Sudhir Sitapati - New MD and CEO of Godrej Consumer Products

Godrej Consumer Products (GCPL) scored a masterstroke in May by roping in Sudhir Sitapati to take over as its MD and CEO. The appointment is quite a giant leap for GCPL, given that it could woo the top, veteran HUL executive despite being less than one-third of HUL in size. 

Mr Sitapati, who quit as executive director of HUL’s foods and refreshment (F&R) business, will be taking up his new responsibilities at GCPL on October 18. An MBA graduate from IIM Ahmedabad, he spent 22 years at HUL and led teams across categories and functions in India, Europe, South-East Asia and Africa to create significant value for the business. Mr Sitapati – who is also a BSc graduate in Mathematics with Economics Honours from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai – was made HUL’s executive director in 2016, making him one of its youngest-ever members to occupy the top echelons of management.

Under Mr Sitapati’s leadership, HUL’s F&R division grew manifold to become one of the largest businesses in India. In fact, he had played a vital role in leading the $5-billion merger and integration of GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare with HUL, bringing iconic brands like Horlicks and Boost into the Unilever family. This also happened to be the largest deal of its kind in the country’s fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. He had also helmed the merger of Adityaa Milk and other brands into HUL rather smoothly and efficiently. As a part of the senior management team in the detergents business, Mr Sitapati was in charge of many marketing campaigns. He, in fact, had led many popular campaigns, such as Daag Acche Hain for Surf Excel.

Mr Sitapati’s ascent to the top at GCPL at a relatively young age – he is in his mid-40s – gives him adequate time to formulate and implement strategic changes. To begin with, he could focus on GCPL’s household insecticides and hair colour categories, which have been struggling to penetrate both urban and rural markets. Moreover, Godrej’s soaps, detergents and beauty products could also attain a higher level of growth with Mr Sitapati’s deft marketing strategies.  

Mr Sitapati’s long association with HUL would benefit GCPL – or for that matter, any other corporate house – immensely. In the Indian corporate world, HUL has always been considered a training ground for CEOs because of its large size and reach, focus on systems and processes and leadership. Incidentally, Mr Sitapati has penned a bestseller – The CEO Factory: Management Lessons From Hindustan Unilever. The book is already in its sixth edition and has been recommended by Harvard Business Review as one of the best reads of 2020.

Interestingly, Mr Sitapati’s stint at Godrej will yet again see a professional manager steering a family-run listed company. Vivek Gambhir was one such professional, who had stepped down as MD and CEO of GCPL last June. As Mr Sitapati takes charge of his new responsibilities at GCPL in October, he could be putting those lessons he learnt at the CEO factory to work at Godrej. 

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