Selected as India’s Most Trusted Leader 2021-2022, Falguni Nayar of Nykaa is an epitome of woman leadership. She has driven Nykaa to become one of India’s most successful brand stories. A brand that inspires, a leader who drives brilliance.
What makes a strong leader? What are your key leadership strengths are make the strongest attributes of success
I have had the good fortune through my professional career to interact with many business leaders. I spent many years in my corporate career with Uday Kotak as my mentor as well. Each of these leaders I interacted with had certain traits which I believe are critical – (1) building for good, that is, being honest and authentic in one’s dealings, (2) having a foresight into the long-term future and (3) having a strong passion for the business they believe in. I truly believe these are traits critical for any leader to succeed. Besides these, the way I have been leading Nykaa:
- Having a very active involvement in the various aspects of the business – from overall business strategy to the critical blocks of our growth – new initiatives, technology, marketing, commercial strategy – all while guiding the culture of the company.
- An agile way of work and an open-minded approach to decision making has led me to build Nykaa in a way early on which led the company to successfully adapt to the new external challenges and opportunities of the last two years.
An accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career. What challenges did you face to reach to the success?
While leading investment banking at Kotak, I worked on many IPOs for Indian promoters whose vision and belief in their business truly impressed me. I decided to take a similar path, building something right from scratch, that could outlive me. I decided to do this through multibrand beauty retail delivered through ecommerce, which was a nascent industry at the time of envisioning Nykaa. As an experienced banker I was good at finance, legal complexities, negotiations but I had no experience in either beauty, retail or tech. Challenges like building a secure and scalable tech platform, the right operations and supply chain models and being inventory led were the things we had to do well right from the start.
I felt that existing concerns of scale as well as long tail availability of products in the market could be solved if we built the right business models with an attention to detail and focus on technology. Today, I’m glad I took the plunge into the unknown as we have truly had a significant impact in shaping up this industry as it stands today.
What is a role of leader in these challenging times? List 5 in order of priority.
- Agility and innovative spirit: The last two years have shown that each business leader must build an organization that can quickly pivot its operations, company structure, business model – should the circumstances demand it. As the leader of a complex group structure, it is critical that I reinforce and mantain Nykaa’s agile and innovative strengths, even as we scale into a large organization.
- Art of decision making: As a leader its critical to take calculated risks, find the right balance between ambiguity and structured, and be able to make data driven decisions.
- Hire the right team and delegate, empower them: Every business leader must carefully select the first 100 hires who will help set the culture and business strategy for long term growth of the company. At the same time, it is critical to drive ownership within each team and individual so that every employee thinks and works like an entrepreneur.
- Think long term: In the early years of Nykaa, we focused on laying the right groundwork for scale instead of overspending to inorganically grow our customer base. We take all decisions, big and small, keeping in mind long term sustainability of our actions and whether those actions will lead to short term quick gains or long term, efficient performance.
- Detail oriented with bird’s eye view: Business building is detail-oriented work and a lot of small pieces come together to make it all run. One should be able to get into the minor details all while keeping a check on broader objectives
What is your vision and how do you share that with your shareholders, employees and others?
At Nykaa, we want to cater to every lifestyle need of our customers and that is our core philosophy. Ultimately, if we stay laser focused on the customer and aim to create constant delight while maintaining an authentic relationship with them, we will succeed. We are doing this while maintaining the right unit economics, keenly focused on profitability, which will allow us to succeed and sustain in the long term.
These principles are integrated in the overall culture at the company, and we constantly drive home these ideas – through our company values. When we communicate business level strategy to our shareholders, we always reinforce our underlying vision. Our employees are torchbearers of our vision, and all their individual decisions are driven keeping these principles in mind. We routinely speak with our vendor partners, brand partners and key stakeholders in our supply chain about our vision, since their participation in the process is critical to our success.
How do you drive active business renovations and how does that impact your subordinates?
