A 4G Mantra for Corporate Governance

 In Speaker / Gateway

Consistent growth, profitable growth, competitive growth and responsible growth: Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman and MD of Hindustan Unilever Ltd. believes profit and sustainability go together

Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman and MD of Hindustan Unilever Ltd. outlined his 4G formula of putting corporate governance through an intensive cleaning cycle in his talk to the Rotary Club of Bombay last Tuesday.

The 4Gs refer to responsible growth, consistent growth, profitable growth and competitive growth. Sanjiv emphasised how growth is the result of sustainable design and campaigns coupled with sensitizing the community.

Growth is the result of societal expectations from big businesses. Sanjiv said, that in a world that showed a record trust deficit in big businesses, no one can afford to degrade the environment for growth. “It is difficult for a company to prosper unless there is inclusive growth,” he said. The last century’s mantra of prioritising ‘Roti, Kapda, Makaan’ over everything else is a thing of the past. The new generation is informed and purposeful and brand-conscious. This means that they look into the societal and the environmental impact of the brands they buy. Hindustan
Unilever Ltd., said Sanjiv, was a company that was in touch with the changing sensibilities of its customers. There are aspirational values that change with the needs of society.

While its roots are Anglo-Dutch, its ethos is strongly Indian. Sanjiv said, “We believe what is good for India is good for Hindustan Unilever. We believe in doing well while doing good.”

Sanjiv continued, “Hindustan Unilever is a purpose-driven value-led organisation.” He added, “To quote our founder Lord William Lever: ‘I believe that nothing can be greater than a business, however small it may be, that is governed by conscience; and that nothing can be meaner or pettier than a business however large, governed without honesty and
without brotherhood’.”

The purpose of life, said Sanjiv, was to make sustainable living a commonplace deliverable. Sanjiv believes that companies with purpose last longer, brands with purpose grow faster and people with purpose thrive. He quoted Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” HUL helps people find their purpose and align their work with it, he said.

Sanjiv shared, with the club, ad campaigns and tag-lines of various brands and commodities under HUL which strive to make a difference and have a positive influence on the society. One of these, the ‘Brooke Bond Tea – The taste of Togetherness’ campaign is directed at looking beyond the stereotypes and bringing diverse communities together including the transgendered.

The Unilever sustainability plan is drafted such that it decouples with environment footprint and recouples with societal impact, said Sanjiv. He also highlighted one of the big challenges of the world: water scarcity. Water is essential for life. Hence, it is crucial to conserve it. HUL is doing so by focusing on health and well-being, enhanced livelihood, sanitation and the management of plastic. Several programmes and sustainable campaigns have been
undertaken in this direction. Sanjiv screened a beautiful advertisement to help understand the need for water conservation and using water resources responsibly.

Sanjiv also shed light on HUL’s project Shakti which empowers rural women to they have a respectable standing
in society as entrepreneurs. Sanjiv also talked about the need to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover plastic.

A Rotarian asked Sanjiv to comment on the situation in rural India where toilets are being built under various projects but not being used.

To this, Sanjiv responded with highlighting the importance of understanding human behaviour. He said, “The perception of people about stereotypes attached with toilets will not change unless there is a proper talk about hygiene and sanitation.”

Another question posed to him was how HUL was gearing up for the rapid urbanisation of the country and were there any lessons from China? Sanjiv said that urbanisation was yet to kick off in India; in 1980s, India and China both had 25 per cent urbanisation, and while India is now at 35 per cent, China stands at 55 per cent. He said this was because infrastructure preceded urbanisation in China while infrastructure lags behind urbanisation in India. “But we have the potential to do better,” he added.

The last question by a Rotarian was: ‘How afraid are you of Patanjali?’. The question allowed Sanjiv to close with
his philosophy: “If one competitor grows, that does not mean that others cannot grow. A good competitor is good for consumers and good competitors bring out the best in Hindustan Unilever.”

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