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Conversation With A Billionaire – The INSPIRING Harsh Mariwala Story

“I’m far happier because artificial possessions don’t add to my happiness. You have to be happy internally. They say that the more possessions you have the more suffering you’re prone to.”

Harsh Mariwala is one of the biggest & the most successful businessmen in India today. 

The product that he’s known for best is Parachute coconut oil – a product that almost every Indian has used at some point.

Mr. Mariwala started his journey with Bombay Oil Industries in the ’70s and later founded Marico, an FMCG manufacturer & distributor which has become massive worldwide. 

In 2012, Mr. Mariwala set up ASCENT Foundation for Growth stage entrepreneurs. Through this foundation, entrepreneurs learn from each other through their experiences and ideas in a very confidential environment. Today, ASCENT has over 600 member entrepreneurs from across India who address challenges and enrich their entrepreneurial journey through the platform.

Today’s blog is a huge source of learning. From setting up his business to becoming a billionaire to now writing a book, an episode that is enriching for anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur and make it big one day.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

Mr. Mariwala started his career in 1971 with Bombay Oil Industries, which was owned by his family. He created Marico, a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturer and distributor with operations in 25 Asian and African nations.

“They were selling edible oils in an unbranded form to industries in bulk barrels and big tins which were again sold loose to the consumers. So I converted that business from unbranded to branded”, he said.

Smaller packaging and the use of plastic bottles instead of metal tins, as well as an emphasis on advertising, marketing, human resources, and distribution, enabled the company to establish itself as the market leader.

LIFE AS A BILLIONAIRE 

I asked him a question that a lot of young people want to know. 

After a person reaches that pedestal of becoming a billionaire, what does life become like for them then? 

He answers, “I feel very good. I feel on top of the world. I am a fitness freak so I exercise every day and keep myself very fit. Money beyond a point does not impact me and I am not the kind of person who leads a flashy lifestyle. I live a relatively simple lifestyle, the so-called wealth has not impacted me personally or in terms of lifestyle. I don’t think I’ll ever own a plane or a big bungalow or anything like that. I am comfortable with what I have. This keeps me much more grounded and humble. I would also say that I’m far happier because the artificial so-called stimulants or possessions don’t add to my happiness. You have to be happy internally. They say that the more possessions you have the more suffering you’re prone to.” 

Furthermore, he adds that each person is built differently. For some people, they want to enjoy spending more resources. Some amount of wealth is important to lead a comfortable lifestyle but it doesn’t go beyond a certain point. It doesn’t impact whether you are X or X plus in terms of wealth.

A PIECE OF ADVICE FOR HIS GRANDCHILDREN

He would like to give two pieces of advice.

First, he feels, each person is born with certain inherent God-given gifts and most of us don’t know what our God-given gifts are. We try to emulate somebody else because that’s the fashion.

They need to know that they have to figure out what their God-given gifts are and how they can leverage them.

First is to find out what is that God-given gift and many of us don’t know and the process of finding out is talking to a lot of other people- your family, your friends, and they will

tell how you are like and what your strengths and weaknesses are.

Now if you pursue a career that is based on your gifts, the chances of you enjoying that journey are much more than doing something which you don’t enjoy and the chances of success also are higher. 

As stated by him, identify your strengths, leverage your strengths, and have a 75-25 rule. 75 percent work on improving your strengths and 25 percent work on nullifying your weaknesses.

Normally it is the opposite. 

If you work on your strengths and choose some vocation that is based on your strengths then your chances of success will be much more.

The second is to be determined. They say passion is important. Of course, passion is important but passion has to be combined with determination and perseverance. So the word is grit and I think grit is very important. Every person goes through failures, if you have that determination and perseverance then you will try again but if you don’t have, you will just give it up.

So grit is very important to succeed in life.

THROUGH THE DECADES

He explains how he has changed over the decades and how the nature of business in India changed.

He smilingly says, “I have changed a lot from the time I started, I was a very non-confident, introverted person. I was not sure even though I had a good business mind. In the initial phase, a lot of my energy went into looking within myself. What do I need to do? How do I make a mark?

