PM Sinha, or Suman Sinha, as he was known, was the second chairman of PepsiCo India. I was its sixth and last Chairman. He served PepsiCo for about a decade. He then joined Bata as Chairman in 2004; he also helped Wipro after PepsiCo. 

Suman Sinha started from Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL, later HUL). He was the head of government relations for several years and was instrumental in keeping the company the way it was in its shareholding. There was little he didn’t know about Delhi happenings; he was well networked in the most honest and above-board way. In his tenure, HLL was the Wikipedia for anyone in Delhi on the important topics of the day. 

His connections were so good that he landed a Boeing jet in Assam and airlifted the HLL managers who were facing threats from the locals. He got the President of India’s approval to land this aircraft when Parliament was debating the no-confidence motion vs Prime Minister VP Singh on the night of November 7, 1990. The Assam government fell the day after the HLL managers were airlifted to Kolkata as the company’s withdrawal led to a dramatic drop in tea auction prices. 

Suman Sinha was a legend for PepsiCo India. He was a great believer in market work. He would travel relentlessly across the country to have a first-hand feel of what’s happening. He was ruthless on incompetence and the intellectually dishonest. 

I spent two to three hours with him in the basement den of his Gurgaon house in 2013 when I joined PepsiCo. He had a bad back and weak knees, but he was eloquent as always about the industry and the challenges of PepsiCo. 

He enjoyed his PepsiCo stint; he basked in winning share and as he put it, “Coca Cola didn’t do right by Thums Up after acquiring it.” He was unhappy that PepsiCo India was not profitable despite the best efforts. He regretted losing the Parle brands acquisition to Coca Cola for a few million dollars then. 

When I asked him at the end of those wonderful three hours if he had any advice for me, he was characteristically straight: “The eco-system partners you have will be your Achilles heel. The company has become arrogant and political, please make it humble.” 

When Sinha left PepsiCo, he had the farewell of farewells – attended by Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Those were the days of Suman Sinha! 

Shiv Shivakumar is Group Executive President (Corporate Strategy) at Aditya Birla Group