Unilever: Mehta retires, Unilever veteran Jawa HUL CEO


MUMBAI: Unilever veteran Rohit Jawa (56) will take over as MD & CEO of Hindustan Unilever (HUL) from Sanjiv Mehta on June 27 — a day after the FMCG giant’s AGM. Mehta (62) will retire from the company after a decadelong tenure at the helm.
In a statement, HUL said Jawa, currently Unilever’s chief of transformation, will join the company as CEO-designate and whole-time director from April 1. He will also take over as Unilever south Asia president and will join the Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE) from April 1.
Jawa, who has been instrumental in orchestrating an end-to-end transformation of Unilever and has a deep understanding of the Indian FMCG landscape, is said to be an empathetic boss who always leads from the front.
HUL’s non-executive chairman Nitin Paranjpe said, “Rohit’s varied experiences across operating companies and strategic transformation roles have honed his ability to integrate the strength of traditional markets with digital technologies and future-fit business models. This positions him well to take HUL and south Asia into its next exciting growth phase”.
With HUL delivering a strong inning under Mehta – adding Rs 32,000 crore to the turnover to cross the Rs 50,000-crore mark in 10 years, growing it by 2.3x and increasing market capitalisation by more than four times to $75 billion from $17 billion – the benchmarks set for Jawa are high. Moreover, India is the second-largest market for Unilever in value (largest in volume) after the US, and there are expectations that it will overtake the US at some point if the growth levels remain steady.
Being a lifer at Unilever, Jawa is not new to the company’s culture. Having started his career with HUL as a management trainee in 1988, Jawa has a proven track record of sustained business results across India, southeast Asia, and north Asia. Later, as EVP for North Asia & chairman for Unilever China, he led a significant transformation of Unilever China into a competitive, profitable, and consistent business, now Unilever’s third-biggest market globally. As chairman of Unilever Philippines, he led the business to become one of the top 10 markets for Unilever.
A Bachelor of Science from St Stephen‘s College, Delhi, Jawa did his MBA from Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi. He also did an Advance Management Program from Harvard Business school.
Industry veterans describe Jawa as a “complete man” who’s a people’s person. Managing paradoxes and polarities can be equally challenging for a leader. Analysts said the task is also cut out for Jawa to nurture and grow what Mehta planted. These include scaling the recent acquisitions in the D2C (direct-to-consumer) space and the agenda of ‘reimagine HUL’. Jawa would also have to formulate strategies to combat new entrants like Reliance in the FMCG space.
On the other hand, the core of Mehta’s success mantra has been the proposition of long-term value-creation anchored by growth, high-performance anatomy and distinctive capabilities. He introduced several transformative business programmes such as ‘Dial Up the Big Q’ and ‘Winning in Many Indias’ to make the business more consumer-centric, agile, and resilient. Mehta also led the business into future growth segments with several strategic mergers and acquisitions such as the amalgamation of GSK Consumer Healthcare into HUL, one of the biggest mergers in the history of FMCG in the country.
“Sanjiv with his foresight has led HUL to become a high-performing and future-fit business. He has been an integral part of the Unilever Leadership Executive and has driven the south Asia growth agenda as the president of the market cluster. As president of Ficci last year, Sanjiv made a significant contribution towards the industry in India. Through his passion, commitment, and endless energy, he leaves behind a business that is now poised to achieve even greater heights,” said Paranjpe.
In a note, while expressing his gratitude to a “dream team”, Mehta said: “I would like to welcome my successor, Rohit Jawa. I am sure under him new records will be set and the business will go further and higher. I am excitedly looking forward to my next inning. I am reminded of Robert Frost’s famous lines – ‘Miles to go before I sleep’.” Although Mehta did not reveal his cards, he told TOI: “My best is yet to come”. Reportedly, among others in the running for the top role was Priya Nair, global CMO (beauty & wellbeing). A young achiever, Nair continues to be a key candidate for country leadership roles within Unilever.
When contacted, HUL’s former chairman, Harish Manwani, said, “In HUL’s rich and long standing tradition, this is a smooth and well thought through succession. HUL scaled new heights under Sanjiv’s outstanding leadership and Rohit has a great track record and the right values to take this iconic company to the next level. He is a grounded, people oriented leader and the perfect casting for this all important role.”


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