ISA Global CEO conf to help face VUCA world: Hemant Bakshi

22 Oct,2013


It promises to be the mother-of-all media and marketing conferences. The Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA), the apex body of advertisers in the country, is hosting a global CEO conference on October 30, 2013 at the Leela in Mumbai. The theme is ‘Navigating a VUCA World’ and a galaxy of speakers including Unilever’s global CEO Paul Polman are scheduled to speak. Mr Polman will be in conversation with Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj.


Other speakers at the event will include R Gopalakrishnan, Director, Tata Sons; Manu Anand, President – India & South Asia, Cadbury India; Marten Pieters, CEO, Vodafone India; and Ravi Kant, Vice Chairman and Former Managing Director, Tata Motors, Pawan Munjal, MD & CEO, Hero Motocorp, Shantanu Khosla, MD, Procter & Gamble India and Prabha Parameswaran, MD, Colgate-Palmolive amongst many others. One of the goals of the conference is to find out how organizational processes and practices need to be recast to deliver to this new VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world.


Hemant Bakshi, Executive Director, Home & Personal Care, Hindustan Unilever and Chairman, Indian Society of Advertisers spoke on the theme of the conference and his expectations.



The ISA CEO-fest


Over 300 delegates are expected to attend the conference, informed Paulomi Dhawan, Chairperson, Events Committee and Treasurer, ISA. For Ms Dhawan, the conference is a culmination of two months of hectic activity. And very little else.


Asking global CEOs to come in and speak comes with its share of requirements. Explain to each of them (and possibly their office) what the entire is thing all about and the topic chosen for them, etc etc. But now that the curating is done, and the key sponsor is in the form of Star India, the emphasis for Ms Dhawan is to ensure it all goes off smoothly.


The day will begin with a talk on ‘Leadership and Managing Human Capital in Turbulent Times’. The next session is themed ‘Reigniting Growth in an Economic Slowdown’ followed by a panel discussion On ‘Cut Costs, Not Corners: Smart Marketing for Turbulent Times’moderated By Sunil Kataria, COO, Sales, Marketing and SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products Limited. The panelists include Himanshu Kapania, COO, Idea Cellular; Sanjay Behl, CEO, Raymond; Kirthiga Reddy, Director, Online Operations002C and Head, Facebook India; KBS Anand, MD & CEO, Asian Paints; Shantanu Khosla, MD, Procter & Gamble India and Prabha Parameswaran – MD, Colgate-Palmolive.


Post-lunch, sessions on ‘Why Businesses Must Factor in Economic Cycles’ by Ravi Kant, Vice Chairman, Tata Motors with Siddharth Mukherjee, Director - Chocolate Category and Media, Cadbury India Limited.


There on, a session on ‘Not every Consumer has Sealed her Wallet: Finding New Pockets of Growth’ will be conducted by Marten Pieters, Managing Director and CEO, Vodafone India. The session will be chaired b Narendra Ambwani, Director, Agro Tech Foods Limited.


Later, Pawan Munjal, MD & CEO, Hero Motocorp will speak on ‘Taking Risks in a Volatile World’. The last session of the day will be on’How Responsible Business Models Can Help in VUCA Times’ by keynote speaker Paul Polman, Global CEO, Unilever. This will be followed by a conversation that Rahul Bajaj, Chairman, Bajaj Auto will have with Mr Polman.


The inaugural Global CEO conference has an impressive line-up of speakers. What does the ISA hope to achieve from the conference and the theme chosen?

The ISA has been around for a long time to ensure that the interest of advertisers – large and small – has been taken care of. For us, the mandate of this conference is two-fold. As businesses and the economy face a slowdown, we want to ensure that advertisers can benefit from advice to make sure that our business is stable and strong. In difficult times, you question every line and component in your business and marketing investments make a large component of this whole. How to get the best return on these investments is the second area we will be focusing on. Therefore we thought that we need to get the best of global CEOs in one place to share their experience and wisdom.


VUCA was a term coined in the 1990s by the United States military. Given that we live in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times, does the current market scenario require a different kind of leadership?

Yes, the term has trickled into the world of business and it tells you that in a world which is VUCA your long-term visions and business goals need to be clear but don’t lock yourself into a rigid plan to achieve that destination. If you have a broad understanding of your past and you know where you’re headed then you will be able to be much more agile, consumer-centric and evolve your strategy as you go along. Flexibility and nimbleness are crucial because the strategies that may have worked in the past when change was certain and slow, may not work in the future.


VUCA also talks about the need for awareness and responsible leadership. Apart from addressing marketing needs and optimizing ROI, how will the theme be made applicable for the advertiser ecosystem?

In difficult times like these, we can no longer be in an ivory tower and focus on building brand equity and creating great advertising while our consumers are suffering and the business is struggling. It is important that as marketers, we play a role that goes beyond just marketing. Next, it is also important that in such an environment, marketing is done responsibly. The resources that our planet has are getting scarce and if we keep doing things like we have in the past, sustainability will become a serious issue for consumers. We are going through a business cycle of slowdown right now, but what we need to do in this difficult time is to prepare for the future and it’s important to get a much more holistic view of marketing.


Media vehicles worry that the fallout of a VUCA world is a cutback on spends and pushing down prices. Is offering discounts and giving more value for money a key fallout of such a market scenario?

That would be a myopic and conventional view of looking at the current scenario. We have observed that brands that build equity during such times reap benefits once the economy starts growing again. If we all start cutting price and promotions, it may benefit in the short run but not in the long term. At the conference, you will see a lot of our leaders talk about how you can cut costs, take risks and reignite growth as well as get consumers to get better value of what’s going on. The conference hopes to highlight alternative strategies that can be used in this period.


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