Aziz Jindani, Chief Commercial Officer, Colgate-Palmolive, speaks to Aurora about his ambitions as a value builder, what led him to become an accidental filmmaker, and why he has assumed the responsibilities of his present role.
AURORA: Would you agree that your path to becoming Chief Commercial Officer at Colgate-Palmolive Pakistan has not been a conventional one?
AZIZ JINDANI: I worked for P&G for 18 years and in different parts of the world. I started as an intern and then I was offered a job. Two years later, I joined Pepsi where I worked on the Mountain Dew launch. A year later, in 2003, I moved back to P&G and remained there until 2018. I have worked in Pakistan, the US, Singapore, Kenya and Dubai. Last year, I took a sabbatical to do something I had wanted to do for a long time, which was to make an animated film (Donkey King) and which turned out to be the most rewarding experience of my life so far.
A: Doesn’t making an animated film require a certain level of expertise?
AJ: I understood the mechanics because at P&G, I was the financing producer for Commander Safeguard, and even back then, I was into content creation and writing. So I had an understanding of the craft in terms of how to get the work done. I still don’t understand the software and the nuances that come with it, but I understood enough to take a leap of faith and create an animated film.
A: What prompted you to make a film?
AJ: I came back in Pakistan in 2014 to head commercial operations for P&G Pakistan. This was pretty much a sales-oriented job and as I had been a brand builder most of my life, I felt I needed a place to express myself and the idea of the film came to me.
A: How did you go about it?
AJ: I reached out to Zeeshan Karimi the animation director I worked with on Commander Safeguard and he liked the idea. We started working on it in 2016 and we released it in 2018. It started off as a home video project and we didn’t tell anyone about it because we were not sure how it would work out. In between all this, I was transferred to Dubai and was shuttling back and forth every weekend.
A: Did you write the script?
AJ: I did. I spoke with several scriptwriters, but everyone felt that because the story was so clear in my mind, I should write it myself. In the end, I got hold of Kamran Kirmani, who was a friend of mine. He is an engineer by profession and a writer at heart and the next thing we knew, we were writing a film.
A: All the while you were working at P&G?
AJ: Yes, by then I was heading their beauty care business. The film was just a hobby, until in 2018, I pinched myself and said this is real and I took a sabbatical. I knew I wanted to come back to Pakistan. By then my children were settled and my wife was doing a PhD at the Aga Khan University and my film was ready; so the stars were lining up.
A: After the film, you went back to professional life. Why didn’t you consider exploring filmmaking further?
AJ: The thing is that I am a brand builder by choice and a filmmaker by chance. I am very clear about this. Yes, the film was a big success, but I would have been an idiot to think that I was a filmmaker, because I am not. I am a brand builder. Because of the film, we had to set up an animation studio and put together a team and it would have been a shame to wrap it up after the film, so I asked Faraz Uzzaman Khan, a former P&G colleague to take it over, and get work outsourced from abroad so that the studio could survive. So if ever I want to make another film, we still have the team and the infrastructure.
A: Why did you join Colgate-Palmolive Pakistan?
AJ: It was an opportunity.
A: Did the opportunity fall into your lap or were you looking at other options?
AJ: Let’s put it this way; I was looking for them and they were looking for me. When I met them in 2006, I was on my way to Cincinnati. When I came back in 2014, as a family, we made the choice to live in Pakistan. But I had certain prerequisites for the job I had in mind. The first was that I wanted to join a local company, as the aspiration to work abroad was no longer there. The second was that I would do something that would use all my faculties. P&G is a wonderful company but it works on verticals. So if you are doing marketing and brand building, you are brand building; if you are doing commercial sales, you are doing commercial sales and have nothing to do with brand building. If you are doing supply chain, you are doing supply chain and have nothing to do with marketing and sales. At P&G, I acquired all three experiences, but to do all three at the same time is not possible in a vertical environment. The opportunity existed at Colgate-Palmolive Pakistan. Zulfiqar Lakhani and his team have built a business we are all very proud of and we are now entering another phase of transformation. Colgate International has recently publicly expressed an interest to up their stake in the company from 30% to 51% and this process is currently going through due diligence. I think for someone like me who has extensive global experience but is a ‘local’ at heart, this is a very good match. The ‘glocal’ philosophy of the Lakson Group is a perfect fit for my operating style.
