Sukhleen Aneja believes career marketers bring an in-depth understanding of consumer trends, coupled with strong execution abilities, to leadership roles. Not too long ago, Aneja, who has two decades of experience at legacy FMCG firms, took over as the CEO to head the brands and FMCG business at the beauty and personal care unicorn Good Glamm Group. Her career file includes successful stints at Hindustan Unilever and L'Oréal Paris. Aneja's last job was at Reckitt where she was chief marketing officer of the hygiene portfolio across South Asia.
When we caught up with Aneja for our series 'Marketers To Leaders: Journeys to the corner office', she told us, “People with a sales and marketing background come with a balance of creating a roadmap for the future along with execution abilities." Even traditional companies, both in India and globally, have a large number of career-marketing folks who are leading organisations as CEOs. To that extent, this is a universal trend. However, said Aneja, “where startups become fantastic is that they can take early bets on people, which allows people to flourish much sooner. By design, startups are risk-taking so, within the organisation, they are taking risks on people.”
Beauty and personal care brands under the Good Glamm Group
include MyGlamm, The Moms Co, St Botanica, and Sirona, besides content platforms POPxo, Scoopwhoop, and BabyChakra. It also launched "the largest creator ecosystem"— The Good Creator Co. (GCC), under which it has consolidated all its existing and acquired businesses focused on content creation and influencer marketing. These include Plixxo, MissMalini, Winkl and Vidooly.
In an exclusive interaction with Storyboard18, Aneja talked about new-age companies taking bigger risks with their talent, what made her join the startup, challenges faced by marketers transitioning to business roles and why beauty remains a highly under-leveraged category online.
Q. What do executives who began or spent a large chunk of their career in sales and/or marketing and then moved on to larger business roles bring to the table over those who don't have that background?
Some organisations are fundamentally in the business of building large scale brands. Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), for instance, is creating products that are used by consumers daily and understanding of commercial acumen, that comes from having done both sales and marketing allows you to understand the frontline functions extremely well.
So, the entire demand is created through consumer needs and is serviced through the sales functions. When you understand the frontline functions, your ability to influence, empathise with the organisation and do a strategic understanding create what might be the roadmap for the organisation for the next three to five years. What invariably becomes a strength for people who come from sales and marketing—especially marketing—is that it is one function in the company where you have to ace strategic thinking and an ability to create a vision for the organisation while also delivering on your current footprint.
Q. How have your time in marketing and/or sales primed and prepared you during your journey to the corner office?
I’ve had the privilege of working with three of the most respected FMCG companies in the country. My experience with Hindustan Unilever (HUL)
was phenomenal for me. We were able to understand consumer insights, create formidable brands backed by consumer insights, and gained a sharp perspective on understanding retail trade in India. I handled the UP (Uttar Pradesh) market as area sales manager.
Trade in India is extremely fragmented. You have a large modern trade vertical, then there are emerging trade channels that are online. Post the Covid-19 pandemic, the inflection point has emerged that allows a large number of consumers from offline to online. In that context, I think the first decade I spent at HUL was a formidable experience to gain that perspective.
Then I made a switch and came to Reckitt again which is a sharp and commercially savvy organisation. And L'Oréal Paris, which gave me a firm understanding of brand-building as well as the privilege of working in Paris which is the mecca of beauty brand advertising.
To that extent, as I join Good Glamm, it is a beauty unicorn and it is a company that has a moat in transforming content into commerce. My experience in organisations in the last two decades give me commercial acumen, backed by the ability to build brands. Fundamentally, we are in the business of building brands. So to that extent, I do want to bring in the rigour and the discipline of process marketing into a startup that already has fantastic strengths in being agile. The way they have grown in the last year has been formidable.
What Darpan Sanghvi (Group founder and CEO of The Good Glamm Group) is trying to build with an entire digital ecosystem is what I found most inspiring. An ecosystem where you have content that is a strong pivot with companies like POPxo or ScoopWhoop, a large pivot in influencing and brands that can leverage this ecosystem to create a business model that doesn’t exist.
Q. Could you also share the possible downsides or challenges career marketers might face when they become overall business heads? And how can one overcome these?
There will always be an area where you bring in a position of strength and there will be areas where you have to partner with people who have greater understanding and skill to bring that to life. No CEO ever works in isolation. You always work with people who transform businesses.
Phenomenal teams work to create great businesses. I think having sharp strategic thinking helps make clear portfolio choices and make decisions at the speed that is required for a startup to ace their business. The idea is to remove the challenges that the teams are already facing. But at the same time, when a person who’s had experience in large legacy organisations comes into a new age company must also bring with us a few processes that help the organisation streamline itself without compromising on the speed.
Q. Do you see more career marketers launching into CEO and equivalent positions in the future?
Hindustan Unilever was considered as the talent powerhouse in the country. If we see a large number of people who have taken over as CEO in organisations came from HUL—an out and out sales and marketing organisation. Frankly, it is not a new trend. Some people have taken on greater responsibilities having come from commercial backgrounds, especially in FMCG, where it is the natural route. In time to come, this trend will continue. Because for the businesses with consumers at the heart or where the technology may be transforming the consumer business, it is all about understanding what makes the consumer tick. B2C businesses
need that understanding. Therefore, this experience becomes extremely invaluable when you look at creating magical products that finally find a consumer's voice.
Q. What will be the key trends in 2022 in the beauty category?
Some consumer habits have changed forever post-Covid-19. The way online adoption has happened or how time spent at home has gone up will change the way we consume categories and how we shop for them.
From a consumer lens, online is here to stay, in-home consumption is going to increase. Online allows many new brands to be born today and thrive. Therefore, I genuinely think that the traditional brand business has to watch out for the future as many more consumers are willing to take risks with new brands, trends and ideas.
D2C (direct-to-consumer) revolution in India has just started, even the category that we are playing (beauty) is still under-leveraged online. Online purchase is still dominated by apparel, technology, and groceries. Therefore, there is immense headroom for growth.
What doesn’t change is that a phenomenal product wins. Companies still require phenomenal brand building to create a memorable structure in people’s minds. Those basics remain the same, but because of digital, there’s hope for many businesses to be born.
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