Zaved Akhtar, CEO & MD Unilever Bangladesh: World’s Best Emerging Leader 2022
Selected as World’s Best Emerging Leader 2022 by WCRCINT, Zaved Akhtar, MD & CEO of Unilever Bangladesh is championing the cause of business fortification through compassionate leadership and focused approach towards business acceleration.
WCRCLEADERS in conversation with Zaved Akhtar, MD & CEO, Unilever, Bangladesh
What makes a strong leader? What are your key leadership strengths are make the strongest attributes of success?
A strong leader is someone who has a strong sense of empathy and is also equally aware of his or her vulnerability. One must have a compassionate spirit that ensures that one is able to understand his or her perspective and is able to emphasize. At the same time having the self-recognition of personal weakness keeps the individual grounded. But both this must be backed by a strong sense of purpose and holding self and others to high standards of performance.
An accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career? What challenges did you face to reach to the success?
In my earlier role I had taken on the transformation agenda of Reimagine HUL, building an intelligent enterprise. This was one of the biggest change management programs. Given the advent of multitude of technologies, disruption is becoming par for the course across industries, FMCG is no exception. Platforms are taking over products, channels are getting redefined and new business models are surfacing that has opportunities beyond sales. As FMCG, we have enough blind spots and our agility and digital astuteness is not at par with the new insurgents.
At Hindustan Unilever (HUL), as the incumbent in the FMCG industry, we are pre-empting this disruption by being an insurgent and orchestrating a holistic intervention across our value chain by experimenting with different technology centric projects that will change the way we will work in the future. Christened as Reimagine HUL, this program is an integrated set of initiatives that will give us a distinctive competitive edge. The specific benefits that we envisage are:
- Unlock foresight/insight/trends to meet consumer needs with unprecedented speed
- Help obtain a distinctive technology driven business model that will give us get a competitive edge
- Appropriate a large part of the value chain either as growth or profit opportunity
- Highlights of the Digital Transformation in Motion
What started as organisation wide experimentation program is now a full-fledged end to end digital transformation for the business and will redefine how we will be working in the future. It entails:
- Picking Up Consumer Signals: Understanding how consumer signals are being converted into business opportunity
- Demand Generation: Driving Data Driven Marketing, i.e., Precision Marketing, Performance Marketing and Content Hub; Driving reach & precision deployment
- Demand Capture: Understanding the connected store program: B2C and B2B2C and create a fully integrated frictionless customer and shopper experience
- Demand Fulfilment: Integrated S&OP, creating a customer focussed factory, Agile and faster customer servicing logistics and distribution network
These transformations are also enabled by:
- Data and Analytics and HUL Data Strategy: Data dashboard, understanding data signature and leveraging data for business growth
- Augmented Decision Making: Livewire and Jarvis, our AI enabled autonomous decision making
- Automation: Drive end to end automation of repetitive nonvalue added work streams.
- New Business Model: Pivot new business models that enables a more lean and agile innovation
- Talent, Capability & Culture: Organisation Capabilities, People Capability Plan, Mindset
What is a role of leader in these challenging times.
We live in uncertain times. Things that we are experiencing once were beyond the realm of possibility and now is a reality. Now one needs a completely different types of muscles to operate. I would specifically focus on the following:
- Sense Maker: There are varied and different signals that are coming our way. One needs to distill all these signals to make them sensible and actionable.
- Disrupter: Today everyone needs to have strong disruption. Technology is completely changing our value chain and decoupling it. Demonetization and dematerialization are completely changing our perspective. We need to disrupt what we do.
- Exponential: Increments lead to very littler change. One needs exponential thinking to change the perspective and the industry.
- Storyteller: Every leader needs to be a great storyteller. As a leader paint the story of success, paint a story of hope and then you build a tribe that will lead the transformation.
- Compassion: Whatever one does it needs to be done with a lot of compassion. Today’s world needs people with heart to drive all the heads
What is your vision and how do you share that with your shareholders, employees, and others?
Business needs to be a force for good. By focusing on addressing the fundamental challenges of health, hygiene, and nutrition we at Unilever thrive. Everyone in the organsiation have a personal purpose and when the personal purpose and corporate purpose overlaps that is the time when we thrive. We also have empirical evidence that brands that have purpose rotted in it throve and grow and maximize shareholder value.
How do you drive active business renovations and how does that impact your subordinates?
Business renovations cannot be done in isolation. One needs to get the whole organsiation to be part of it. They need to own the problem and work is squads to build the solution and work in sprints to facilitate the transformation by building the MVP before fine tuning it to the final products.
How do you integrate corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility as a part of your business strategies?
Business needs to have a positive impact on the society and environment. This cannot be relegated as CSR, rather needs to be ingrained in the business, needs to be part of the core strategies and brand plans.
- Improving the health of our planet: Water consumption in Unilever Bangladesh operations was reduced by 37%. Energy consumption was reduced by 26%, which could light up more than 2.1 million family for a day. For the same period, Carbon emissions were scaled down by 22% which is equivalent to 2.81 million trees. Since 2014, UBL continued its journey of “zero waste to land fill” by ensuring utilization of 100% solid wastes by co-processing, re-using, recycling, and recovering energy. We remain committed to our war on plastics, and by 2022 we will be developing capability for transitioning 80% of our packaging portfolio to recyclable structure and crafting a sustainable business model to pioneer plastic recycling in Bangladesh.
- Improve people’s health, confidence, and wellbeing: Our brands, such as Dove is on a mission to empower over 50 lakh young people through Dove Self Esteem Project by 2030, Lifebuoy aims to change the hygiene behaviour of 7 lakh children in Bangladesh by 2022, and Domex will help Bangladesh to achieve improved sanitation and hygiene target of SDGs.
- Contribute to a fairer and a more socially Inclusive World: We are committed to equipping one million young people with essential skills by 2030 and utilizing the upskill to fuel Bangladesh’s growth journey through GAL Foundation, Rin Career Academy, and the Sales Frontline Academy,
What has been your driving force or philosophy in life?
My roots and my parents. They have always taught me to never forget my roots come what may and ensure that whatever I do I must have a positive impact on the people around me.
How do you plan to drive your business at a global level?
A business with global footprint can be built when one builds an organsiation that is cost competitive at a global level while is known for its brilliant customer service and reliability.
How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Success is when you setup your successor for success. That will not only mean that one will build a business not only for the short term but also set the foundation for long term win.
In your opinion what is the most significant aspect of leadership?
Having the humility, yet have an unending hunger for ambition.