Business is all about getting engaged with society.
In conversation with Siraj Chaudhry - CEO of Cargill India
If you have read the book "The Executors", by Ashutosh Sinha, then you must be familiar with Siraj Chaudhry's journey with Cargill. The book is a reflection of the life lessons that 30 of India's most celebrated managers share and a personal account of how they came to run influential companies such as Bharti, Bennett Coleman, Tech Mahindra, Apollo Munich, Convergys, Yum! Brands, Max Life Insurance and Cargill among many others. Most of the best-sellers including stories of entrepreneurs or founders of large successful companies are known to us. Interestingly there is another specie among the rulers of India Inc. who are not founders or entrepreneurs per se however they possess equally the required skills and qualities to run or set up a business bringing the company to a global level with international standards.
One of those 30 most celebrated managers is Siraj Chaudhry, CEO of Cargill India. When you listen to him while he talks off the food business, HR or the global economy it is clear that he had his share in trotting the globe. It makes sense for him to say that his biggest change, or so-called life-changing moment, is moving back from Geneva to New Delhi. "Even though the future seemed unknown to me, I saw an opportunity to build a new Cargill business in India and I was the right person for the job. I came in as a project leader for building Cargill's edible oil footprint guiding it to achieve the vision of becoming a respected food company in India with assets, brands and over 1000 employees within a few years". Cargill India celebrated its 25 years of existence in India in 2013 led by Siraj for 9 years.
Cargill India's glue
Of course such an initiative can never be done by one person alone. There was an entire team committed to reach for the stars and make it happen. Siraj says it all comes back to the glue of your organization. What is it that holds your company and people together? Can you define it? What is the sentiment that generates in your company? What is the glue that keeps people inside? How to let people see in which way a change will benefit not only the organization but also themselves? It will take more time but once people open their eyes and own the change, they"ll never go back. Siraj believes that everybody is part of the solution and not just the implementation.
Siraj's mindset is to make things bigger and make a difference to society. In fact, business is about getting engaged with society, according to Siraj which wasn't too difficult as his personal values were always in line with Cargill's values. The company's values are being appreciated by people. "If it's a challenge, you have to be creative in finding solutions and reconnect the missing link". To my question: what business can do with change? Siraj answered: Change the world, not just your business! Let me clarify this, said Siraj.
Business is about getting engaged with society
"India's food consumption is mostly being done at home. The concept of eating out is still in a premature phase compared to other countries which makes edible oil a profitable opportunity for brands as it's used for home cooking across the country. Therefore it is challenging for MNC's to operate with high standards and translate them to an Indian context. However we have been able to reach out to India's household consumers with vitamin-fortified edible oils." In 2008 Cargill started fortifying its oils with vitamin A and D and started promoting fortification by all companies in India. Why? It felt the need to link edible oil with the national need to overcome malnutrition in India. Interestingly as Cargill was the first company in India to brand fortified oil, it became an acknowledged role model for its competitors. Indirectly competitors, society and the government were educated and the awareness on malnutrition increased significantly. All the other big brands started selling edible oil and over a period of 7-8 years Cargill became the leading spokesperson on this particular subject. "If goodness adds value to your brand, then it's good", says Siraj passionately. This success crossed borders and Cargill India received global support, not only from its internal and external stakeholders but also from other countries contributing to the agenda "nourishing the world". The idea simply fitted".
Talking about Cargill and Entrepreneurship
Cargill is a global giant famous for processing, refining and marketing a wide range of both indigenous and imported edible oils, fats and blends to the food industry. It has its roots in USA started by W.W. Cargill owning a grain storage facility in 1865. Nowadays Cargill has grown to become one of the largest, privately-owned businesses with a turnover more than 100 billion US dollars. Cargill provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world. Together with farmers, customers, governments and communities, it helps people thrive by applying its 150 years of experience and insights. Cargill is present in 70 countries committed to feeding the world in a responsible way, reducing environmental impact and improving the communities where they work. Cargill's operations in India today include the origination, handling, processing and production of a wide range of products, including refined oils, grain and oilseeds, sugar, cotton and animal health and nutrition. Cargill's consumer brands in India include edible oil brands NatureFresh, Gemini, Sweekar and Leonardo olive oil; Vanaspati brands Rath and Sunflower Vanaspati; wheat flour brand NatureFresh Atta, making it one of the leaders in the space of consumer staples. Cargill Foods is a leading supplier of oils, fats, glucose and maltodextrin and specialty ingredients to major food companies in the country and abroad.
Of course I have read the book The Executors including Siraj's story. The interesting part of meeting Siraj in real-life to discuss topics like change, leadership and the cycle of life in business is that you get to actually see and feel his passion. And that is much more inspiring than reading his story in a book.