Nisaba Godrej on Life Lessons from Horse Riding

Last year, at the height of the pandemic, Nisaba Godrej took about as Running Director of Godrej Buyer Merchandise Constrained (GCPL). Having steered the team flagship as a result of the turmoil, she not long ago handed over the CEO’s chair to HUL veteran Sudhir Sitapati, remaining in the job of Executive Chairperson. In a candid chat with Udayan Mukherjee, she talks about the trajectory of Godrej Customer and her have lifetime, the issues and learnings together the way, and what the title Godrej signifies to her. Edited excerpts:

UM: Nisa, you relinquished govt charge as CEO earlier this year, but a simple fact which is not extremely very well identified is that evidently you had built pretty a behavior of regularly tendering resignations to your father Adi Godrej previously in your vocation. Of class, none of them ended up approved. Can you notify us about this curious element?

NG: I did resign 3-4 situations and this is likely back again about 15 many years. I had just appear back from business college and joined the group—the agri enterprise. I was functioning on the turnaround there and wanted to make leadership adjustments and do all kinds of other issues, and saved having explained to that my values had been improper due to the fact, you know, at Godrej we stick with our people today and I was being incredibly destructive. I pointed out that it was the bottom line that was destructive, not me!

Thankfully, at that time, my father likely realised that no just one else was going to use me, so he stored his patience with me and, somewhere along the line, I discovered how to affect other folks, not get far too frustrated and figure out how to get things accomplished. That is why I’m nevertheless here.

UM: On hindsight, would you concede that you were impetuous and incredibly hot-headed—that you have evolved over the several years and are a unique particular person, a distinctive manager now?

NG: I want I could say that I am 100 for each cent diverse, but I imagine I have had some volume of advancement, and I am not as very hot-headed as I was. If I can give you an analogy, due to the fact I love using, you know, from time to time you get the horse to the soar and it refuses to soar. And I would just get off the horse, saying, ‘You stupid horse, it’s your fault’. And I assume that the mastering, as you get a small bit of wisdom, right here is that if you want that horse to go above the leap, you have to remain on the bounce. You have to have tenacity. I learnt early on to keep on the horse and experience gracefully, and negotiate the route in between the jumps.

UM: It’s an exciting analogy, but the a person issue you are unable to do even though riding a horse is have two jockeys on the saddle. It is you alone. But now you’ve made a scenario the place you are the chairperson and you have bought a veteran from the company environment to develop into the MD. Does this method do the job? Can two men and women jointly steer a ship or is friction inescapable?

NG: It takes a great deal additional than two people today to run a company, so I don’t assume it’s only about Sudhir and I. I was the chairperson ahead of and I’ve been in GCPL main procedures and in main roles for about a ten years now. To give you a minor background, if you consider about GCPL, pre-Covid-19, we were not undertaking far too nicely. If you glance at 2018-19, growth experienced slowed, acquisitions in Africa ended up not doing perfectly, and then Covid-19 came.

When your enterprise is not performing properly and gets hit by a disaster, you have to be decisive. Our previous CEO Vivek [Gambhir], who I am however very shut to, had some health issues, so at that time, we made the decision along with the board that by way of the Covid-19 turmoil, I would direct the organization.

I’d now experienced the reins in my arms for numerous many years, but this was just keeping it a large amount, ton tighter. We sort of navigated the disaster comparatively well and the first notion was that I would do this for a few of a long time, see us by means of Covid-19 and then start off on the lookout in parallel for a CEO. Sudhir took place before than I thought, but when a very good detail happens, you do not waste time. That’s why he’s now likely to be formally in the saddle, so to converse. I really don’t assume there is any form of conflict. I am the Executive Chairperson and he is the CEO. We have our roles outlined fairly properly and the cause to deliver another person like him is that he is the two strategic and operational. We experienced these development troubles in the earlier. We experienced quite potent progress parts and then points slowed down. Things have picked up now, but he however has pretty a job established out in front of him, and I required this contemporary pair of eyes also for the corporation. I have been with this organization for 15 yrs. I wanted us to get the bar bigger, so I experience he’s genuinely heading to arrive in and do that.

UM: But how do you see the distinction concerning a promoter-run firm and a skillfully managed one particular? The response from traders when you took about was that this is the end of the street for a management-operate firm it will now be a promoter-owned gig. And this yr, the response was the opposite—she’s stepping back again and a qualified supervisor is getting in excess of again. Does this bother you?

