Wednesday, July 25, 2007


The Self-Obituary and Hindustan Unilver Limited!

The Self Obituary

By Harish Bijoor

Q: I attended an interview for a marketing role in London recently. I was asked to write a self-obituary. What the tarnation is this all about? An example please?

-B L Shafee, New Delhi

A: Shafee, first of all apologies for replacing the word you used with “tarnation”. I had to!

Now, I am sure that caught you by surprise. We humans are not too good at handling discussions about death; leave alone write self-obituaries. That must have been rattling.

Self obituary is but another tool to use in shaping and assessing the perception of
individuals. It is indeed a good tool to make a young man jump out of the
skin of his making, and sit outside and look at himself as the real person
he is perceived to be. Gives a good self-view picture as seen by the person you are about to recruit.

Let's remember, perception is important. And there are two sets of
perceptions at play in all our lives. One is the perception of what we feel
about ourselves, our lives, achievements and failures. And the second is
what the outside world thinks of us. Both are equally important in modern day
commercial society.

Man is no longer an island in commercial society. He needs to live and
thrive amidst people. What these people perceive of him or her is important
in moulding the person at hand. A self-obituary makes you sit up, think of
all that you have done and not done. Makes you look at yourself as someone
else would, when you are no more.

If done properly and with sincerity, stripping the exercise of human
pomposity at one end and extreme humility as well at the other, this can be
a useful tool that helps introspection. A management tool that can help you
re-write the script of your life. Remember, Obituaries are normally written
by people who survive you and who have survived with you as well in some way
or the other!

Self Obituaries as a tool must therefore focus on the real and strip the two
extreme tendencies to exaggerate and under-value as well. One must be real
with this tool to deliver real results. I would certainly use this tool to
evaluate a person if done with the sincerity it deserves. There are indeed
ratification tools available to check if the dose of sincerity required has
been used or not as well.

An example? If I were to write one for is a crisp one:

"He lived by his own terms. He did not believe in the rat race. In the
bargain, he created a race all his own. He believed in doing the right
thing. It did not matter whom he irritated. He believed that excellence in a
niche is better than mediocrity in ten realms. He remained focused all his

He believed in the power of NOW! He forgot achievements of the past as
quickly as they were done with. He fretted not of the future as well. He
believed in the value of NOW! The merit of NOW! Every day was a new
challenge and the day had to have 25 hours. So much had to be done!"


Q: Everyone seems to want to value their brands all of a sudden. Why? And what could it cost?

-Pinky Mathur, Mumbai

Pinky, you are right. Every Tom, Dick and Harish is onto this. There is a scramble for brand valuations. In my company, 4 years ago we used to handle 2 brands in a full 12-month period for valuation. 3 years ago, it was at 6, 2 years ago, it was all of 16, last year we valued a total of 21 brands. The trend-line is surely going one way!

Why this rush?

I think this is linked completely with the gung-ho India story. India is on
the fast-track and is emerging as a very big and robust consumer market of
interest. Growth rates have touched the double digit numbers in
manufacturing and services (11.2 and 11.3 per cent), and the market is being
viewed as one big market that offers the second largest numbers of bellies
and bladders in the world. With every belly, there is a market for food, and
with every bladder, a market for beverages! Not to speak of other body

Companies located overseas are witnessing a rather sluggish growth in their
home markets. Looking at a 2.4% growth is a big thing there. These
trans-national companies are therefore bent on entering markets such as
India. As they put their India plans together, there is a substantial degree
of interest in the possibility of picking up brands within the country for
quick access to markets and consumer hearts.

Indian brands in diverse categories such as FMCG, durables, education, media
and entertainment, pharmaceuticals, technology, end-to-end-services, ITES
and biotech equally want their brands valued. And I am not cribbing
about this trend!

Getting your brand valued costs money, particularly if you want to get it
done by a good name. And names charge monies. Companies are willing to spend
on this all of a sudden. Even companies with turnovers of INR 400 Crores are
willing to spend all of 30-40 lakhs on a detailed exercise of sorts at
times. They see potential value in the effort.

Another reason for the valuation rush is the fact that several companies
have started to put the value of their brands on the balance sheet.
Investors are keen to know this factoid. Market trading sentiment is boosted
at times by this piece of data quantified by a reliable external source.

Q: HLL has taken a name change. How do you see this change?

-Swati Pinto, Pune.

A: Swati, as they say, what’s in a name?

The HLL of yore will now be an HUL. A small semantic change. Will it matter? Does it matter?

Of course it does. I guess that’s why the name change is what it is. It could have been a global sounding “Unilever India”. Thankfully it is not.

The “Hindustan” equity in HLL is significant. This has been preserved. Just goes to prove that India is big in the scheme of things of Unilever worldwide. Big brands, deep consumer involvements and of course a very wide-spread touch of millions of consumers unparalleled in the world.

To the consumer at large, the individual brands of HLL matter that much more than the name HLL itself. If this umbrella name is now an “HUL” from “HLL”, it doesn’t make too much of a difference, I guess.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.


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