Rama Bijapurkar is a thought leader on Indian consumer and market strategies. She has been on boards of several companies. In an interview with HT, she shared her thoughts on wide range of issues from consumerism, the opportunities, advertising and reservation for women on boards. Excerpts:
Indian as well as multi-national corporations are always bullish on the burgeoning middle class. But are you seeing the next billion consumers emerging?
I see a disconnect…From a market person and from a citizen, I am seeing a divergence and I think that’s a very important thing, because the top 20% India is a very nice market. Whichever way you look at it all the consumers and trillions of dollars that they are talking about are really based on the top sliver. I am enthusiastic about the top 20%, it is driving a lot of consumption.
I don’t think a lot of MNCs are going to bet below the top 20-30%. According to me the consumption journey in India is yet to begin because there are so many unfulfilled needs, which no one is interested in. The MNCs are only interested in extending what they already have elsewhere.
At one side, we see growing consumerism in small towns and villages, but as you say companies are focusing only on the top 20%...?
There is a mismatch between the entire opportunity offered by India and the opportunities that companies are taking. I think, India Inc is not serving all of India’s needs.
The dharma of business should be to add value to consumer and extract value from consumer. I am seeing the small companies serving the small consumer. That is why I say its a land of lilliputs. Can we have small companies to scale? That is where the whole financial inclusion will fit in.
There’s a huge talk of women’s empowerment, the new company’s act mandates at least one woman member on the company board…Most marketing campaigns still seem to portray women in a sense that she still has to be the homemaker. What is your take?
The woman’s mindset has changed completely. The distance women have travelled is far more than men. I don’t think advertising is showing women in traditional roles. In fact, they way I see it, women are being shown as CEOs of households.
I feel sorry for the way men are portrayed while advertising. The woman is definitely on top in lot of the advertising. Have the men in society at large come to terms with the rise of women, the answer is no. That is why we are seeing a lot of gender wars happening.
Is reservation for women the way to go?
I am a supporter of reservations. Everyone assumes that when you have a quota, you dilute merit. I think if you have a quota, and if you hold the merit bar where you hold it, its just makes you work a little harder to find those women who actually exist, they are just not visible. Instead of second tier of men, I feel, why not settle for first tier of women. With reservation of women on boards, suddenly I am seeing a lot of talk of training women directors. But I have never seen talk of training men directors.