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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

When Rakesh Kapoor, the all-successful CEO of Reckitt Benckiser, was pursuing his engineering from BITS Pilani, (India) playing a game of bridge seems to have acted as an additional teacher. For it helped him hone skills such as communicating well, trusting partners and staying ahead of rivals, which have stood him in good stead. Perhaps that is the reason behind him being so strategically strong coupled with the ability to rally the troops behind what he wants to implement, thus helping him to grow from humble beginnings in the north Indian city of Bareilly to be head of the world's fifth-biggest household goods maker.

Nonetheless, filling in the shoes of a predecessor who had done wonderfully well for the company was a mammoth task. No one expected him to fare well – in fact the sentiment was so negative that when Rakesh Kapoor became chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser in 2011, the UK consumer goods company lost £2bn (market price plummeted by about 8%).But Rakesh Kapoor knew what he needed to do and how – as he vowed to himself that he would make sure when he left the company, his successor does not have to go through the same miserable feeling that he did. (Of course,within three weeks the shares had recovered – and today, they are nearly 80 per cent higher). He chartered his own path and had delivered in a manner that no-one expected him to. He could do so with flying colors because he learnt a lesson very early in life that it’s very easy for people to be happy with what they have unless one keeps pushing the bar up. And, he continues to implement this dictum in every part of his life.

Childhood & Education

Rakesh Kapoor, born August 4, 1958, in Bareilly (U.P, India), had his schooling from The Modern School, New Delhi. The shrewd sense of purpose and a very pragmatic approach to life – manifest in two events in his life-- are facets that have helped propel his career to the heights he is at today. The occurrings being 1) He apparently took a degree in engineering, not because he liked it but because engineers got decent jobs, and 2) He decided to pursue MBA: because, very simplistically, MBAs got even better jobs than engineers did.

Thus, he did his Bachelor of Engineering (Hon.), Chemical Engineering from the famed Birla Institute of Technical Sciences, Pilani (India)which he completed in 1980, and followed it up with a Master’s in Business Administration, Marketing & General Management, from the equally illustrious XLRI, Jamshedpur, where he graduated out in 1982.

Career

When Rakesh Kapoor finished college in 1982, he had landed two offers: one was from Reckitt & Colman (as RB was known back then before the merger with Benckiser) and the other from a software services company called Network Ltd., in New Delhi (part of HCL Group of companies which was itself an unknown commodity in those days).

It would have been tempting for any youngster his age at the cusp of a professional career, to get carried away by the offer from a multi-national company. But not Rakesh Kapoor. His entrepreneurial instincts as indeed the lesson he had learnt that something that is easily gotten is not really earned, helped him take the decision to join a much smaller and relatively obscure company. This allowed him to put to test his skills and education which he did for five years before it started to make him feel the need to stretch himself more. So he sounded out (so to say!) Reckitt & Coleman for a job and they brought him on-board.

At Reckitt&Colman

Rakesh joined Reckitt & Coleman in 1987and served it in various capacities before he was entrusted with near-leadership roles. They included Regional Sales Manager, North India, General Manager, Indian Southern Region and Regional Marketing Director, South Asia.

The jump up the ladder starts…with Reckitt Benckiser

After a little over a decade with Reckitt &Colman, the time was ripe for Rakesh to make his way up the ladder. It coincided with the merger of the company with Benckiser in 1999. After the merger with Benckiser, he was appointed senior vice-presidentglobal category home office (1999), senior vice-president home care, regional director, northern Europe (2001), and executive vice-president category development (2006).

To the coveted (?) position

It took most by surprise when the board of RB decided to elevate Rakesh Kapoor to the post of CEO. In fact, as reported above, it wasn’t well received at all. It was baptism by fire. The shares tanked on the FTSE – shearing £2bn of m-cap of the company along the way. It wasn’t very auspicious for this austere man. But, he recouped and did what men made of sterner stuff do.

He brought his own style of thought-leadership and decision-making and initiated a series of changes and innovative actions. All these initiatives resulted in the company rebounding from the losses and even outperforming the market which had slumped a bit.

Today he is unquestioned and continues to take RB on the path to success in an era of business transformation and continued digital prominence – with the perspective gained by seeing first-hand that poor health is a real social and economic burden for people. That is why he says healthier lives and happier homes matters to him, and that it matters to RB’s consumers, customers and employees.

Other Affiliations:

Some social causes are very close to his heart. One of them being children welfare and does his bit by supporting some development organizations that work in this area, such as:

Save the Children UK
Save the Children, India
Save the Children Nigeria
Save the Children Pakistan
Quotes
  In the past ...as CEOs and managers of brands, we talked and you had to listen. But that's very stifling in our world today 
  The year I was born, the literacy in my town was 1 in 6. So I had a 15 percent chance of being educated, mathematically. And here I am 
  I've not lost my earthiness. I am a son of the soil. This is exactly who I am, I would tell you how it is 
  If I was too shackled about what my predecessor was doing and how he ran the company, I don't believe we would have gone through the changes we have made 
  In my world, we need to be absolutely transparent. 
  It was fascinating for me to beat competition by outguessing and outsmarting them all the time 
  I tried very hard to tell myself it’s not personal. But it felt horrible?.?.?.? And I said to myself, I’m going to make sure that when I leave the company, my successor does not have to go through the same miserable feeling.” – On the day of his appointment as CEO, when the company shares tanked on the FTSE 
  Late to bed, early to rise; innovate like hell and advertise. An organisation is only as slow as the leader at the top.So if you are slow there, you’ve slowed the organisation. I have to be very quick in how I respond, how I decide 
  What counts is how you perform. Meritocracy is the most important way you can drive an organisation forward 
  Don’t expect me to hug you when you meet your target. I will look at you and say, ‘really? 
  We have similarly announced the launch of disinfectant soap which is not just something that you can use on your hands, but also use on surfaces, use on clothes and keep your disinfectant and yourself hygienically clean with one soap, with one product 
  I think there should be a greater trust between government and industry so that we can actually decide together what is right thing for India and how can we work together 
  India remains very important not just for its own structural demographic and economic reasons but also in the context of global growth 
  I think in many cases the healthcare regulatory systems are pretty archaic... in India-and not just archaic, in a way a bit opaque 
  Macro trends in consumer health are absolutely fantastic. [People] are living longer but governments don’t want to spend on your headache, your daily cold and flu or your sore throat. They want you to basically take more ownership 
  One of my challenges is to make sure that we can keep this company simpler 
  Costs are like fingernails they need to be cut from time to time 
  I would like to say about India is that nothing changes very quickly here. It is the biggest anchor that you can think of 
  Removing the multiple decision making touch pints that sometimes exists in large companies to simplify how we decide, how we go to market 
  The best way to get you to give me more ideas is to take away resources from you.Entrepreneurship “means more ideas and less money. I know that sounds draconian and Darwinian, but you need to really starve people to get the best ideas
  I’ve always said consumer health is about mums, it’s not about molecules

Hope viewers caught up the spark…

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