would always say that even if I understood just one percent of what was going on at the meetings, it was good enough.
And just as he said, the one percent of understanding and knowledge kept adding up with every meeting and soon I was able to grasp the workings of the business.
Attending the meetings allowed me to understand all the emotions of what we had gone through as a company, the journey and the difficulties.
So even when I did finally join in an official capacity at 18, I wasn’t there to change everything — I was there to build the business further and build together.
Perhaps that might have been different if I didn’t have that early induction into the business.
I was very young when we sold our largest & India’s most iconic brands to Coca Cola and I saw the kind of pressure it put on our father.
We had to really work hard to gain back the strength and scale of our business.
Seeing such major events in my childhood got me involved into the business at a very young age, albeit emotionally — but sometime those emotions are what drives some impactful creative thinking & leadership.
I was always entrepreneurial, just growing up around all of this perhaps does that to you. At the age of 13, I started my own venture.
I started baking brownies-on-order called Just Divine. (I think I still have those posters.)
Since we didn’t have social media at that time, I used to make sales calls and go to sports clubs and little cafes to sell the brownies.
Then I ventured into making tie and dye T-shirts that I sold door to door in our entire neighbourhood.
After that I started to have garage sales & I had all my friends join in. One of my friends sold Sports Events that her Dad had recorded on VCR.
But there was no doubt in what I really wanted to do, and where I felt most at home — I wanted to be back in my father’s office and take forward the business that he and my grandfather had built.
When I officially joined the company, I didn’t begin with the intention of changing things right away.
I wanted to appreciate where we came from and continue in the journey that had already been set.
My goal was only to charter ways to speed up the momentum and achieve the vision that my father had set for the company.
I started as a brand manager for Frooti, which at that point was almost 90% of our business. Eventually I worked my way up.
As I gained more experience, I started heading the marketing division and gradually got involved and took over sales.
I also started leading the R&D department and set up an entire business strategy department.
I slowly created a longer term vision for the company and worked hard toward a lot of transformational initiatives to drive and achieve this vision.
It’s been an incredible journey since 2003 with several good as well as challenging times.
The challenges have always energised me and given me the gusto to go forward with a bigger push.
We’ve grown from INR 250 crore company in 2003 with Frooti contributing to 95% of our business, to an almost INR 7000 crore company with Frooti contributing to 50% of our business.
We have been able to build Parle Agro from a single brand organisation back then, to a multi-category, multi-brand beverage behemoth today and there’s still more to come.
We are much larger today than what we were when we sold our carbonated soft drinks portfolio to Coca Cola.
It’s been a phenomenal journey so far but we still have miles to go.
You have to raise your standards and aim for superior level in what you do if you want to transform from good to great.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Nadia Chauhan: When I started my journey, the only difficulty I had was putting together a strong team of people who were willing to get passionately and emotionally involved with our vision and support the journey of achieving it.
Which by no measure would be an easy one. We went from being the largest beverage company in India, to having sold off our brands to the largest beverage company in the world, to once again rebuilding from scratch, with a clear vision to climb our way back to the top.
This needed a team with serious guts, with strong intuitive leadership skills, with passion & talent.
Putting this team together was hard. Even harder to get them to trust me. But the thought of giving up never crossed my mind.
That would have been very irresponsible. On the contrary, like I said earlier, challenges always fuel me.
So when I did face restraint from a few team members, I worked hard to lead by example. I showed them how a different approach could help achieve the desired result and eventually everybody was on board.
As a person who believes that there is an opportunity and learning in every challenge, I used this experience as an opportunity to build a core team.
While we had a lot of functional leads, I decided to build a core team to take things forward.
It is a matter of great pride that the team I recruited in my first year of joining the business, continues to be my core team even today, almost 18 years down the line.
I truly value their contribution, their commitment and their unwavering trust in me.
I would say that the root of my drive through all hard times has been the confidence of my father in me and my capabilities.
He has always shown complete faith in me to overcome and resolve all challenges that come my way and in staying focused on the collective goals of the company.
His trust has been the biggest driver for me in the last 18 years and it is this trust that has driven me to take the company to newer heights.
I know that abled children can only be fuelled by their parent’s trust and I can only hope that I am able to be equally trusting and confident while handing over the reins to my children.
I’m sure it must have been easy for him.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Nadia Chauhan: I am a perfectionist to a large extent. But I’m not too proud about that since most perfectionists are the hardest on themselves.
So it’s difficult for me to think of a mistake from the past that I would consider funny.
But I do have one funny memory to share. Years ago we launched a product called Jolly Jelly, a jelly based drink in a tetra pack that you could drink through a straw.
