Book Review: The CEO Factory

The Book ‘The CEO Factory-Management Lessons from Hindustan Unilever’ is written by Sudhir Sitapati who is the Executive Director, Foods & Refreshment at Hindustan Unilever.

The title is a bit of a misnomer as I thought the Book will be about the illustrious alumni of HUL, the folks who became CEOs at different cos such as Neville Noronha (Dmart), Gopal Vittal (Bharti Airtel) etc. It is estimated that a record 400 HUL alumni are CEOs/CXOs across corporate India.

Instead, the Book is about a bit of history of the co and then a deep dive into the various business functions which make HUL so iconic.The Book covers functions like marketing, advertising, sales,product, cost management, R&D, HR etc

Sudhir is considered to be one of the best FMCG brains in the country and is the amongst the youngest persons ever to become the ED of HUL.

The Book makes it clear why it is so. Its an absolute master class in a how a FMCG business operates. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you don’t need a MBA in Marketing if you read this book.

The book contains terrific insights and some amusing anecdotes. I loved the author’s definition of an insight – “An insight is a contradiction that is obvious in hindsight’

The Book also contains the rationale of HUL buying Glaxo Health Care’s brands in India which I found interesting.

Another aspect of the Book is that the author helpfully summarises the Chapter in a few points after each Chapter.

I would strongly recommend this Book to all businessmen and investors.


Book Review: The Moonshot Game

The Book ‘The Moonshot Game-Adventures of an Indian Venture Capitalist’ is written by Rahul Chandra.

Rahul Chandra was amongst the first VCs in India as the first employee of Walden International way back in 1997. He went on to be the founder of Helion Ventures and the Book is about his experiences in the two decades in the Indian VC industry.

As an investor in the public markets, I always found the VC world to be strange and exotic….if not outright bewildering. Never could understand how did they did the deals they did at the valuations which will make a public markets investor gag.

The author does a marvelous job in explaining the world of Venture Capital in the Indian context. He walks thru the various fund raises, the investments they did, the rationale of those investments, how the invesments panned out etc.

Venture Capital was an alien animal in the Indian jungle 20 years back and as one reads the Book, one gets a good sense of how the Indian eco system has evolved. Earlier the founders were all interested in copying the successful US startups and creating the desi version of the same. Next came the mobility way.Next came the founders who were native digital citizens and wanted to create solutions for Indian-specific problems.

The Book also offered insights into the world of angel investing. I was astounded to know that in 2015 the foodtech space saw more than 400 startups ! Only two survive now.

One takeaway I found useful was the question the author asks while doing a periodic assessment of his portfolio cos – “Would I put all the capital at my disposal into this company if I could?Why Not? Or Why?”

The other interesting takeaway was “Our investments that were focused on the greater mass of consumers who were NOT in the top income bracket were the ones that scaled best”

The author also narrates on the rift between the partners which caused Helion to shut down. His sense of fair play comes across in that chapter.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this Book and would recommend it to folks interested in Venture Capital & India’s startup scene.


Book Review: Titan

The Book ‘Titan: Inside India’s most successful Consumer Brand’ is written by veteran journalist Vinay Kamath.

The Book traces the path of Titan which started as a “Watch Project” at Tata Press to the Consumer behemoth it is today.

The Book is a thrilling read and one marvels at the twists and turns the company’s fortunes took over a period of 30 years.

The book is full on anecdotes which makes it an awesome read.

One of my heroes is JRD Tata and the Book brings out his “Management by Affection” philosophy. He didn’t have much knowledge or interest in watches or jewelry but he backed Titan’s plans because of his faith in Xerses Desai. It was a classic bet on the jockey and not on the horse.

There are many anecdotes about JRD in the book which are lovely…for instance, the first watch presented to him by the Titan management team turned out to be defective ! Another anecdote of how he pushed the Titan management to do more in CSR brings out the greatness of the man.

Another legend associated with Titan was Xerses Desai. He was the extra-ordinary man who had the vision, determination and the leadership skills to build Titan.

Some aspects of his personality reminded me other business successes such as:

  1. Setting international standards– From the very beginning, Xerses wanted the Titan products and showrooms to be world class. He sent designers to Europe to study the showrooms there and implement the same for Titan showrooms here. Reminded me of Dhirubhai Ambani who used to benchmark Reliance always with international standards
  2. Imbueing Quality – Steve Jobs of Apple was fanatic in his belief that every aspect of the Company which touches stakeholders should imbue quality. So not only the product, but the packaging, communication etc should of the highest quality.Xerses was extremely fastidious about the aesthetics,design etc of each and every aspect of the company, even if it was v minor. He used to spend hours checking the color proofs of the print ads so that readers could do ‘window shopping’ sitting at home. One amusing anecdote related to this was when the ad agency made an ad where the husband gifts a watch to his wife. The gift card said ‘To my dearest wife‘. To this, the Oxford educated Xerses quipped “Dearest? How many wives does he have?”. The chastened ad agency changed it to the correct grammar ‘To my dear wife‘ !
  3. Talent Magnet – Like JRD Tata, Xerses roped in the best of talent, gave them freedom and got the best of them.This open and smart culture that he created still exists in Titan today

The Book covers how the different brands of Titan evolved – Tanishq, Fast Track, Skinn, Taneira etc

I must compliment the author on a fantastic job done. After a long time, I read a book on an Indian co and felt ‘Maja Aa Gaya’ !

I would strongly recommend this Book to all investors


Book Review: Bridgital Nation

The Book ‘Bridgital Nation’ is written by N Chandra, the Chairperson of Tata Sons and Roopa Purushottham, the Chief Economist of the Tata Group.

One would think the Book is about Technology.

But the Book is actually about India and its colossal challenges in providing healthcare,education,jobs, credit, judicial access etc to its citizens.

The Book is divided into chapters related to healthcare, entrepreneurship etc

Each chapter has a real Indian explaining the challenges he/she faced which makes it very relatable.The authors then expand the anecdote to include global studies, statistics, analysis, tech solutions etc

Normally we would assume that technology (Robots, AI etc) would replace jobs. But this is a false choice usually put forth in advanced societies. In India, a Bridgital approach -a relationship between citizens/technology- can not only improve lives of its citizens but create millions of jobs.

The Book has case studies of AIIMS, Kolar hospitals but one such case could have been the Passport Seva Kendras. Not only thanks to technology has getting passport become easier, but it also has created thousands of jobs.

The Book is written in a lucid and digestible format…the authors seem to have gone out of their way to make it an easy read.

I would recommend this book to policy advocates and policy makers.


Book Review: Principles for Success

The Book ‘ Principles for Success’ is written by Ray Dalio, the Billionaire Founder of Bridgewater Associates.

The author wrote this book for his grand children. Hence the book is a simple 15 minute read with pictures so that kids of all ages can understand easily.

The point that Ray tries to make in the Book is that every person should have principles to help navigate the ups and downs of life.

His own principles are ‘Think for yourself while being radically open minded’ , ‘Know what is true’ etc

I would recommend this book to kids.