HUL’s new boss Rohit Jawa has a tough task cut out for him

Rohit Jawa, the Unilever lifer who would take charge from Sanjiv Mehta on 27 June, has a tough task cut out for him at the helm of Hindustan Unilever (HUL). Jawa has had a fair share of success to his credit over his three and half decades long career at the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) giant. And his new role would surely test some his skills, acquired over the years, as his elevation comes at a time when the Indian consumer market is suffering from a slowdown in demand.

Jawa (56), who is currently the Chief of Transformation for Unilever in London, will join HUL on 1 April as CEO designate and whole-time director. He will be elevated as the Managing Director & CEO of the India unit on 27 June, when Mehta will step down and retire, HUL today said in a statement.

An MBA from Delhi University’s Faculty of Management Studies, Jawa joined HUL (then HLL or Hindustan Lever Ltd) as a management trainee in 1988 and rose through the ranks to head its western region. His first overseas opportunity came in 2004, when Jawa was elevated as the Vice President of Unilever Vietnam. Since then, he has served across geographies like Bangkok, Singapore, Philippines and China, before he took charge of his current role in Unilever headquarters in London last year.

Mehta, who has led the company for a decade and has been instrumental in its stupendous growth (HUL’s market cap, for instance, jumped four-fold to $75 billion from $17 billion in 2013), would leave a behemoth to ride on for Jawa. However, apart from a large base Jawa would also have to tackle the menace of high inflation and demand slowdown from his early days as the CEO & MD of HUL.

Additionally, industry experts point towards some of the key challenges that he would have to face at his home turf this time. According to analysts at Nuvama Institutional Equities, Jawa has four important tasks (1) prop up GSK portfolio to be a major growth driver for HUL; (2) scale up recent acquisitions in D2C and remain agile to do more bolt on acquisitions in D2C given it is a buyers market; (3) Make HUL an even bigger player in natural and/or ayurveda; (4) Keep HUL ahead of transformation in sector (fast paced digitisation of entire value chain and entry of Reliance Industries).

“Rohit has been a lifer at HUL/Unilever and deep understanding of the Indian business landscape and has led the transformation of Unilever businesses in China, Philippines. In current role as Chief of Transformation at Unilever, Rohit he is responsible for program and change management of Unilever’s global organisation and portfolio transformation,” said Anbeesh Roy, Executive Director at Nuvama Institutional Equities.

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