Review: The 2 Minute Revolution by Sangeeta Talwar
Strategy consultant Sangeeta Talwar’s business autobiography looks at three decades of her career in India’s FMCG sectorUpdated: Nov 17, 2018, 10:35 IST
At first glance the book cover troubled me. Authors who promise anybody anything in two minutes usually write with one eye on the keyboard and the other on the cash till. Sangeeta Talwar turns out to be different. She has authored a ‘business autobiography’ that looks at her career spanning three decades in India’s FMCG sector. She writes with “an open heart, an open mind and an open home” and keeps her promise to “say it as it is” with the honest confession that “writing a book is never easy.” Her very first sentence asks: “What do I want to achieve by writing this book?” Talwar presents her honest answer over the next 210 pages.
But to start at the beginning: Her thrill at earning the eighth rank on the admission list at IIM-Kolkata turned to horror; the girls’ hostel had only seven rooms! An appeal to be allowed to stay off-campus was denied as ‘impractical.’ As luck would have it, she recalls, the seventh girl dropped out of the course after two months or else “I wouldn’t have got into IIM-K and my dream of being a game changer in corporate India would have remained just that.”
Sangeeta joined Nestlé and was part of the adventure of building Maggi as a lasting brand. She narrates how the idea of bringing to India branded soft-packed noodles was conceived, positioned, packaged, produced, launched and fulfilled. This was an age when there were no mobile phones in India, few landline phones, no Internet access, no packaged food, no packaged drinking water and only one airline.
Despite the restrictions on foreign companies, Nestlé was serious about adding to its Indian portfolio. Sangeeta along with team members pondered over the question: Which culinary product would provide the right breakthrough in India? It was a tough question and they drew inspiration from Henry Ford. Explains Sangeeta, “Ford had captured the thought beautifully when he claimed, ‘If I had asked the consumer what he wanted, he would never have dreamt of asking for a car. He would have asked for a faster horse cart.’”
In a country with no industrially-produced food products, the solution possibly lay in creating a food category, where, both, the product and the concept would be new. Nestlé needed a breakthrough.
“Using extensive research, we mined consumer insights and worked to understand likely consumer need gaps and a potential positioning – namely, the place a brand occupies in a consumer’s mind.”
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Nestlé decided to bring to India one of its most famous international brands and two products, Maggi noodles and soup cubes. Talwar’s story of helping set up shop, literally, on a sweltering May afternoon in Kolkata is well told. “In Kolkata, May is one of the worst months, hot like hell and very humid. We were sweating profusely. Several times a member of my team and the dealer would scream, half in fear, half in awe, as they saw me get up on to a rickety stool in a sari and slightly heeled sandals to hang up a basket! I’m sure it was a funny sight and not a common one at that. “In my own way this was an attempt at leading from the front...”
There’s a lot to learn from Sangeeta Talwar who is now a strategy consultant and an independent director on several boards. This book adds value to the shelves of Indian management literature and is a joy to read because it teaches as well as entertains.
Sujoy Gupta is a business author and corporate historian.