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Coffee chat with Siddharth Kapur

Catch me and Siddharth Kapur having a casual conversation on his journey to discovering marketing as his career and what should young professionals do to embark on a similar path...

Que-1- You started your journey as a manager for Indigo brand in Tata Motors and then you got the opportunity of becoming a global brand manager for HUL and now you’re in Danone, heading the business for Adult Nutrition for India and SEA region. In these 10 years what has been your biggest learning and takeaway?

One of the biggest learnings or takeaways for me has been that in the long run is, it doesn’t matter from which B-school you entail. It’s hard work that makes everything possible.

I come from a tier-2 B-school and as the norm goes, earlier, even I was surrounded with the thoughts that it’ll be difficult for me to get a manager role in HUL. Since this place is meant to be for graduates from tier-1 B-school and beyond it’ll be harder for me to crack it.

Also, the office of HUL used to be just opposite to the institute I studied and every day when I used to look at it, I used to believe that someday I’ll make it into that office.

The life-changing moment did come because I believed in myself.

There was 1 role which took about 3–4 months in onboarding and also 7 to 8 people were there whom I believed were way ahead of me. As they had more experience and also were from tier-1 B-schools I believed the expectations from them were also 3 times higher and somehow in the sea of all these expectations and experiences I survived. It’s good to know where you stand and accept that you are not there yet but also to always keep a track of what your expectations and dreams are.

This turned out to be one of the biggest learnings for me that nothing beats hard work and if you have it in yourself, you’ll be able to achieve anything and everything. Also, the talent that you have, how you communicate with your team, how and what goals you set are all a part of the life-changing journey. It’s just that the rope is in your hands, how you twist and turn it to make things in your favor, it all depends on you.

Que-2- Tracing the path of your career journey, was FMCG always your calling or you thought of venturing into other spaces? What did you feel so different about your journey?

So, I belong from an army background and when I was young, I used to move around a lot across the country because of the different postings and I had no idea what I had to pursue. My parents suggested taking up engineering after class 12th so I went along with it. After getting into engineering I realized that this was not my calling and somehow, I got in the process of elimination.

There are not many opportunities that will open the door for you or allow you to get your foot in the door. So do whatever comes in front of you take it and if in the middle you realize that this is not for you then you can move on to pursue another opportunity. If you just sit and think whether this is for me or not and how am I supposed to approach the problem, then the opportunity will wither away before you’ll even get the time to finally approach it.

Take things head-on and in the process figure how to go about it. Even though you’ll know 30–40% of the context, just be smart about the opportunity and do your homework. In the process and with practical exposure you can figure out how you can complete the task.

So, after engineering, I started working with a software company in Bangalore and during this period I figured that this was not my calling, so one of my friends advised me to go for an MBA. Till then all the entrance tests for IIM’s had already over and I didn’t want to continue my life where I was currently stuck. So, Symbiosis was an open option and I cleared the test for it to pursue my MBA there.

Now, I am not a studious guy, I am more of an experience guy. So, a couple of companies came to campus but I kind of knew where not to sit and where not to and there was one automotive company that came to our campus and I was the only one to get selected.

Ultimately, it was not about the sector; it was more about whether I can catch the pulse of the consumer or not. Every day and today as well what motivates me or keeps me going to the office are the consumer insights and the pain points that I will get to solve.

So, be it FMCG or be it food, pharma, or even FMCD, any sector, I’ll be happy anywhere, as long as the firm is consumer-centric and not product-centric. As a consumer with so many options available today, it is atrocious if we are making a product that is not taking the consumer as the center or is not solving their problems.

Que-3 How do you think the international consumer behaviour differs from that of the International one, and what market difference have you seen between the two?

When you consider marketing, none of them is going to be top-down, it has to start with the consumer.

India is economically developing and it stands out in the kind of product and the quality of the product that a consumer wants.

