Fast losing choice jobs tag

Chitra Narayanan New Delhi | Updated on January 24, 2011

The FMCG business needs to buck up and sell itself as an employer of choice, say observers.

Dony Kuriakose, Edge Executive Search

Giraj Sharma, Behind the Moon Brand Consultancy

Abhishek Malhotra, Booz & Co

At a recent consumer goods summit in Delhi, eyebrows shot up when a disgruntled Anand Kripalu, Cadbury India Managing Director, said ‘forget MBAs from the IIMs, the FMCG sector is not attracting good talent even from technical institutes'.

“Ten to fifteen years ago the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) industry was the sector of choice, but today it's the IT, financial and a whole new bunch ahead of us. How can we as an industry do more to change things?” he questioned.

Kripalu, according to his peers in the sector, was exaggerating the case, but yes, most agree things are not rosy for FMCG companies where the talent pipeline is concerned. Kannan Sitaram, operating partner, India Equity Partners and former COO, Dabur, says it's natural for talent to go where the moolah is – in this case, the sunrise sectors such as telecom. But the problem, according to headhunters and brand strategists, goes deeper.

Dony Kuriakose, Director, Edge Executive Search, roundly castigates the FMCG sector for not investing in employer branding. “They are still stuck in the high-caste mindset,” he says. “What have the FMCG companies done to sell themselves as employers?” he queries.

Great brands? Great workplaces?

Most headhunters BrandLine spoke to said great brands do not translate into great workplaces - the FMCG firms may have the biggest advertising budget of them all, contributing 40 per cent of the ad industry's turnover with their product branding spends, but that in internal branding, very little has been invested.

As brand strategist Harish Bijoor of Harish Bijoor Consults, says, “FMCG companies represent the oldest marketed categories of them all in India. However, when it comes to the practice of internal branding, they are the weakest. There is a latent disbelief in internal branding in most FMCG companies. What the IT, ITES and biotech majors have adopted as a potent tool to stem attrition and build employee loyalty norms in a tough and tight market for people, the companies have shunned.”

Bijoor points to his own internal branding practice which has 16 clients in India. “Of them 15 are tech companies and one is in the realm of education. No FMCG here!” he says.

He believes FMCG companies have a myopic attitude to internal branding, that it's not necessary, that the pull of the brand is enough. “Unfortunately this mythical ‘pull of the brand' does not exist in many cases. Just because your brands are popular in the market, it does not mean that employees will want to stick to you,” he says.

Perhaps that's the reason they don't vote for their firms as a great place to work as well. Just look at the Great Places to Work 2010 survey results and in the top 50, there are only a few FMCG firms – the first one being Godrej Consumer Products Ltd coming in at No.14, the next Marico at 36 and Cadbury at 38.

Prosenjit Bhattacharya of the Great Places to Work Institute says that in the rankings while one-third weightage is given to robustness of people practices, two-thirds is given to employees' perceptions – so, in the end, it's the employees who influence the rankings. There are several examples of the diminishing charm of the FMCG companies. A Booz & Co report on the sector points out how, in one of the Indian Institutes of Management, while 30 per cent students took up marketing jobs from campus in 2003, the number decreased to 15 per cent in 2010. “With new industries scaling up and offering more attractive value propositions, this percentage will continue to reduce,” predicts the report, going on to add, “The industry will need to devise an attractive employee value proposition for bright graduates, to acquire high-quality talent.” More worrying, with sectors such as telecom now marketing their products like FMCG items and ushering in innovations in distribution and supply, even those opting for marketing find those sectors more exciting.

Stuck in the past?

Brand strategist and corporate trainer Giraj Sharma of Behind the Moon Brand Consultancy is kinder. According to him, the FMCG firms are the ones that ushered in the trend of manpower development and training, and in the old days, the FMCG employee was a badshah. But unfortunately, he says, others have caught on and moved far ahead.

Meanwhile, he says, because most of the FMCG firms are stuck in age-old systems and processes, the challenges thrown to employees are not as large. Several MNCs still have to go back to their head offices for clearances – and, in that sense, the Indian FMCGs are nimbler.

Agrees Shiv Agarwal, CEO, ABC Consultants, “The FMCG sector is perhaps the most structured of all industries from a talent perspective. It's obsessed with batches/specific MBA institutes. It is fairly rigid in its standards and it's difficult for even the best of talent to grow significantly faster than their peers as it upsets the apple cart. This often frustrates the best of talent who believe they will grow faster in other high-growth sectors. “

Bijoor says, “In the old days young people wanted to work in companies that offered stable pay packages and stable work profiles. Today, they are looking keenly at job profiles that keep changing. They are looking at innovations on the product and service front. They are looking at items which will help them cobble together a resume filled with exciting new experiences. In such a market, the FMCG category is seen as dull and insipid, static.”

Edge's Kuriakose also believes FMCG companies need to come out of the “incubate, grow, nurture and fructify” policy of old. Given the complexities of the Indian market today, the practice of hiring management trainees, grooming them and moving them up the ranks is no longer sufficient, and lateral talent buys from other sectors is imperative. Kannan Sitaram points out that Hindustan Unilever, the school for CEOs, is already now hiring laterally.

The good news, say analysts, is that realisation has already dawned. Abhishek Malhotra, vice-president, Booz & Co, points out that HUL, has now moved into a large office in Andheri, where there are lots of things for the youngsters to do. He also points to companies such as PepsiCo that are putting in place innovative programmes, with special emphasis on sustainability and gender to attract women employees.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gama, Vice-President (HR), Godrej Consumer Products Ltd, which, incidentally, is the top FMCG company in the Great Places to Work list, denies there is such a big talent crisis as made out. “In our experience, there is a pool available. But yes, if you are looking for talent for very specific roles, then there is some amount of dearth,” he says.

He also says Godrej has been fairly visible in terms of employer branding. It has recently done a lot in terms of organisational branding, right from the way the sparkling white office spaces have been decorated, to internal branding. “It's brighter looking for brighter living and the use of glass talks of transparency. There is nothing behind closed doors,” he says.

“Our employers are the best ambassadors of our workplace,” he adds, pointing out how they use the best talent to engage with students on campus. Also, GCPL has tried to be visible to students by becoming relevant in their curriculums.

Booz & Co's Abhishek Malhotra feels that the talent issue is easily addressable as the FMCG sector does not need lots and lots of people like IT or telecom. “What is needed is high-quality talent. You need to look at compensations much more – faster career tracks, all these tools are out there,” he says.

Now, the onus is on the Badshahs of Branding to come up with a winning sales pitch to potential employees.

Published on January 06, 2011

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