Men Who Mean Business
They’re a cut above the rest – more driven, more committed, more zealous and hence more successful. While Harish Bijoor is a brand guru who enjoys connecting culture with marketing genius, TT Varadarajan is a man known for his tenacity, business acumen and his passion for bikes. RITZ meets these successful CEOs from the South in an effort to gain a bit more insight their psyche and understand what makes them tick.
The Brand Man
He loves brands and thinks of himself as a brand-father and a brand-doctor combined in one. He can help you conceive brands and then help to give birth to and nurture them. A new avatar he’s been donning of late is that of a brand-killer as well. He can help you kill your brand slowly, monetizing its potential to the maximum, only to help you launch a new brand in its place altogether. Meet Harish Bijoor, the CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults and the brand guru who has fashioned himself into a genuine brand and thought leader – one who makes even the biggest names sit up and take notice of his unique strategy.
“A career is a career is a career. I started off as a Group Management trainee with Brooke Bond India Limited (now HUL) in 1985. I started in sales and ended up heading brands in the category of tea and coffee and spices. That was my real beginning as a beverages person. I sold tea and coffee and spices and condoms (we sold Nirodh condoms for the Government of India then) into the real gut of India. This took me from the crass unreality of life in the big city to the gut of the country, where bulk still lives – the rural market,” tells Harish Bijoor, the man who is colloquially called the brand ‘guru’ of India. And it was from this point that he developed a passion for brands, beverages and the rural market in this first job of his.
Here he picked up the mindset of being very technical in understanding consumers. He picked up the skills required in understanding consumers and markets alike. Market research was a good ally. And he says had great bosses. Bosses who taught him how to work markets, and most importantly how not to work markets as well. The emphasis was on hard work, and he did all of it, spending 12 hours a day doing just that.
At that point in Bijoor’s career he tells us that good food was a casualty and good health was a casualty as well. “I actually spent the first twenty years of my career destroying good health and building a good career. A trade-off I now rue, but what the hell! Work-life balance came to life much, much later,” he says, showing absolutely no signs of remorse or regret for all that he had to do to bring his career life to the point at which it is today.
The jumps post this were quick and always on the upswing. He left Hindustan Uni Lever as a senior product manager looking after some of the biggest tea brands in the country and moved to Tata Tea Limited as a general manager (marketing operations). Here the mandate was for him to look at Consolidated Coffee Limited (today Tata Coffee Limited) and build a brand avatar for the company and its product offerings. “I travelled far and wide across the world of coffee and eventually ended up serving a three-year term on the Coffee Board of India under the auspices of the Commerce Ministry. I served on the committees of the Planning Commission as well, which helped me pen some of my very specific thoughts for the industry into the national plan,” he tells proudly.
From there it was a jump to Chief Operating Officer of Zip Telecom. “This was really my preparatory step into the world of consulting,” explains Bijoor. Zip Telecom was a start-up with very unique challenges where he served a very short stint of 18 months and on a flight to New York, finalised a plan to start up in the world of brand and strategy consulting.
Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. was born 14 years ago, and started small, with just one partner. Today, he has a team of 91 senior consultants across five geographical locations (London, Dubai, Hong Kong, Istanbul and India) who help the company leverage the businesses of 243 clients world-wide.
“Luck helped. My first client led to the second. And for four years I just had five clients and two people. And then suddenly, word of mouth cascaded and we were in business. I was forced to expand and recruit to the size we are today.
We are a zero-solicit consulting practice. Which means that we do not solicit business or do client lunches and pitches. We do work basis the word of mouth of our success. We do not participate in RFPs, tenders and pitches. We just do the work. We love doing work. I do not have a single business development manager in my company. And we are thrilled about that fact. Selling our work is not in our DNA. Our work is in our DNA. And our work speaks and keeps our order-books filled,” he says.
Today, when people want brand solutions, they make a beeline for his company. Bijoor insists that they do not spend a single rupee or dollar or yen on advertising and business development. “We are not allowed to bill for client food and wine ever. If any of us takes a client out to lunch, we need to pay from our personal monies, as it is against the ethic of the business we run and participate in as partners,” he tells us.
His current avatar is all about heading up a company that does diverse sets of work with diverse businesses, big and small. He works with start-ups with ease, just as he does with the biggest multi-nationals. “An additional facet to my personality is my public speaking avatar. Today, I do a fair bit of public-speaking engagements. To date, I have spoken 12,456 hours to corporate audiences. This takes me to exotic locations as well. And that’s a perquisite to boot.
“I write as well. I have two books in physicality and two more in my mind. I keep saying that I do basic things. I read, I write, I talk, I eat. I love food.”
For someone who wanted to be an IAS officer and did not manage to achieve that goal because he couldn’t get a decent rank, he’s come a long way. A sales career that took him places, an entry into brand management, which led him to switch jobs to a company that was looking for a brand-competent person to start its coffee venture. And then came telecom with his yen to see if he could survive in any other terrain except beverages. And a chance meeting with a VC on a flight made him jumpstart his own firm.
“Therefore, we are really an accident. A happy accident. I think people come to us as they see us to be small, nifty, quick and efficient. Yes, we are expensive, but that itself tells the entire story as well.”
In his own words as he says on his twitter handle @harishbijoor: “I live in Bengaluru, India. Love the city!”
His advice to young entrepreneurs: “Believe in relationships. Invest disproportionate amount of time into relationships as you build them. They are the only things you are left with at the end of the day.”