The ad for the drink was also ‘Jolly Jelly the drink that jiggles’ which was quite funny.
We launched the drink at different places around the beaches of Bombay. Beaches are always a hot spot for people to hang out with family or friends and at the point in time, there were many local eateries all around the main parts of the beach.
I was very young then and I remember while promoting the product, I was put in charge of yelling, ‘Jolly Jelly 100% vegetarian jelly drink’.
Since majority of the people in India are vegetarians, it was a notion that a jelly drink would be non-vegetarian made out of gelatin and hence were skeptical about jelly.
Today jelly products are available at every nook and corner across the country but back then, most people were unaware.
While participating in the promotions, I hadn’t realised that I had nominated myself as one of the promoters.
So I had to have a life size carton of Jolly Jelly put on top of me.
I was mounted on top of a camel (back then we had camels and horses on the beaches of Bombay), and made to go across the length of the beach promoting Jolly Jelly.
That was an extremely funny experience that always makes me laugh just thinking about it.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great?
Nadia Chauhan: There are four points I’d like to share based on my experiences.
The first and most important point is question everything; not just what’s going wrong but more importantly, what’s going right.
You have to raise your standards and aim for superior level in what you do if you want to transform from good to great.
The second most important thing is change, being adaptive.
Businesses that fail to embrace change can easily wind up being out of touch and unable to compete in the market and meet the ever-changing needs of the customers.
While change is inevitable, it is something that is hugely resisted in general. To drive change, you need to work with a team that is open minded and willing to change.
But change cannot be achieved through top-down mandate. It’s a movement.
When transforming a system in the company, or getting people to adopt a new practice, you have to be able to implement that by influencing them in the correct way — by demonstrating the idea in action, by inspiring them and making them see the need for it and then taking it forward.
The third important thing is to be relentless. It sounds so simple ‘good to great’, but in reality this is by far, the most challenging thing to do.
You have to go from redefining good to mediocre and redefining great to being good. You have to be absolutely intolerant of anything that is mediocre and be relentless in not giving up on your vision.
That could get extremely frustrating, exhausting and tiresome but you have to really fight for greatness and redefine all your standards to be able to achieve it.
The fourth very critical element is being flexible.
To transform from being just a good company to becoming a great company, you have to be flexible in your methods.
You have to be flexible with the overall approach because not everybody can work with a certain level of rigidity, not everybody can just switch from one to the other overnight.
Hence being flexible and remapping the road towards achieving a level of greatness is vital.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Nadia Chauhan: We live in a highly competitive world. Having a definitive purpose makes you stand out from others brands or businesses, it is a core differentiator.
I feel purpose does more than making a brand unique.
It defines a business’ evolutionary path and highlights how the company aims to progress and transform itself.
Purpose also make us ambitious towards a goal which the organization, its employees and its customers can strive for together.
This boosts passion, drives more innovation, and is more energizing for all connected to the organization.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Nadia Chauhan: Conviction and Passion are the. two biggest enablers towards higher conversions.
Conversions happen when others know and see ‘why’ you do what you do and not only ‘what’ you do and that only comes to the surface when there is passion and conviction in you.
It’s what makes you credible and help builds loyalty.
It’s what keeps you moving forward despite any obstacles and challenges.
I feel purpose does more than making a brand unique. Nadia Chauhan
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Nadia Chauhan: To start with, we’re an Indian company. I remember a lot of our own people comparing us to “MNCs”, Multi-National Companies and believing in their minds that there was a superiority attached to them.
At that point in time, I did road shows, I went with every single one of our sales teams and to every one of our distributors only to build a greater conviction in Parle Agro, to build greater belief in Parle Agro and greater love for Parle Agro.
We have actually broken the myth, walked the talk and taken MNCs head-on and that has allowed us to increase our conversion rate to a large degree.
Through our relentless efforts, we got the people to believe in the value of our brands, the power of our brands and in our company mission and vision.
And most of all, to feel proud of our Indian Origin.
To earn the reputation as a trusted and beloved brand, you have to deliver every single time. There is nothing that can compare to that.
I think reputation and being a loved brand requires a different formula across different categories, different businesses and different industries.
For us, it has been about being extremely quality conscious with our products, being extremely connected with the market to know what the market needs and having the speed to deliver as per the needs.
It’s been about servicing all our channel partners, our retailers and our consumers efficiently.
We all know that the supply chain in India is very complex.
FMCG as a category caters to more than 9 million stores across the country and that is very challenging when it comes to building trust and delivering across such a vast expanse of retail space.
That is really what the heart of most FMCG companies in India is.
The ability to service your retail service network across the country efficiently and being reliable in your methods in doing so.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!