Coffee Chat with Mr Saumil Mehta-Director & Country Manager at The Kraft Heinz Company
Que-1- You started your journey as an ASM in Pidilite and then you switched to work in PepsiCo handling various responsibilities and now you’re heading the business for The Kraft Heinz Company for India and Select SEA countries.
14 different roles in these last 17 years.
What has been your biggest learning and takeaway till now?
Ans- My biggest learning is to continue the process of “Learn – Unlearn – Relearn”. The mental evolution has to continue unabated – I have followed this mantra throughout my career.
Stagnation in learning is the only cause of my Heebie-Jeebies and continued learning is my incantation.
If I take an example from my past, some of the business models that have come up in the last decade, never existed when I was doing my MBA!!!
Also, you can expect the theory of those times to become stagnant. How can I depend on the theoretical knowledge acquired 17 years prior & expect it to help me succeed today & for the next 17 years as well?
I am not saying that what I learnt during my MBA is futile. That learning definitely helped in forming my rock-solid base over which I now continue to layer on new skills & new mindset.
One of my key takeaways would be – keep marching on your career with unabashed passion.
Workaround personal constraints to mitigate them. But don’t let any personal constraint hamper your professional growth. Reason being, personal constraints does ease-off, with the passage of time. However, lost career opportunities hardly come back.
Just to clarify on this, I am not asking people to be workaholic or compromise everything on the personal front.
All I am saying is that try working around the constraints and shackles by taking help from friends & family so that you maximize your professional gains.
This will not only prove to be helpful and successful in the short run but when you look back at the graph some years down the line, you’ll be thanking everyone who was a part of your journey for you to arrive at the current point.
Que-2- Tracing the path of your career journey, was FMCG and then, later on, you switched to FMCD. Was Fast-moving consumer industry always your calling or you thought of venturing into other spaces? What did you feel so different about your journey?
Ans- To be honest, FMCG will always be my 1st love.
Back when my career had begun, start-ups hardly existed and services were considered specialized domain. Explaining this in layman terms, you get into one service vertical & you get tagged with the same for the rest of your life.
On the other hand, FMCG offered flexibility to work on multiple product categories, consumption occasion, type of consumer, etc. I consider myself extremely lucky that I got my most grounded learning at the start of my career at Pidilite Industries Ltd & later on, PepsiCo provided me with the thrust that propelled my career.
I consciously moved out of FMCG & took-up FMCD as I was keen to explore diverse product-line which will help me learn a different form of channel dynamics, consumer behaviour, etc.
Also, in Mobile Phone space, technology and its evolution become the core of the product.
So, this turned out to be my tryst with the technology space, for the first time in my life.
Coming to the most important learning, although FMCG stands for Fast-Moving Consumer Goods, but the tech-space has fast-moving technology at its core.
This space was even more fast-paced & dynamic and it was filled with product launches which were happening almost every month, at times even more than once in a month.
The thrill in this space was unmatched to what I observed in FMCG but both the industries will always remain near to my heart because of their massive learning potential.
What I feel different about my journey is that I am blessed to have handled multiple consumer goods spaces in a reasonably short span.
Having handled the space in Consumer Goods, Consumer Durables & Mobile Phones as well as Consumer Electricals, I am blessed to acquire operating knowledge of nearly three-fourth of B2C Product Verticals.
While each category has its unique ways-of-working & dynamics, I am uniquely poised to pool the best practices from all the three & create a robust operating model for any product vertical.
Let me assure you that the best practises across all these diverse product verticals are relevant for all the other product verticals. So, the learnings never go to waste but gets a diversified look when you jump from one industry to another.
Que-3 Pertaining to your current position, how do you think the Indian consumer behaviour differs from that of the International one, and what market difference have you seen between the two?
Ans- From my current experience and the regions that I handle, I felt that there is one stark difference between Indian consumers versus other South East Asian markets.
We are the most value-conscious consumers.
This is often confused as being price-sensitive or deal-seekers. That’s not true. We want the right value.
Let me take an example. If you sell the base product at Rs. 100 & an upgrade at Rs. 120, the Indian consumer is more competent to ascertain whether the added features or the specifications or the benefits are more than the additional Rs. 20 and is it worth to pay?
And keep in mind that these features or specification or benefits need not be only tangible.
They can be intangible as well. This brings me to another aspect that Indian Consumers chase and that is, convenience.
Being a part of the country where hardships are a way of life, anything that rings within convenience at an optimum price will find immediate traction with the Indian Consumer.
These are important lessons for Brand Marketers in taking pricing decisions.
We might fall in love with our innovation/product upgrade. But, put the hat of the consumer & evaluate if you were in their shoes, will you be ready to pay the incremental price for the added feature or not.
One more aspect where Indian consumer differs from their South East Asian counterparts is the quantum of choices available to them.
Being a huge country, we are also blessed to have multiple players across most product & service categories. This acts as a huge barrier for any brand to up-charge disproportionately & provide much-better value-for-money to our consumers – while keeping pricing under check.
Que-4 Any advice you would like to give to the recent graduates or people in their early stages of career? Also, do you wish to pursue entrepreneurship in the future?
Ans- My advice to budding managers or wannabe managers is simple – don’t look at short-cuts or short-wins or short-hikes on money.
20% to 30% hike, at the beginning of the career translates few thousand bucks. But this hike is something which any organization can afford & lure you with.
Thus, money should be one of the considerations while making career moves. But, make sure that it’s not the ONLY consideration.
While making career moves, from one role to another, or from one organization to another, following are some the key questions that should ask yourself and give time to answer:
1. Is the role offered a step-jump from the current role?
2. Is the role offered more powerful (in terms of responsibility of key decision-making) than the current role?
3. Is the role offered different than what you have done so far in your career?
4. Importantly, how will your career propel further from this new role?
These key questions will help you pick the right roles & organization. Remember that the right career moves will surely keep on adding money.
So, don’t worry on the money front, if you are making the right career moves.
With regards to pursuing entrepreneurship, I won’t be pursuing it actively. However, I am currently exploring the space and looking forward to being an angel investor in start-ups.
I am excited to see how that journey shapes up.
We thank Mr Saumil Mehta for his time to share valuable learnings from his career and also provide great advice for the upcoming managers. Checkout his LinkedIn profile down below: