I joined Pond’s in 1985 and was part of the Western region. As a management trainee, you are always given the state of Madhya Pradesh to begin with because it was the biggest out of the four states in the region and considered to be the ideal place to learn. You had to travel a lot because of the size of the state. I was to handle a team of nearly nine people including sales leaders and sales guys on the ground. I was 24-years-old and some of the sales leaders I had to manage had been with the company for about 10-25 years. Imagine, now I was their boss! There was one senior sales leader who was 55-years-old, Kapil Sawhney. He was like the godfather — well-respected and knew the business inside out.
On the first day of work, I went up to him and told him that I was like his son: “I want to learn, so teach me everything you know.” By the end of the day, he put his arms around me, agreed to teach me and said, “I am going to make you successful.” Initially, I would go up to him and ask a lot of questions about things I didn’t know. This is not a bad approach to have in life irrespective of whether you are a leader or a customer or a supplier — if you are walking into a new situation and you are surrounded by people who know more, you just tell them upfront that you don’t know a lot and very quickly ask them to teach you. When you do that, it works to your advantage every single time. I spent the next seven years at Pond’s and learnt more than anywhere else. I learnt how to motivate both the retailer and the sales guy to sell more products. We had about 100 sales distributors and, by the end of the first year, I had visited them all. I would spend the day with them, get to know their business, have dinner with them in the evening and leave the next day. Their business was their lives and so they really felt good that someone from headquarters had come and spent time with them to understand more about them.
I learnt how you drive a performance culture and how metrics and competition play an important role in improving performance. All the sales guys had to snail mail a daily call report (remember this was late 1980s; so no emails) with details on how many customers they had met and the products they had sold to each of the ret