India Inc hiring rival brand’s honchos

Mumbai: Late last month, when Aventis Pharma, the Indian subsidiary of Europe’s largest drug-maker Sanofi, announced the acquisition of Indian firm Universal Medicare’s branded nutraceuticals business, Ranga Iyer joined the celebration.

Iyer, a former MD of US drug-maker Wyeth in India, was the man Aventis had turned to 18 months ago to help bulk up its presence in the Indian healthcare market. He had then just stepped down from Wyeth after its global merger with world number one Pfizer. Eschewing other job offers, Iyer turned advisor to CEOs of pharmaceutical companies on strategy, business development, mergers and acquisitions. Helping Aventis scout around for potential acquisitions was one of those mandates.

Iyer is not the only head honcho-turned-consultant advising companies that were once rivals. Across India Inc, companies are turning to former business heads of competing organisations for advice and handholding in product launches, entry strategies, acquisitions and new projects. Sunil Alagh, Shripad Nadkarni, Narendra Ambwani and Nabankar ‘Nobby’ Gupta are some of yesteryear’s hotshots who have now become backroom strategists.

When GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSKCH) decided to extend the Horlicks brand into the fragmented 10,000-crore biscuits market two years ago, it sought help from one of the most accomplished names in the industry.

It leaned on the expertise of Sunil Alagh, a former Managing Director of Britannia Industries, who had built the Bangalore-based biscuit-maker’s brand during his 29-year stint, launching products such as ‘Tiger’ and foraying into allied areas such as dairy products. GSKCH wanted Alagh to help recreate some of that magic with its own fledgling brand. The strategy appears to have worked. In the near three years Alagh has worked with the company, Horlicks has grown into an over Rs. 100-crore brand and launched at least a dozen variants to expand its market share in this competitive market.

Alagh’s inputs were critical for GSKCH to gain a foothold in a market in which multinationals such as Cadbury Kraft are gaining ground and established players such as Britannia and Parle are fighting to retain their shares. After his bitter parting with Britannia in 2003, this may be a sweet comeback for Alagh, but for executives at GSKCH, it’s also a short-cut to the success of its biscuits business. GSKCH declined to comment.

Shripad Nadkarni is a former marketing whiz of Coca Cola, who was responsible for the thanda matlab Coca Cola ad slogan. He is also credited with growing Thums Up’s lead in the cola segment and was given responsibility of leading the advertising for the beverage-maker’s core brands across rural China, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, besides India.

Now, Nadkarni is using his marketing skills at his boutique consulting firm, Market Gate, which has Coke’s archrival PepsiCo and other beverages firms like Tata Global Beverages listed as clients. He calls his services ‘consumer informed business strategy’ and says his expertise is centered on business turnarounds and expanding footprints.