Be it Indian or international, the chassis is expected to be the same, but it’s the final decision that takes the hit and as a marketing or brand manager or even Business Head, when decision making is involved sometimes even with the experience we have to rely on guts to make the final decision.

Considering the Pareto model, where we discuss the 80–20% ratio, 80% is where 8 things are happening.

Indian market still has a lot of scope to include a category and the market is not saturated right now, whereas if you look towards the west, the market is heavily saturated. So much so that if you’re introducing new chocolate you have to include the name of the brand to make it stand out, for example, Belgium chocolate, which gives the essence of what chocolate from Belgium tastes like and how different it is from the other ones that have been present in the market for long. Our premium is mid-tier for them.

If you meet the consumers, they have a very transactional mindset and they’ll only give you answers to what you have asked them, but if you meet them as humans then you get to know your actual consumers.

So, back in the days when I used to interact with them, there was this one lady whom I didn’t approach as a salesman but someone who genuinely wants to know their consumers, and the 1st 45 minutes, I just discussed her life. It was basically to know how the person is and how they behave and also to know their aspirations which altogether gives a different and deeper insight. And also, to know who is your consumer actually.

So, in the developed markets, the expectations are different, the way of shopping is different and experiences are different, but for developing markets like India and Indonesia we have similar market behavior.

Everybody has working responsibility and different norms so someone who’s heading a product or brand, India still has a lot of scope to establish more categories and varieties in the market.

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?

Right from the school days, we are trained to excel, be it any sort of graduation from being an engineer to taking arts or everyone is busy training students for entrance exams, my question is why is nobody giving a training to go into corporate life?

I have completed 12 years of my work life and I still have more than 15 years to go and when the majority of our lives are spent working then why does this not play an important role?

While choosing a career, do not go for what other people are telling you to do, be it FMCG or Retail or Automotive, etc, choose a sector that comes to you. People are busy running after sectors and to get in them they choose a role that is low in visibility and gets you nowhere.

Whatever is coming to you, take it and excel it. It might be somewhere that you might realize that this might not be for you, but excelling in what comes to you is paying the right justice to it.

In the long run, it doesn’t matter from which B-school you come from, tier-1, tier-2 anyone, what matters more is your personal brand.

My personal brand is Siddharth Kapur and people know me for that. So, start dwelling on the fact that how can you build your personal brand.

How do you go on building it, how do you scale it, how well aware are you of your brand? You need to be well aware of your qualities and your personality and also through engaging and making connections with people, you need to make people know that this is who you’re and this who you are not.

Everybody looks at a team, then a strong leader, 5 strong people in a team, we all are aware, with all the people having strong nature, this team won’t survive in the long run.

What you can bring to the table is you.

Just like you can’t decide who you’re born to, who your parents are, you can’t decide who your boss will be. And a yellow cannot survive with yellow, if your boss is yellow, to have that strong relation and camaraderie between you two, you need to be a blue or a red, but someone who’s not a yellow.

Perception is the key. A lot many think that if you have to be a perfect fitment in the group or you have to be a people pleaser to secure your position in the group or the organization that you’re connected with.

No, you don’t have to be a sucker instead you need to have your own voice. What matters is that you have your own point of view and your own perception of knowledge cause that’s for what exactly your organization is paying you.

Whenever something comes up, ask yourself, is it in the 80% or in the 20%, is it big enough, it is valid, does it have a ground and if you’re asking these questions then you’re kicking yourself.

If you want to have your own brand, then you need to have your own viewpoint and not follow the herd mentality, cause if you don’t have a personality then you’re only a commodity and commodities do not have a lasting value. Find ways to stay relevant because nowadays people respect you for your value and not for the amount of experience you bring to the table.

Coming to the question of entrepreneurship, till now I haven’t reached that level that I am done with the corporate life and I feel I have years to go but if suddenly someday If I realize that I am done and I need to venture on the path of having my own company then surely, I’ll see of what will be the next step.

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