Beyond the expectations of many including my parents and brother, I have not only stayed put in the organisation but have actually made progress in the last two years and I credit this to work environment and my bosses.
In the first week of my joining, there was a bit of confusion as to whom I was being assigned. Of the two contenders, one was on tour therefore the other one claimed me as his own for the first three days. Then the first one came back and promptly reclaimed me. Looking back, I feel good because under him I learnt a lot; not just about my assignments but on inter personal skills and general life skills.
I remember one incident, about a month or so in the job. Sanjeev, my boss had gone on a tour once more. The mails addressed to him were given to me and I would neatly put them in file-folder and keep it on his table. As a child, I was told not to open anybody else’s mail and I always followed that, even today.
It was Tuesday or Wednesday (midweek) when Mr. Ramachandran, the super boss called RD, my colleague in his room and he came back within a minute and informed me that I have been summoned by him. I was sure that I was going to be fired for something wrong I may have done. With a trembling leg, I entered his cabin. He looked at me and said in a even tone, “Did you get a letter or memo from Mr. Lal?” At that point of time, I had no clue as to who is Mr. Lal? Gathering courage I said, “Sir, all the mails are kept in Sanjeev’s table, shall I get them?” I brought all the mails to his table. When he saw the unopened envelopes, he asked “Why are these not opened?” “These are all addressed to Sanjeev, so I did not open them” I replied. Then as an afterthought I told him that I have been told since childhood not to open other’s mail. Mr. Ramachandran had a hearty laugh and then said, “Son, there is nothing personal in all these mails that come every day in the office. Since Sanjeev is not here, it is your duty and responsibility to open the mails and take appropriate action. You may falter in your action sometime but that is acceptable because otherwise how will you learn. There may be some issues beyond your realm, in such cases, come to me, I will advise you. Now, open all these mails and bring me the one from Mr. Lal. By the way he is the RM of Bihar.”
This one incident gave a big boost to my confidence and helped me create a niche for myself in the organisation.
The organisation was rapidly expanding and needed people to power them to the next level. So, for the first time, it was decided to recruit directly from the university campus. In the first instance three people were recruited from two different campuses and they joined as the first set of management trainees in the history of Dabur.
Two of them came from IMT, Ghaziabad and I knew them from an earlier instance when they had come for an event sponsorship. The third one was from Delhi University having done her masters in business economics and had an air about her. The training programme was for 18 months after which they will be absorbed in different functional area.
One day, around this time, Sanjeev announced that we have been given the brand Hajmola, a digestive tablet. The brand was in a decline on its lifecycle and needed some boost. From a high volume of 50000 cases annually it had fallen to around 35000 cases. For the next one week, we analyzed the sales trend of Hajmola and realised that there were not only stiff competition from smaller branded players but a plethora of me-too brands from unorganised sector have mushroomed over the last couple of years. The task was simple but uphill – (a) reposition & re-establish Hajmola as the Fun Product that is efficacious and good for all age group (b) create a noise/hype around the brand that will subdue the rest. For the first initiative, we recreated the Hostel Film (Hajmola Sir) with a contemporary touch. But for the second part we got stuck, we wanted to have consumer promotion that will have a ‘pull’ effect rather than dealer scheme that may or may not ‘push’ the product. In those days MRTP commission was fairly strong and all trade/ consumer promotions needed to adhere to their norms. We drafted our plans and submitted to the legal dept for them to get the clearance.
A week later we were told that there’s a meeting with the lawyer to thrash out the details before we could proceed further. Just a day before the scheduled meeting, Sanjeev had go out town on urgent work and Mr. Ramachandran told me that I have to be the front man from the Marketing. I was sweating but outwardly showed enough confidence to face the lawyer (till then I had no clue, who it was). On the appointed day, Mr. Ramachandran called me in his chamber and asked “Can you reach this place around 7 pm?” giving me an address of Sundar Nagar, ND. The name on it was Mr. Soli Sorabjee with the address. I nodded yes, for my throat was completely dry.
I reached the destination around 6:30 and waited for the others to arrive. About 15 minutes later Mr. GC Burman, MD & Mr. PD Narang, HoD Company Affairs came and thereafter Mr. Ramachandran. He asked me if I am carrying all the relevant documents with me which I confirmed. We went inside to meet Mr. Sorabjee who was flanked by his deputies and I could see my hand written draft of the consumer promotion lying on the desk in front of him with some marking and side notes. It has been read by the great man, I was elated. I was asked to repeat the modus operandi of the scheme which I did without once referring to my notes as I knew every detail by heart. I felt, I have impressed all present including the solicitor.
At the end of all deliberations lasting over an hour, Mr. Sorabjee cautioned that the Consumer Scheme may attract MRTP sanctions and all efforts may come to noughts. However, he suggested that if we could work around it and make it Retail oriented then it would work out. Mr. Ramachandran asked me work on that area and come up with a solution in a weeks’ time.
