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1 - Getting the problem definition right - Sudhir Sitapati on The CEO Factory: Unlocking the Secret Sauce of Company Culture

Sudhir speaks about the close link between IIMA and HUL in terms of the approach towards problem solving and Marketing. He speaks about the role of PL Tandon and Labdhi Bhandari in helping build the IIMA Marketing curriculum along with Prof AK Jain. He also shares an example of when he failed at framing the right question when he was in the Ice Creams business.

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Sudhir speaks about the close link between IIMA and HUL in terms of the approach towards problem solving and Marketing. He speaks about the role of PL Tandon and Labdhi Bhandari in helping build the IIMA Marketing curriculum along with Prof AK Jain. He also shares an example of when he failed at framing the right question when he was in the Ice Creams business.
 • 06m:37s • 
Sudhir speaks about why people in organizations like HUL provide an opportunity for people to pursue a career over the long term. He alludes to the quality of HR processes (specifically Career Management and Leadership Development) that keeps motivated through their journey. He also speaks about the criticality of early shared experiences in the field which builds a special culture and creates a camaraderie that keeps the cohort together as they grow in the organization.
 • 06m:49s • 
Sudhir speaks about what makes the HR function in HUL effective. He speaks about the structure of HR where it is an independent function but is embedded in the business. He also speaks about why HUL doesn’t label people as heroes or villains too quickly. He speaks about a process where for about 10-12 years, people grow gradually but subsequently, they accelerate or decelerate based on their potential.
 • 09m:24s • 
Sudhir speaks about how HUL has this unique DNA which is a mix of professionalism and an entrepreneurial orientation. He speaks about how some of the early exposure to trade gives individuals an exposure to how Indian entrepreneurs think. He goes onto say that there are strong processes that reinforce professionalism and sharing of stories which drive entrepreneurship leading to this unique combination of the two.
 • 07m:52s • 
Sudhir speaks about Judgment, Influence and Drive as the three markers of potential and how the emphasis shifts across these three during the career of a professional in HUL. For the first few years it is Drive, then it moves to Influence and eventually in senior management it is judgment. He also speaks about how HUL thinks about what is a considered a good hit rate with judgment. He goes on to speak about how HUL filters for caliber and character, often two orthogonal dimensions.
 • 09m:39s • 
Sudhir speaks about some of the principles behind building a strong brand and a personal brand. He speaks about a strong brand as one where people might like or hate the brand but will align on the key attributes of the brand. He also speaks about the notion of brand archeology where he says that it is helpful to understand the history of the brand to uncover what it stands for. He finally goes on to speak about how brands should look within and let consumers discover them than being different things to different people.
 • 05m:54s • 
Sudhir speaks about why it is easier to grow a category than growing market share in a category. He also speaks about his experiences with Kissan to make the point about limited real estate in consumers’ minds and therefore suggests that brands should win where they are by solving unsolved problems in what they are doing well than going wide. He also goes on to speak about how he thought about his early career choices and his father’s influence in getting him to join HUL.
 • 08m:06s • 
Sudhir speaks about the distinction between these two terms that could often be confused. He goes onto say that HUL’s core competence is the ability to understand consumer needs and giving brands to solve those needs. He goes on to say that its strength in some of the other areas like distribution might be a competitive advantage but that’s not the “heart of the gig” it is in.
 • 02m:46s • 
Sudhir speaks about these three types of people and goes onto say that one of the secret sauces of HUL is its treatment of Mavericks. He speaks about the output-oriented nature of KPIs that let some of these mavericks flourish despite not conforming to the “play-book”. He also speaks about HUL being an empathetic meritocracy where people are given some latitude if they are delivering the results (as long as they are not rogues and have issues with ethics and integrity).
 • 07m:42s • 
Sudhir speaks about the four pillars of culture at HUL – Action, Values, Courage and Truth. He also speaks about how that these elements of culture are percolated through the organization. He traces these elements to the various strains of genetic code of the Anglo Dutch parent. He speaks about how when he spoke to some of the senior alumni of HUL, they shared stories of their experiences which eventually clustered around these 4 pillars.
 • 08m:31s • 
Sudhir Sitapati is currently Executive Director, Foods and Refreshments at Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL). He recently published his first book – The CEO Factory, published by Juggernaut Books. While I had interviewed him for the podcast 4 months back, I wanted to go back to him to have a conversation around how organizations like HUL handle volatility and what can we learn from them from the way they have handled volatility in the past. For the entire conversation on “The CEO Factory”, please visit https://www.playtopotential.com/speaker/sudhir.com
 • 27m:31s • 

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