With a vast experience of more than 25 years in the world of Finance & Accounting, Naresh Bhansali, CEO- Finance, Strategy & Business Development and CFO at Emami Group, shared his insights on how much has changed in the world of consumer goods industry, and trends to watch out for in the upcoming future.
Speaking exclusively to BW Businessworld, Bhansali discussed in length a wide range of topics, including the challenges faced as a CFO during times of uncertainty, thriving in the post-pandemic period, the need to better utilise emerging technologies, working towards a sustainable future, and setting up future goals.
Navigating in turbulent times:
The overall business environment across domains in the past couple of years has been in choppy waters, and the role of a CFO in an organisation has now become more important than ever before. Bhansali said, “The world has become increasingly dynamic, and the business environment, both internally and externally, has witnessed rapid change. While we have just passed the trauma of the pandemic, we are now finding ourselves stuck in-between the consistently changing geo-political situation impacting economies across borders in an unprecedented manner.”
Apart from the external factors mentioned above, there are internal factors at work too, making life more difficult for the CFOs. Bhansali highlighted, “There are factors including cost-rise, high-inflation, sluggish growth rate, combined with changing consumer behaviours, business models, and customers’ increasing demand for eco-friendly quality products at a cheaper cost.”
In the consumer-product industry, having an omnichannel presence is not a luxury anymore but a need of the hour. As the rules of the game have changed, consumers are now in control, and they want the products to be at their disposal at the right moment.
Bhansali commented, “Earlier, we used to provide consumers with the products at the grocery store or the pharmacy. Now we need to have our presence on every channel. There is channel disruption happening as we are making our products available on every touch-point, including e-commerce platforms, and company-specific websites. As a result, business is becoming more complex, and challenges are evolving.”
The digital age, which has companies engaged in channel disruption, has brought in several opportunities knocking too.
Bhansali explained, “It is now relatively easier to reach out to consumers through e-commerce platforms, and the use of technology has made it possible to predict the behaviour of the consumers. The management structures have also become more collaborative to take care of the emerging opportunities.”
Flourishing in the post-pandemic world:
Like any other CFO, Bhansali faced a plethora of challenges during the pandemic.
Bhansali recalled, “When we witnessed the onslaught of the pandemic for the first time, we were all apprehensive about how the future will take shape. The priority suddenly evolved from growth to sustenance and cash flow. Only after we stabilized did the priority go back to growth and profitability. The pandemic taught us the need to constantly reinvent, learn, and adapt.”
In the post-pandemic period, how an organisation works has also witnessed dramatic change. Bhansali underlined, “The virtual meetings alongside WFH, have now become the preferred choice. We encourage our colleagues to adopt this practice, as WFH is more effective than commuting to the office and marking physical attendance. Showing up to the office for five days doesn’t matter as long as one gets the work done.”
Also, in the digital space, companies have been ramping up the presence of their products. Bhansali remarked, “We are increasingly tapping into the e-commerce space. During the pandemic, we launched our platform, Zanducare, and we have been receiving encouraging responses from the customers.”
Need to better utilise technologies for business growth:
Adapting to newer practices is much more important in today’s business environment, and one must successfully harness technologies to meet customer demands.
Bhansali underlined, “It is of utmost importance to keep abreast of what is happening in the market, and how one can cater to the consumers through the usage of technology and deliver results that live up to their expectations. The mantra for winning companies is a faster response to consumer needs.”
In the current age of digital, technology is an integral part of the business world.
Bhansali explained, “From R&D to providing service to consumers, everything we do is interdependent on technology. Digitisation of account table processes, virtual meeting portals, the ability to use information from anywhere, all of this has been made possible thanks to technology. Going forward, the usage of big data, analytics, and bots is going to play an important role in the future.”
Paving the path for a sustainable future:
Sustainability can be defined as being focused on evolving the business model to deliver profitable growth while minimising the impact on the environment, and it is something that is engrained in the Indian ethos. Emami is dedicated to providing ayurvedic products using modern laboratory practices.
Bhansali highlighted, “We believe in providing products that are good for health, the environment, and society. Our products, packaging, and processes are implemented while keeping the environment in mind. The usage of plastics over the years has dwindled substantially, and we are also using renewable resources such as solar power, and wind energy during manufacturing.”
“70 per cent of the water we use is recycled, and at the same time, our water consumption has reduced by 25 per cent in the last year. We are also optimising the usage of plastic and paper and are going to become plastic waste-neutral very soon. All these measures are going to have a positive impact on the environment,” he added.
Consumers are also increasingly becoming environmentally conscious, and this trend is catching pace. As a result, it is in the interest of the business to remain aligned to sustainability growth.
Tapping into emerging opportunities:
Emami has identified investments in the B2C space alongside acquisitions for growth. Bhansali said, “We recently acquired Dermicool- one of the leading brands in the prickly heat powder and cold talc segments, and also made an investment in the male grooming start-up Man Company. These steps are going to add a lot of value to our existing business.”
Emami is also tapping into emerging opportunities and has been investing in startups and emerging companies. Bhansali remarked, “These businesses have grown substantially from the level where we have invested, and we have also given them full freedom to operate in. The idea is to nurture them, grow them, and acquire them when they are mature and it is mutually convenient for both the parties.”
Emami is chalking out aggressive plans to invest in novel ideas, innovations, and growing B2C companies.
Setting the priorities straight:
Bhansali suggested that, as of now, tackling the current challenges remains the priority. He commented, “Our key priorities remain driving positive and sustainable growth—growth amidst volatility and an unpredictable business environment, and managing costs, which is certainly not easy in current inflationary conditions.”
Bhansali is a keen believer in the fact that the mantra for success for any business is to feel the pulse of the customers and use technology to cater to them quickly.
“Of course, the business environment is certainly complex, and one needs to evolve to adapt to the changes and carve the right path. Keeping apprised of emerging trends in consumer preferences, and responding to their needs with speed through different channels is another major challenge. There is also a need to identify and adopt the latest technologies quickly and make them useful for customers and business,” added Bhansali.