Leadership in a VUCA World
Mr. Harish Manwani addresses shareholders at the company’s 80th Annual General Meeting (AGM).
In the speech titled ‘Leadership in a VUCA World’, Mr. Manwani said, “To be clear, business still needs to deliver the 3Gs of growth – consistent, competitive and profitable growth. The 3Gs are important because without these, a business cannot create any value. But in this New Normal, these alone are not sufficient. The fourth G recognizes that it is the role of business to not just create economic value but also social value, and to do this in a sustainable way.”
Mr. Manwani spoke about how the three underlying megatrends of digitisation, rise of the developing world and sustainability will shape our future. Speaking about digitisation, he said, “Digitisation is now advancing even more rapidly and fundamentally changing the way business and society works. It presents both opportunities and challenges and the companies that adapt to this reality will succeed in the future.”
Referring to the rise of the developing world he spoke about the economic growth of countries like China and India and how the world order is changing as the economic power shifts from West to East. “For the last century, the developing world produced for the developed world to consume. But by 2020, emerging Asia will become the world’s largest consuming block, overtaking North America. This changing balance of power is redefining the world of business”, he said. He spoke about how companies that reorganize their resources and leadership development towards the new economic centre of gravity would benefit while the others would fall behind.
He also spoke about the impact of the rapid increase in consumption on the scare resources, he urged companies to align their business growth with socio-economic progress in a sustainable way.
Winning in a VUCA world
Elucidating the key enablers for winning in the VUCA world, Mr Manwani spoke about the need for both foresight and agility for organizations to simultaneously manage both the short-term goals and the long-term goals of the business. “The role of leadership is to have a clear point of view about the future and build an organisation that can navigate towards that destination through good times, and importantly, also in bad times”, he said.
Emphasising the need for businesses to have consumer centricity, he said, “More than ever, businesses must have an insight into the changing needs and aspirations of their consumers to be successful.” Speaking about the need for organizations to be globally leveraged and locally relevant to consistently succeed in the VUCA world, he said, “Our mantra is to think local but act global. At Unilever, we begin by understanding what local consumers and customers need or want. Then we leverage our global understanding, technology and knowledge to provide the best solutions to meet these local needs. Our strength is our ability to combine global scale with locally tailored solutions.”
He also spoke about the need for companies to attract, develop and retain the best talent to be successful in the long-term. He spoke about how increasingly young men and women are seeking to work for a company that reflects their own values. “Many talented young people join us for this reason. In Unilever, we have always believed that we do not just sell soap and soup. Instead, we are committed to helping our consumers enhance their standard of living through our brands and improving the livelihoods of millions of people engaged across our value chain,” he said.
Leadership in a VUCA world
Mr. Manwani spoke about how for winning in the VUCA world organizations would need a new kind of leadership that is values-led and purpose-driven and leaders who can redefine the role of business in society. “Being values-led is about the foundation that underpins the Company. Being purpose-driven is about the common objective we work towards that is larger than the Company itself,” he said.
Unilever Sustainable Living Plan
Referring to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan which was launched in late 2010, he said, “The Plan embodies our values and purpose and underscores our commitment to grow our business responsibly. We have committed to doubling the size of our business while reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact.”
He expressed happiness on the significant progress made towards achieving the targets just two years into the launch of the Plan. Speaking about the progress made on sustainable sourcing of agricultural raw materials he said, “By the end of 2012, 36% of agricultural raw materials across Unilever were sustainably sourced while HUL sourced more than 69% of agricultural raw materials sustainably. In palm oil for instance, 100% of our palm oil across Unilever is now from sustainable sources, which is three years ahead of schedule”.
Referring to HUL’s commitment to ‘doing well by doing good’, Mr Manwani said, “We have tied up with partners across our value chain, including smallholder farmers, entrepreneurs and governments to ensure sustainable production and responsible growth. In India, we have expanded our network of Shakti ammas to 48,000 entrepreneurs covering 3.3 million households in over 135,000 Indian villages.”
He reiterated that ultimately, the Company’s brands have to be agents of social change and cited the examples of Lifebuoy and Pureit. “The Lifebuoy hand-washing education programme has already reached more than 119 million people in India and other developing countries. In addition, we have provided safe drinking water for 45 million people in India and globally through Pureit. Together, we aim to help more than a billion people to improve their hygiene habits and bring safe drinking water to 500 million people by 2020,” Mr. Manwani said.
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