NG: In essence, what you want to say is what transpired to the stock cost when I announced that I was getting CEO—the stock cost fell 10 for every cent. When we were going to announce Sudhir’s appointment, I joked with my CFO Sameer [Shah] that he superior not permit it go up additional than 10 for each cent because my moi could possibly not be in a position to get it! But we went up the optimum we have ever been, 20 for each cent in a person day!

UM: Did you sense lousy that day? Was your moi bruised?

NG: No, simply because you are taking the right conclusion for the corporation. Let me just set a disclaimer out there that I am most likely a product of some diploma of nepotism. I am not blind to the truth that I could possibly not be below on this chair, but for where I was born. I also consider nepotism can be a awful point. It can demolish providers, nations around the world. You can see what comes about even in politics when this receives out of hand. That remaining said, I think you actually have to have to appear at particular person folks, not just as a promoter or professional—I consider that’s a narrow-minded view. Does a human being have an ownership attitude? And are they skilled? When those two issues arrive collectively, regardless of whether it is in a qualified or someone who is a promoter, I feel that is a very potent blend. And Udayan, I have to tell you at the time when I did develop into CEO, all our significant investors—I have letters—they set it in creating that they are very delighted that at these types of a hard time, you have stepped in. I went to them with the presentation, expressing right here is the undesirable information, below is the superior news, and here is what I’m gonna do about it. So I don’t consider we need to have narrow views on promoter-vs .-qualified. I assume we actually need to have to search at the unique, particularly at the maximum leadership amount.

UM: Hey, I was not accusing you of nepotism, it was intended in a light-hearted way.

NG: Let’s be sincere about it—there is nothing to conceal. I am listed here mainly because of where by I was born, but with any luck ,, at the conclude of my profession, crosses and ticks are not based on what my previous title is, but what I did as Nisaba, not due to the fact I was a Godrej. I was just placing that out there that I am comfortable chatting about it.

UM: Which is placing it nicely—that you will be judged by what Nisaba did, not what your very last name was. So permit me check with what getting the Godrej surname usually means to you. Does it fill you with a feeling of obligation, gratitude, or does it rankle at times?

NG: I consider it is less about becoming Godrej when I imagine of myself as an Indian girl and just this ovarian lottery that I have gained. I have a master’s degree and I have experienced all these chances and privileges in life. To whom much is provided, a great deal will be expected—that’s a well known quotation. Considerably of what is expected has weighed down greatly on me I should really do a thing excellent with it, that is how I believe about it.

UM: You had been candid in admitting that Godrej Purchaser had a bumpy journey through 2017-19. I try to remember traders complaining that irrespective of this sort of a robust manufacturer identify, you had misplaced your way with those people intercontinental acquisitions. Would you concede there were mistakes built together the way and now you are in a posture to established it ideal?

NG: As any other firm, we all make mistakes all the time and if you can proper them rapidly sufficient, it is extremely superior. If I break up the acquisitions fairly just for you—the two massive parts, 1 was Indonesia and the other in the African continent. So let me choose a next to pat myself on the again. For the Indonesian component, we compensated about $275 million and now, from a valuation standpoint, that acquisition is worth about $1.5-2 billion. The Indonesian acquisition has done very very well for us. Which is simply because in Indonesia, the classes they have are similar to the kinds we have in India. We were capable to go in and do a fantastic task there.

Africa was a distinctive tale. My brother actually asked me a number of yrs ago if I would say that, on the complete, we had produced a oversight with the acquisitions. And I reported not from an overall feeling. I nonetheless believe that Africa will be a huge growth motor and price accretive for GCPL in the medium to prolonged expression. But there have been heaps of learnings in Africa’s M&A technique that I would do in a different way now.

UM: Now the inescapable issue, specified that the inventory went up 20 for every cent the day you appointed Sudhir Sitapati as the MD and CEO. He arrives from a quite strong food items track record at HUL. Will you now concentration on meals and refreshment?

NG: No, we have not hired him to create the foods portfolio. We are incredibly focussed on our reason of bringing goodness of wellness and magnificence to rising markets, and will remain a great deal additional intently to the types we are in now, and foodstuff is not portion of that program.

UM: Would you aim more on organic and natural expansion or would you continue on to be as intense on the inorganic entrance as you have been in the very last ten years?

