Sangeeta Talwar: Meet The Woman Behind Maggi’s Two-Minute Revolution

India's Two-Minute Revolution

Sangeeta Talwar had been toying with the idea of a book until June 2015. Amidst the rumble of the media surrounding Maggi, when Nestlé endured a terrible debacle in 48 hours through negative advocacy, she saw a brand which had survived 30 years of consumer love and franchise suddenly go down the tubes. “It suddenly shook me: no one’s really heard the true Maggi story.” About how it was put together, why it was launched, how it was presented and how it was made successful – the early years of Maggi. And Talwar didn’t want to go away from planet Earth without telling the story of how a global brand acting locally found its way into the hearts and everyday lives of Indians across generations.

“I did it in my own time and space, I didn’t rush it. But then I thought that I should I not write just about one part of the journey, but also include a comprehensive understanding of business as well as leadership – in a way that isn’t pedantic. I wanted to do it experientially,” she says, about penning her leadership journey in The Two-Minute Revolution: The Art of Growing Businesses. SheThePeople.TV converses with Sangeeta Talwar – author, businesswoman and leader – about her memoir The Two-Minute Revolution, innovation, on-ground execution and her journey to making brands endure.

Talwar’s success in corporate India has been unparalleled. She was the first female executive in the FMCG industry back in 1979, going on to become the Marketing Director and Executive Vice-President at Nestlé India, the CEO at Mattel India and then President at Tata Global Beverages. She is the woman behind brands, products and campaigns that India recognises and cherishes the most – Maggi 2-minute noodles, Tata Tea’s Jaago Re campaign and Barbie.

Breaking glass ceilings is all in day’s work for Talwar and she owes this to “first and foremost, investing in oneself”. She calls this investment as stacking up to the job one is currently doing and further, stacking up to one’s ambition in life. “I may be good and might consider myself good enough, but as I move on in my job, I may have to do a lot more things to actually equip me for what’s next,” she explains.

ALSO READ: Parismita Singh’s ‘Peace Has Come’: Tales Of A Conflict-Torn Region

Creating a brand

Talwar doesn’t take complete onus for Maggi noodles being an integral component of the food habits of the nation and a dish that people — even in the remotest parts of the country — enjoy. “There was a very large corporate, a team that worked to create this product. There were also a whole bunch of consumers and stakeholders who believed in the product, and despite everything that’s happened in the last 35 years of its journey, they still love the brand. I was a vital part of it and I’m very very happy to know that what started out as something which was very new – we tried to create a new food category in India – and very alien to our culture, actually did so well and stood the test of time,” says the author.

Talwar thinks that there’s a lesson here. If you always keep the consumer at the centre of what you do and keep in continuous contact with the consumer, staying connected to them so that you are able to understand and notice changes early in the game, you can create an enduring brand. She believes that “a brand must stand for something clearly defined in the minds of the consumers”.

At Maggi, they stayed with the heartland of the brand which was kids, until a few generations passed through, and it became a brand adopted by parents, grandparents and children.

Image Credit: Penguin Random House India


On change

Talwar spent a long time in Nestlé – 21 years – and did different jobs at the company. She was never in the same job for an endless period of time. Her move from Nestlé to Mattel was an answer to the questions “Am I good for anything other than food?” and “I’ve grown up in this organisation but can I handle something different?”. Ergo, she moved business and moved cultures: from working at a European company to an American company and then an Indian company. She describes this process as one that built her confidence as well as one which helped her scale the ladder in the industry. As CEO at Mattel India, she found herself in a completely different role and a very different business – and she enjoyed it thoroughly.

“On the one hand, change has a very positive role to play, which is about giving you exposure to new and different things, testing your capabilities to handle those new and different things, and therefore building back your self-confidence and probably a success story. But change can also be negative. Too frequent a change can actually deprive you of all these things, especially the one fundamental thing in life which is learning,” observes Talwar. She emphasises asking oneself two questions when contemplating professional change: 1) What did I learn and 2) What did the organisation gain by having me here?

“Change is good but you have to manage the timing so that you’ve learned something, contributed something and then moved on,” notes Talwar

An unequal playing field

The author cites that a few years ago, a look at large IT companies revealed that 50% of employees at the entry level were women. However, a look at the boardroom showed that less than 1% of women had made it there.

Talwar compares the journey of a woman’s life to that of a man, accounting for the societal norms that are applied to both. If and when women choose to get married and have children, they take time off from external work. This is not to take away from the work they do at home, but this does create a gap in their employment. In most instances, when a husband is transferred at work, the woman is expected to follow suit. “There are gender roles in society and first of all, that needs to change. People need to accept and give women as equal a position in life as they want for themselves, and this is happening but it’s happening slowly,” asserts Talwar. Corporates, too, really need to support a woman’s journey and step forward.

She also urges women to accept opportunities that they are reluctant towards due to self-doubt, lack of family support and system, the extra hours and travel. “At one end, be braver, and at the other end, coalesce a lot of support in order to put the hand up for a new challenge,” she tells women.

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. So, bring your passion to work and don’t leave it locked in a drawer at home. What is worth doing is worth doing well. So, give it your best shot.”

Fly vision

Talwar adapts fly vision which is to “always take a strategic view of where you are, because when you do fly with the birds, the landscape changes and you’re able to see opportunities in a new light.” This also leads one to be able to assess where their company stands and how their strategy is viewed in a particular landscape, therefore helping one decide which milestones they need to adopt to move ahead. She describes the other aspect of fly vision as the 360-degree vision of a fly. “It actually enables you to see all around you, to work through the details and recognise what your competitive strengths and weaknesses are,” Talwar explains.

Advice to women on business endeavours

Talwar thinks that “whatever business you’re in, you need to make sure it makes sense to the end consumer,” in order for it to have a long life. It’s important to differentiate your business from the competition, but it also helps to be mindful of the difference being created. “Always keep a wide angle perspective. Don’t miss the woods for the trees,” she suggests, emphasising the need to balance the short-term and the long-term.

The lady has never missed a day of work. She still remembers her father telling her, “Hard work never killed anyone – that’s the one thing I’ve never heard anyone die of. Just do it.”

She sums up her definition of success saying, “If you can walk the last mile, the last mile in anything (in any business, there’s the last mile which is the toughest to complete and to cover), if you can walk the last mile with a smile on your lips and a song in your heart, I would call you successful because you’ve actually done the difficult part of your journey with great happiness, and I think if you love your work, there’s no walk to be done.”

(The Two-Minute Revolution: The Art of Growing Businesses, by Sangeeta Talwar, has been published in Portfolio by Penguin Random House India. It is priced at Rs. 399, and is available online and in bookstores)

Feature Image Credit: GSK Consumer Healthcare