Anchal Jain in conversation with Ajoy Chawla, CEO (Jewellery Division) Titan Company Limited.
Ajoy Chawla, appointed CEO (Jewellery Division) at Titan Company Limited, in late 2019 was tasked with taking Tanishq from Rs.12,000 Crore to Rs.25,000 Crores by 2023.
Nobody had accounted for earth shaking events that were to follow.
However, Ajoy and his extended eco-system of 20,000 team members, partners, vendors and karigars, spread over 215 cities, challenged the pandemic back and the brand has stayed on track to achieve their super ambitious targets.
“We are in a business in which demand is not destroyed, only deferred. If we stay safe, smart and together, then we will emerge with huge market share gains from this pandemic.”. This was the belief that Ajoy also conveyed to his team, his franchisees, his vendors and artisans at the onset of Covid-19 in March 2020. Not only to allay their fears over health and finances, but also to rally them into believing what he believed in.
“We have stayed ahead of the curve because of our People First and Multi-Stakeholder approach. We took care of our people; people took care of our customers, karigars & partners; and the business then took care of itself”.
The team had, already before Covid-19 hit, coined a theme to guide them to the growth targets: Fitter. Faster. Stronger. Together (see image below).
This pre-pandemic motto proved to be prescient, however it still came down to a resolute, alert, empathetic, swift and decisive leadership to steer the team and brand when the earth really shook.
In coming days, we take a closer look into the mind and the operations at Tanishq, Mia, Zoya and Carat Lane during the last one year, to assure ourselves that there are dark clouds yes, but with a golden lining for brands that can be trusted and are authentic in their conversations and behaviour.
Protect. Assure. Rally.
Its the people that matter
2,500 people on rolls; but additionally 18,000 of the partner eco-system - franchisee staff of 8,000 and karigars numbering 10,000. All of them needed protection and assurance, highlighting a very strong need of a visible leadership that is in constant communication with them.
Every manager spoke to their direct team members every day, which ensured that a slightest of concern in the system could quickly be solved.
“Besides, I personally connected with all the 350 franchise and vendor partners 3-4 times each during the year”, says Ajoy adding, “Something I could never have achieved during normal times”
Same was expected at every level of management, ensuring a very fluid communication and a high degree of system motivation. First form of communication was simply, “Education” about what Covid-19 is and how to stay safe in this environment. Videos in local languages, including those by the CEO became an important tool.
Second, equally important and urgent need was to assure the system of continued livelihood and salaries. The whole eco-system was paid and assured of continued business and cash support from the brand.
Going hand in hand with this assurance was an imperative around a rationally considered optimism around business, even during the circumstances. With the team feeling secure and assured on health and livelihood, the leadership could now think of pushing the throttle on the business end. The rally call came from a belief that strong, trusted and authentic brands will gain market share significantly and in a category where the total size is very big, improving on 5% share will not be a problem. More importantly, Ajoy was able to effectively get everyone else to share in this belief.
He still had to walk the talk.
Secure, Learn & Win
During the first 90 days of lockdown in 2020, they also paid attention to the mental health of the people by keeping them positively engaged. Learning & Development accelerated, down to karigar level, with activities like design innovation competition, yoga camps etc.
The store staff, while the shops were closed, worked on a personal customer connect.
“We made 1.5 Million customer empathy calls during the 90 days, not to sell but to solve any issues with their jewellery or even with medicine or pantry supplies”
“The Balance Sheet was secured through a war on waste, with hundreds of managers all over the country involved in coming up sustainable savings of Rs.400 Crores in a matter of 15 days”
All this was achieved by empowering local managers in becoming decision centres.
“With regard to safety, health and even financial assistance to any member of the community, the local managers had full authority to take a call.”
Baptism by Fire: The Ultimate Leadership Test
“Nobody trains for such a situation, you just find yourself in it”. For Ajoy Chawla, turbulence hit almost as soon as he took the pilot’s seat at Titan’s Jewellery division. Already rocketing Gold prices had depressed demand in last quarter of 2019, and then Covid-19 arrived.
The crisis actually mandated that he get into the nuts and bolts of the business and establish a connect with all the partners, while they were accelerating on the runway itself, he had no option. Rather, he took it as an opportunity.
I had to: pause, reflect & act very quickly:
Manage conflicting goals and needs of different stakeholders at the same time
Communicate with candour about the present yet bring hope and positivity for future
Think Eco-system and not just immediate stakeholders
Manage one's own energy & anxiety
Indeed, he did not make choices between the conflicting goals (such as protecting balance sheet and helping karigars and staff; he delivered on both. He worked on risk management scenarios while managing people’s anxiety, He had to work on demand creation, sharp recovery while being conscious of customer empathy and confidence. He had to align the team on top priorities while also connecting with them frequently and informally.
A leader, particularly in times such as these, is omnipresent yet brings out the best from the team, gives them more authority and ownership. It is the team that is more visible than the leader itself.
Knowing the importance of working on several fronts at the same time, quickly and decisively. Ajoy constituted three teams
Team A that was solely concerned with bringing immediate actions like protection and safety
Team B that worked on next 3 month plans like building confidence, rally & support partners and stimulate demand.
Team C was concerned with tasks to be laid out in 4-10 months like rework the financial plans, resource reallocation, reimagine growth and innovations in materials, digital and analytics, growth engines.
In the coming months, the team worked on
“Winning : in many Indias” : 11 different regional business plans as markets demonstrated different stress and recovery trajectories
Giving serious push to digital growth which is already clocking 9% of total business thanks to the effort
Making 10 Million customer calls to enrich the data and re-establish a connect.
I leave you with this thought...
Who or what is the Eagle here?
Or the Tata and Titan values?
Or all the people that Ajoy empowered?
Eagles In The Storm: About the Series
India’s Resilience amidst adversity. We know that while all the other birds fly away from a storm, eagle is the only one that actually flies into the storm. In these testing times, there is a large community full of samaritans, businesses, frontline workers and more who have inspired us and taught us different ways in combatting this storm. This series invites the stories, journeys and lessons from these very eagles in the storm. Everyone is welcome to contribute!