We have four ‘cares’. Oral care and personal care from the Colgate-Palmolive portfolio and which accounts for roughly 30% of our business. The remaining is our home care and fabric care portfolio, which is local. A lot of the volume and scale that comes is through the local brands. We are the only company which has a tiered portfolio in fabric care (good, better and best). We are market leaders in volume and number two in value share. We have Brite at the top, competing with Ariel and Surf Excel, Express which is in a league of its own and Bonus which competes with Sunlight and other similar brands. And then there is Max.
A: Why have Colgate International decided to increase their equity share and what impact is it likely to have?
AJ:This company started off as the National Detergents Company. Colgate-Palmolive came later, yet over 30 years of association, the Colgate people rarely visited Pakistan and that is a huge compliment. Such visits usually happen if the global company senses something may need fixing or they think they can offer capability that does not exist locally. Even with the potential increase in Colgate International’s stake, there is no particular intention on their part to micro-manage operations. The real motivation here is to earn the legal freedom to fully consolidate Colgate-Palmolive Pakistan’s P&L in their global financial reporting. This is especially desirable as Colgate-Palmolive Pakistan’s organic growth is top of the pack across Colgate International subsidiaries.
A: Traditionally, Colgate-Palmolive Pakistan has been a ‘hybrid’ company in the sense that their product portfolio is made up of both global and local brands. How has this combination worked?
AJ: It is a unique symbiotic relationship. A lot of expertise that comes through Colgate International is applied to local brands and a lot of the street smart wisdom that comes from operating as an entrepreneur in a local business is transferred to Colgate-Palmolive Pakistan.
A: What is the share split between the global and the local portfolio?
AJ: We have four ‘cares’. Oral care and personal care from the Colgate-Palmolive portfolio and which accounts for roughly 30% of our business. The remaining is our home care and fabric care portfolio, which is local. A lot of the volume and scale that comes is through the local brands. We are the only company which has a tiered portfolio in fabric care (good, better and best). We are market leaders in volume and number two in value share. We have Brite at the top, competing with Ariel and Surf Excel, Express which is in a league of its own and Bonus which competes with Sunlight and other similar brands. And then there is Max.
A: Are all these products manufactured locally?
AJ: Yes, they are locally conceptualised and manufactured brands, coming out of the chemical engineer that resides somewhere within Zulfiqar Lakhani. He is an engineer at heart and a great head of manufacturing. And this is yet another reason why I joined. I look for two aspects when I consider a job offer. Can I apply what I have learnt and can I learn something new that will help me in the future. I could see both here.
A: Compared to the multinational companies, you have a rather unique distribution model.
AJ: There are two types of distribution models; gorilla and guerrilla. We use the guerrilla model, whereby we have a lot of small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs across Pakistan. We work with 400 odd distributors covering different geographies. P&G typically uses one big distributor, whereas we work with small entrepreneurs from every nook and corner in Pakistan.
A: Why was this model chosen?
AJ: For several reasons. A big part of it is heritage, although having said so, if today I were to start with a blank sheet of paper, I would not do anything different. The transactional simplification which comes from appointing one big distributor comes at the expense of know-how. Let’s take Karachi. You can either choose one big distributor for the whole of Karachi, who may possibly not know all the customers out there. Or you appoint separate distributors for Nazimabad, Tariq Road and so on and their level of know-how within their smaller scope will be much higher and a lot more intimate. As you go down to strata six or seven towns, it becomes all the more personal. A big distributor with a head office in Karachi will not have this depth of knowledge. Then, there is the spirit a local entrepreneur brings. They deal with people whose income rests on the viability of your brand. When I meet my distributor in Gujranwala, he rolls up his sleeves and says “let’s go out and see.” He has about 13,000 outlets in his scope and he knows each retailer personally because he has been doing this for 30 years. So one part is knowhow, the second is the entrepreneurial spirit and the third is ROI. This is very important because if financial health is not there, it’s a non-starter. We want to partner with our distributors in a way that they are able to get a better ROI compared to keeping their money in the bank.
