Exuding positive energy, witty humor and friendly approach, the Indian CEO of Suntory PepsiCo., Mr. Uday Shankar Sinha shared his multicultural experience across six Asian countries with excitement.
Having worked in countries such as Thailand, Taiwan and India, what do you make of the fast-moving consumer goods field and the Vietnamese market in particular?
So far, my career has taken me to six Asian countries, starting from India to Thailand to China to Taiwan to Dubai and now here I am in Vietnam. My work has taken me to over 25 countries which gave me a first hand experience of dealing with a global workforce, rich in diversity and culture. I see huge potential in Vietnam: a potent workforce backed by young population and a healthy GDP growth rate of 6.0-6.5%. This country is a “magnet” attracting investment and interest from foreign Multinational Companies. The supportive policies of the government and low cost of operations makes this country very attractive, so Vietnam is witnessing strong FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). Because of these positive signs, in the next 5 years, if an individual can grasp the opportunities as they come, one will witness an unprecedented rise in every field and not just in FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) industry.
Your previous positions include being a Marketing Director, responsible for the idealization and advertisement of a product, and then a Sales Director, developing sales channels. It seems that these experiences might have played a role in your becoming the general director of Suntory PepsiCo?
When it comes to work, I often ponder as to “how to be make work FUN” rather than just look at it as work alone. It’s a good thing that a new position offers you development and gives you different perspectives which you can use to chart a Great vision. In my Marketing role in India, I tried to go deep in understanding the consumers. Key is to understand their needs and what moulds their perceptions and hence tailormake communication to get the brand proposition right. One learnt to segment the consumers the right way and then focus sharply on the target consumers. I made sure the brand proposition resonates strongly with this targeted set and thus was able create the right positioning of my brand and product in their mind. Then, as a Sales Director, I’ve had the chance to practice and improve skills like understanding the channel (Traditional Trade vs Modern Trade) dynamics, expanding the distribution footprint, automating the selling process and using data analytics to come out with simple dashboards for good decision making. I always looked for creating win-win solutions between the Company and the business partners thus boosting our sales figures. Indeed, back to your question, these diverse experiences and my learning agility have aided me in navigating my career which has led me here to take charge of this CEO role in Vietnam.
Looking back at your time at PepsiCo, a multinational corporation, which experience do you consider the most precious?
The greatest lesson I’ve learnt over the past 16 years working in PepsiCo and now Suntory-Pepsico Vietnam, is “Be open to changes, for without them, there will be no progress.” I believe that Suntory-PepsiCo Vietnam is one of greatest places to work for an individual. The environment is changing in the beverage world and the the new Vietnamese comsumer is looking for choices so we are focusing ruthlessly on innovations. Tea+Plus (Oolong and Matcha) and My Café RTD (ready to drink) Coffee are some of the new launches in last 4 years. So, I look at my current role as the most precious. This is not only in the nature of its operation, where we have 5 factories, 450 distributors, 3000 employees and reach over 1.1 MM retail outlets, but also in the assimilation and harmonization of the unique MNC culture between two giant organisations, one from USA and one from Japan. As soon as the Suntory and PepsiCo merger took place, the employees were concerned about a clash and conflict among two different corporate cultures. Yet, after 4 years actually everyone is happier! We did it, by stressing on the similarities and at the same time honoring the differences. We looked at the positives brought by both organisations coming together and welcoming the adoption of best practices from both USA and Japan. Eventually, the journey of constant changes has brought us to a bigger and brighter future. This is the type of experience I’ve witnessed throughout the last 16 years at my different workplaces.
Speaking of the cultural diversity in multinational companies, what is your secret recipe for a smooth harmonization and accordance among employees who come from different cultures?
When you arrive in a foreign country, most people look at you and wonder how you would behave with them. Especially in my position the key question in their mind is how would I lead them? For me, wherever I go, respecting local people and their local culture always comes first. Besides, I suppose that no one would enjoy colleagueship with either a socially-incompetent genius or vice versa no one enjoys working with a cordial yet poorly educated or poor intellect leader! So you have to be both, adept in social skills and prove yourself intelecully superior. My recipe of leadership lies in one single word HAIL (Honesty – Authenticity – Integrity – Love). When you approach people and issues with sincerity, treat them with respect, set an example of being above board on integrity, never forget to show your love for colleagues and think of the best for all employees, I believe that you will earn their trust and love, not only at work but also in their life.
I can see that you are quite an inspirational and passionate leader. What is it that brings about such joy and balance?
Thank you. Every day I wake up quite early in the morning, usually at 5:30am, for the simplest of reason: earning some more time for myself. I spend two hours every morning working out and practicing yoga, until 7 or 7:30. I call this ME time. That way, my body can harness enough energy for a long day’s work and begin it with enthusiasm. I must add that the worklife I have is truly fascinating. Tough and enjoyable at the same time. Every day at work is a different challenge that invigorates and motivates me. You know, working with my colleagues, figuring out sales-boosting solutions, raising the number of products consumed to billions of bottles is an amazing driving force. What’s more, my colleagues are all quite young at an average age of 30-35, so I benefit with their youthful influence rubbing off on me!
Could you tell us about the biggest chance you’ve ever had? Do you agree that “opportunity seldom knocks twice”?
At the end of 2000, I received a job offer from PepsiCo office in Bangkok when I was working in India as head of Marketing in a paint company. There were over 100 employees reporting to me. It was a tough decision to make, for what awaited me was only one employee to report to me which was my secretary! The choice was to go to a strange place with people of different background, different cultures and different ways of thinking, while I was really content with what I had at that moment and the job I was doing in India. But then I accepted the challenge, considering an opportunity to experience the world outside! And now, having traveled across several countries, worked in over 6 loacations, I’m grateful for not staying where I was and taking the leap of faith! Change always brings with it amazing opportunities and it showed me how large the world can be. So, I do agree with you, a golden opportunity never comes twice. Therefore, if you see it, remember to grasp it with all you’ve got (Grinning).
How about the woman that has had the biggest influence upon you, could you tell our readers a bit about her?
Well, the first woman to influence me was obviously my mother. She has always loved me unconditionally and taught me to believe in myself. In addition, my two sisters, have played an important role in my childhood. They taught me how to express love and affection for one another and they instilled in me the first thoughts of gender equality. Then, last but not least, my wife, of course. Besides her work as a busy interior designer, she’s a real family woman. She gives unconditional love to me and my son. Most importantly, she brings balance to my life. She helps me adjust and rethink my decisions from a different and more objective point of view. She is also the one who has single handedly brought up my son into a fine well mannered 13 year old boy, as the nature of my roles has always made me travel 15-20 days a month! I owe my success to her in more ways than one.
For women who are involved in the field of business, what do you think are the key qualities to success? What is the biggest challenge for them as a leader? And while there are many female leaders at Pepsi Co., what do you think about their activeness and competence?
Suntory-PepsiCo always welcomes and encourages women to become leaders with several women friendly policies. I myself believe that female leaders often work much harder than their male counterparts, because they’re under a greater pressure to prove themselves as they balance more work and home pressures than a typical male employee. Above all, their social etiquettes and the ability to solve human-related problems impress me often. It is a woman’s natural instinct to be subtle in communication, to listen more and contribute to a greater good by their agile thinking. If they can make use of this advantage in tandem with their knowledge, they are sure to achieve spectacular outcomes in their workplace.
Source: Nu Doanh Nhan Magazine