We are a very agile team and reinvention is ‘business as usual’ for us. We sit at the intersection of retail and technology, both industries which have been rapidly evolving over the last decade. Hence, business renovations come naturally to us, and my team is constantly looking for new ways of working to delight for our end consumers.
As the CEO of a rapidly growing group of companies within Nykaa, I build synergies within the group to best leverage capabilities. Many employees and leaders at Nykaa have taken up different roles in the company and learn new perspectives, technical skills and expertise in the process. Our culture at the company constantly drives the idea of ‘One Nykaa’. This culture ensures that every individual business and person works towards the mission of the group as a whole.
How do you integrate corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility as a part of your business strategies?
We depend on the communities we operate in and around, and corporate social responsibility is an integral part of the strategy on giving back to those communities. In our minds, our responsibility extends beyond CSR into the ways of working and we use our ‘social voice’ to bring light to and tackle pressing social issues through our content and education platforms. Looking inwards as well, we aim to build a diverse and inclusive workplace. At the same time, we seek to bring constant innovation in our supply chain and routinely evaluate our packaging and shipping processes, balancing environmental sustainability with customer need.
- Most recently, during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, we contributed to ‘Give India Foundation’ to provide medical essentials to hospitals in Maharashtra. We worked towards arranging access to medical equipment such as N-95 masks, PPE kits, sanitizers and pulse oximeters, to help medical staff in hospitals.
What has been your driving force or philosophy in life?
I truly believe one must jump right in and work towards whatever goals they set out for themselves. It is truly never too late to follow one’s passion. There will be ups and downs in the journey, but the journey itself is what makes the process interesting, not the end result.
My daughter shared the lines of the poem ‘Ithaka’ by Constantine P. Cavafy which inspired me to pursue my inner quest to take on the entrepreneurial path. I began my journey with Nykaa when I was about 50 years old even though I had no prior experience in beauty, fashion, retail or ecommerce. But I was determined to take on this challenge and I am glad I took the leap.
What are the other philanthropic works you are involved in?
My family and I are working on building a school in Alibaug, I truly believe in the power of education and the kind of impact it can drive in people’s lives.
During the first wave of COVID-19, I in my personal capacity matched the employee contributions towards COVID relief.
How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
- Like mentioned earlier, success comes from embracing one’s passion and following that path – irrespective of the result. And if one has the right approach and determination to follow that passion, the results are likely to be great as well.
- Nykaa today has become a brand synonymous with beauty in India, and appeals strongly to Gen Z and Millennial consumers. Nykaa stands as a profitable sustainable business, gaining significant scale and recognition in a short span of 9 years, all with a primary investment of only ~$70 million dollars as of March 2021. But we still have a long way to go.
In your opinion what is the most significant aspect of leadership?
As mentioned earlier, building for good is critical. One must be honest and authentic in their dealings – with the people they lead, with key stakeholders as well as the customers.
Your perception of an empowered society. How far your industry has/can contribute for the same?
I believe an empowered society is one where every person has the freedom, courage and ‘power of choice’ to attain their goals in life. The company’s name ‘Nykaa’ is derived from the thought that every woman should pursue their dreams, and bring themselves center stage in their own lives
I wanted to create a brand that is valuable to society. With Nykaa, we tapped into the lifestyle retail Industry of India and the core belief of the brand was to enable consumers to define what beauty means for them and help them define their own sense of style, whatever that may be.
Esprit de corps: How do bring fairness and equality to all?
At Nykaa, we strive to build an inclusive, diverse and respectful work culture with zero tolerance of any violations around its code of conduct. Through regular education and training to employees, constant reinforcement, integration of our values at hiring and performance appraisals – we are able to drive this across all levels in the organization. We have made an active choice to have a balanced workforce – all the different life experiences, skill sets, education, abilities and personal identities bring very unique perspectives to the table. Just as an example, women make up approximately half of our workforce. At the same time, Nykaa is made up of people with very different skill sets – creative and imaginative talent all the way to data analytics and numbers oriented people.