The following week started with brainstorming for converting the consumer promotion to a retail scheme. The issue was that retailers always look for discounts & margins more than any reward at a later date. Sanjeev & I were against giving any cash discount at that stage as it would eat into our promotion budget. We involved the freshly inducted management trainees to come up with ideas, even the weirdest ones will do. After a few late evenings (unthinkable in those days at Dabur), we finally came up with Hajmola – Know Your Nature Quiz Contest. It was simple, innovative (for retail trade) and workable. The top prize was a Maruti 800 Car followed by other attractive gadgets like Washing Machine, Refrigerator and Television etc.
The Hajmola Know Your Nature Quiz had a series of nature related simple questions followed by a fill-in-the blank question asking the respondent why he/she loves Hajmola. The Coupons were serial numbered and in 3 parts where one part was retained by the retailer and the other two parts returned to the dealer/ sales representative. All coupons were collected at HO and sent to an agency that segregated coupons based on ‘all correct answers’. The other coupons with incorrect answers were also kept for later scrutiny if demanded. At the end of the scheme period of three months, the winner would be declared through computer random number generation. It was fool proof scheme without any biases and though there were multiple complaints to MRTP commission but none was entertained and we were given clean chit to continue.
In that three months period all the marketing people travelled the length and breadth of the country visiting not just the strong markets but tertiary markets as well. Sanjeev & I had to alter our travel plans to ensure one of us remain in office to coordinate with the agency in segregation of coupons. The team of management trainees, Robin, Jolly & Deepika were extremely involved and helped us with their tireless services. My interaction with them in these three months gave me two very close friends and my life partner.
By the middle of the second month or half way through the scheme period, we knew it was a success because we had reached the 18000 cases, way above the monthly average, in the first month itself. And when the scheme closed finally at the end of three months, the sales figures were astounding; we had not only achieved our annual target but sold more than 60000 cases of Hajmola in just three months.
It took another month to complete the segregation of coupons and preparing the list of successful entries. Then we arranged for the lucky draw through random number generation process at the Holiday Inn Hotel, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi. It was a big event and all dealers across the country were invited to join the event. We arranged the services of a professional host, Mr. Shammi Narang, renowned media personality, to conduct the ceremony. Amidst the fan fare, the winner of top prize was announced which went to a retailer from Patna City. The symbolic key of the car was handed over to Mr. R S Lal, the Regional Manager. We had tied up with Maruti for delivery of the car in any location in the country using their vast dealer network across the country and it took another month to formalise the delivery.
As a reward, Sanjeev suggested that I should represent the Brand team and go to Patna to hand over of the keys of the Maruti 800 to the winner. It was a big honour for me and I was truly elated. It was decided that a small function will be organised at Hotel Ashoka, Patna to felicitate the winner. When we went to invite the shop owner in Patna City, we realised it that it was a tiny shop selling daily use products and the humble shop owner was in tears when we invited him for the function. He was overwhelmed by the fact that stalwarts like the Sales Head Mr. Udit Mehra, the Regional Manager Mr. R S Lal and the others had gone to invite him personally. We were offered tea & biscuits which we accepted as respect to the owner. Ironically, nobody in his family had ever ridden a car let alone driven one. The Patna ceremony was a simple affair combined with sales conference for the Bihar state.
In the evening, we had an informal get together at Mr. Udit Mehra’s hotel room where I had my first scotch whiskey, two pegs of Black Label. Later that evening, another wonderful friend that I had made, Sanjay Sinha, the Area Manager asked me if I was done for the day or game for more. Obviously, I was game for more because after a day’s respite from hectic activities, I was scheduled for long haul through the hinterland of North Bihar right up to Raxaul, the border town with Nepal. Sanjay took me in his Yezdi motorcycle through the labyrinth lanes and by lanes of Patna and stopped in front of a house and knocked three times on the window. Immediately it opened but I couldn’t see the face and after a brief chat, the person handed over a bottle Old Monk XXX Rum. We returned to my hotel, picking up some munchies to go with the Rum. Needless to say it was a long evening which finally ended in the wee hours of the morning. Sanjay slept on the spare bed as he was too drunk to drive back home.
I spend next 10 days touring through the north Bihar towns like Muzaffarpur, Motipur, Motihari and Raxaul. At Motihari, the Sales Supervisor booked me a nondescript hotel. The room was on the top floor, big room with a double bed in the middle covered with mosquito net. In the evening when I checked into the room after working through the day, I realized that the light in the room was insufficient to read. I asked the hotel manager to change the bulb but he said that the bulb was already high powered (100 Watts), it is the voltage supply that is too low. The Sales Supervisor, perhaps to boost my morale and calm my mood said that even the big bosses who were several notches above me had stayed in the same room!
Another thing that I remember is that the town of Motihari was so dirty that in my stay of 36 hours there, I refused to eat anything locally and survived on two apples and bottled water that I carried from Muzaffarpur. In Raxaul, the dealer, a Muslim fellow, wanted to treat us but was at his wits end as how to invite a Hindu (Brahmin) to his home. He confided in the Sales Supervisor and when he told me, I burst out laughing and reassured him that we will definitely join him for the Biriyani & Korma.
The Hajmola Know Your Nature Quiz not only resurrected the brand Hajmola Tablet but paved way for Hajmola Candy that became instant hit across the country when launched nationally. It also gave me the confidence to propose to Deepika, not immediately but few months down the line after lot of cajoling by Robin, but that’s another story for another time.