NG: Concentration will be on natural development. If you read through some of my letters to shareholders going back again to past calendar year and this year—it is that we need to be in the double-digit natural expansion lane, which I imagine is pretty considerably doable. In consumer products and solutions, we will normally be searching at acquisitions. My wondering is when we do purchase, and we will invest in, it will be additional focussed on India, Indonesia and South-East Asia. In Africa, we clearly want to get to double-digit EBITDA margins in advance of we place any additional capital there. But the very first precedence will absolutely be organic growth.

UM: And you are confident that Godrej Client is back again on a double-digit volume progress trajectory for the foreseeable future?

NG: I am very self-assured about that. Sudhir’s thinking is incredibly powerful, both of those strategically and operationally. So I assume he is truly going to raise the video game for us. GCPL has lots of existing strengths and we have turn out to be this great product or service corporation in excess of the past 10 years. The products innovation and the factors we have carried out, if Sudhir can increase his superb marketing and advertising capabilities to that, it is going to be a definitely strong mixture.

UM: You described your brother [Pirojsha Godrej]. He is into serious estate and you are at the helm of the buyer flagship. Was it by structure, was it your father’s way of carving up the relatives business? What is your equation with him like?

NG: We tossed a coin, Udayan. No, I am joking! My equation with my brother is incredible. So if I rely my blessings in existence, he is suitable there on top of that list. He is an very smart, excellent human being. Management can be a lonely company and acquiring another person to travel that journey with is superb. In spouse and children organizations, it can be amazing or it can be horrible, but my brother is just a rock and super supportive. It is astounding to get the job done with him. I normally say that I was quite blessed since article the first discrepancies that I had with my father, in phrases of viewpoints and approaches, when he gave me the freedom, he thoroughly backed me. He was usually there by my aspect. I utilised to stay with my mom and dad in my 20s, and my father and I would take these lengthy walks from Walkeshwar to The Oberoi lodge, and converse pretty passionately about the organization. I was usually entirely supported. I have this identical point with my brother now, the shared passion.

UM: Do you nevertheless get guidance from your father? Did it ever rankle to be identified as Adi Godrej’s daughter mainly because you are your individual human being, and a extremely achieved a single at that?

NG: No, I was generally proud to be his daughter. I don’t stress far too significantly about all this. It’s in all probability one particular of the strengths and just one of my weaknesses too that I really don’t seem to care as well a great deal about what other folks feel of me or say of me. I am certainly happy to be Adi Godrej’s daughter, that is the real truth.

UM: Tell us a little bit about your self as a human being. You spoke about using horses. What else do you do. What are your other passions or interests?

NG: Horses have been a everyday living-long enthusiasm and I appreciate using. I really like using my kids with me for rides. I enjoy the outdoors. A single of the points which my father gave me was this appreciate for watersports, trekking, mountain climbing, a lot of it came from him. When we have been children, we’d go out in his speedboat. He’d drop us in the sea at Juhu and check with us to swim back. He has this stunning TED communicate on women and experience, and how it builds courage. A good deal of my individuality came from carrying out all these outdoor actions with my father. I am happy that I get to share the very same with my kids now. Carrying out work in instruction and becoming capable to convey fairness and education to India is another thing that I am seriously passionate about. I like looking through and I am an introvert, so I really don’t enjoy persons so significantly usually, but I do like the folks I am shut to.

UM: How has it been balancing spouse and children and operate as a girl chief? I had this dialogue with Indra Nooyi the other day and substantially of it was about the pressures and compromises a woman requirements to make in the workplace. How has it been for you on that front?

NG: It is been type of fantastic. I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I employed to occur from that faculty of assumed and then examine Unfinished Business by Anne Marie Slaughter and she mentioned it all works wonderful until some thing goes belly up in your loved ones or some thing happens with a kid, and you have to spend an inordinate quantity of time correcting it. That has thankfully not transpired to me yet. So I am in a position to control it high-quality, and a secret that I share with individuals is that I have the ‘guilt’ gene lacking. I really do not come to feel guilty that I am not carrying out enough with my young ones and I really don’t truly feel responsible that I am not undertaking more than enough at get the job done. I am just undertaking my ideal. At times, my very best would be fantastic and in some cases I will be falling flat on my experience. And this philosophy functions out properly for me.