I was a part of a very large joint family, my father, three of my uncles, four-five of my cousins, all together in the business. ‘How do I navigate to carve out my own identity?’ -That was one big step. Then when we started Marico, how do I build a culture in an organization? What’s relevant and how culture can help organizations succeed? Which category of products should we go into that will help us succeed? How can I create a culture of innovation?

One had to read a lot, talk a lot because many Indian organizations at that time were not paying attention to the culture part.

Then as we grew, what is the role of the organization? It’s not just for helping shareholders

and creating wealth for shareholders. The organization exists for all stakeholders. Whether it is your consumers, your employees, your shareholders, your associates you’re working with, or

the society. You need to walk that extra mile in ensuring that you are adding value to each stakeholder.

DIFFERENT STAGES OF AN ENTREPRENEUR 

I read somewhere that from getting to zero to one million dollars it’s about hard work and an idea. But from one million and beyond it’s entirely about how you manage people.

He elaborates on this concept. “I think the role of an entrepreneur changes as you grow. When you are at a start-up stage you are also going through a learning curve and you are doing everything on your own. Because the scale is small you are not able to attract talent so most of the decisions are taken by you.

As you grow, after a certain stage then you can’t handle everything on your own so you start recruiting people and then once you start recruiting people it means you’re getting things done from others. It’s a very different role that most entrepreneurs don’t realize. You shift from doing things to getting things done. Your role changes substantially because then you are not doing things, you are recruiting talent, empowering them, ensuring that they work in a team.

If you can’t make this shift then you won’t be able to grow because there is a limit to which you can do things on your own and you have to ultimately delegate.

When you become much larger, you’re not even getting things done, then you’re influencing others. You’re influencing a large number of people by talking in big forums and writing about it.

I think if you have to grow into a large, successful organization that sustains over a period of time then your role has to shift and it’s very important for organizations and entrepreneurs to ensure that.

HIS TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS

“It’s a very highly competitive environment, you may succeed initially when you’ve started a business based on whatever reason you succeeded but don’t let that success go into your head because it’s a matter of time. Competition will catch up with you so you need to improve upon what I call the ’Right to Win’. It means, how are you winning in the marketplace? So depending on the kind of business you are in you need to work on USP which will keep you two steps ahead of the competition. Unless you can do that, it’s a matter of time others will copy

you and you may not be able to retain that edge. So it’s a perpetual thrust on creating a right

to win.”

Secondly, I would say that talent plays a very important role. At every opportunity, entrepreneurs should take initiatives to improve the quality of talent which exists within them. One should continuously enhance the talent pool within the organization. Then how do you retain good talent is another challenge. You need to ensure that it’s just not money that will keep people with you. You have to create the right culture, give the right challenge to people to grow.”

HIS TAKE ON THE FUTURE

The coronavirus pandemic has been one of the most challenging situations people have faced all over the globe. People have suffered, employees laid off and businesses shut down. But with each crisis, comes newer opportunities. Talking about these opportunities, Mr. Mariwala says, “Because of the pandemic there are huge opportunities which have come up. Of course, it’s a big area of stress and anxiety for all of us and we are going through something which we have never imagined we would go through. But having said that, we are seeing huge opportunities created by this pandemic. Like some geopolitical realignments you know between China and other parts of the world, the whole trust on hygiene, focus on health ( mental, physical and spiritual) and digital exposure (e-commerce and e-learning). I think a lot of existing trends have accelerated and they have thrown up a lot of newer opportunities.“

MY TAKEAWAY –

Mr. Mariwala is one of the most dynamic and experienced businessmen that I had the opportunity to talk to. It felt like a personal mentoring session. As an entrepreneur, the two most important takeaways from this conversation is, first is to grow and change as your organization grows. You need to take up different roles as a leader if you want to sustain and keep succeeding. Second is the ‘Right to Win’ mindset which means leveraging your strengths and improving upon them.

This is the journey of grit, determination, and growth, as well as the company’s key values of trust, transparency, and innovation, which have led to its current position. Harsh Realities is a much-anticipated business book by an imaginative and clear-headed leader who developed a highly professional, competitive business from the ground up, co-authored by prominent management theorist and guru, Mr Ram Charan.

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