A: Do they work exclusively for Colgate-Palmolive?
AJ: Typically they have a few principals but we usually end up being a significant part of their portfolio.
A: Over the years, you have not introduced any new brands into your portfolio.
AJ: We have horizontally stretched our brands rather than introduced new brands. For example, although Max has been there forever, the portfolio has been saturated. It started off as a bar and a liquid and today, within the bar there are variants and we recently launched a Max All Purpose Floor Cleaner. Similarly, we launched Palmolive Shampoo a couple of years ago. But new brands; yes that is something we have not done.
A: Is there a particular reason for this?
AJ: All marketing ROS studies tell you that if you can stretch the equity of a brand, it generally gives the highest ROI.
A: To what extent will the prevailing economic situation impact your product portfolio?
AJ: I think we will play to our portfolio more. Pricing is inevitable because the cost of doing business is going up. We are taking pricing in line with the market, because everyone wants to stay on strategy. Companies such as ours have the resilience; that is where our ‘good, better and best’ portfolio comes into play. People can’t do without soap or dishwashing agents; they are not discretionary items but everyday necessities. So people tend to use either less or they downgrade and this is where our portfolio comes into play because it is built in a way to keep consumers within the franchise.
Digital spends have increased for sure, but TV still remains the most dominant and defining medium of awareness for our brands. However, in Pakistan, the biggest paradigm shift is modern retail. The biggest competitor to TV advertising is in-store; digital is a distant number two as a threat to TV. Furthermore, as an industry, we still haven’t cracked the code in digital in terms of content creation.
A: What has been the impact of modern trade on the business?
AJ: Modern trade has created a paradigm shift and has impacted companies such as ours in a variety of ways, both positive and negative. Firstly, modern trade is the story of two baskets. Modern trade requires bigger basket sizes compared to mom-and-pop stores and this leads to upsizing; buying bigger sizes of detergents, bigger bars and so forth and the result is that for all categories the fastest growing sizes are the largest because people have bigger baskets. Secondly, the cost of doing business has gone up, because modern retail by default leads to a lot more price comparisons, so that promotion and visibility become key business drivers. In the past, you would go to a mom-and-pop store with a list and the engagement and interaction with the product was minimal, if not non-existent. Today, with modern trade, you can feel and touch a product and this leads to price comparisons and more promotions and deal hunting. All this increases the cost and complexity of doing business and more marketing investment is required.
A: Are you of the opinion that digital is starting to make a dent in TV’s position as the dominant advertising medium?
AJ: Digital spends have increased for sure, but TV still remains the most dominant and defining medium of awareness for our brands. However, in Pakistan, the biggest paradigm shift is modern retail. The biggest competitor to TV advertising is in-store; digital is a distant number two as a threat to TV. Furthermore, as an industry, we still haven’t cracked the code in digital in terms of content creation.
A: Your mandate as Chief Commercial Officer is substantial; what are the changes you would like to implement in the next few years?
AJ: As far as this company is concerned, I think a lot needs to be preserved, because what we have achieved is the envy of others; our guerrilla distribution network, our brand equity and the local entrepreneurial spirit. What needs to evolve is firstly paperless selling. Much more has to be done on automation; too many transactions are done on paper and because we work with a wide guerilla style distribution network, the information flow needs to be done in real time. Secondly, growing consumption within all our categories. My biggest passion point is the fact that in Pakistan, the average per capita consumption of toothpaste is 73 grams per person per year. For comparison, in India it is 180 grams and in the Philippines it is 367 grams. Growing the pie is a huge priority. Thirdly, raising the bar on quality and investing in our talent. There is a bias that somehow if you are working for a national company rather than a multinational you are not among the best, which by the way is the biggest BS that I have heard. There is extraordinary talent in local companies. I want to give more of myself to the talent out there.
Aziz Jindani was in conversation with Mariam Ali Baig. For feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org