12 February, 2020

Heavier Crown, a Lighter Head is the Aim

Many of you wouldn’t know that I started my retail career in the food industry way back in 1997. It was the first outlet for Baskin Robbins in Chennai and only the second in India where I would scoop Ice Cream and sell then for ₹35 a cup while local brands such as Kwality, Joy and Arun Ice Cream would sell cones and sticks for ₹5 & ₹10 a piece. With plans to board an airplane for employment or to pursue higher studies sooner than later in the US of A, I thought this part time stint during the day (as I went to Evening College) with an American Food chain would be a stepping stone since this sort of menial jobs is something I would anyway end up with, while studying there for my pocket money or as an alternate income. I gave my best at the shop for a little over 9 months when my 18 month course at NIIT was about to end. I had learnt coding skills on languages such as C++, VC++, Visual Basic among others. 
Grocery Retail - Where my Retail career started. 

As my parents waited eagerly for me to complete my graduation, stand outside the US Consulate on RK Salai (Cathedral Road) in Chennai for 8 hours to get a Visa and head out abroad for higher studies or pursue a career in Computers, I had changed the course of my career meanwhile. A desktop was a little less interesting than interacting with new customers at a retail store everyday. Coding languages in an a/c room was a lot less impressive than conversations across languages on the shop floor with Guests. The lure of Dollars was replaced by the lure of learning something new daily with so many interactions with people around. Afterall, money cannot replace everything in the world. I prostrated at my parents feet handing over my NIIT Certificate and told them this beautiful artpaper doesn’t excite me anymore. 

After giving their hard-earned money for me to learn Software development, they were kind enough to oblige my request. I went on to pursue an MBA in Marketing, conferred myself the title “Retailer by Profession and Choice since 1997” and here I am writing this article from the lobby of Taj Land End, Mumbai as I receive a citation today - 12 Feb. 2020 that reads “Most influential F&B Industry professional in India” by CMO Asia in association with World Retail Congress. 

Humbled, is the least I can say as I receive my fourth such Award in 6 years. In 2014, I was conferred “Top 50 Retail Professionals in India”, “Young Achiever Award” by Vels University, Chennai in 2016 and “Top 100 Retail Professionals in India” in 2018. The crown became heavier today with this feather but the ego within got lighter, for I feel I have so much more to learn and accomplish in life. Makes me realise what a Responsibility this is (with a capital R) to carry such accolades on my shoulder and also makes me wonder how little I know about the Indian Retail Industry where I have played a minuscule role and who’s History which is yet to be fully told.

Over the years of my employment, I have worked in managing Store Operations in the Grocery Retail business at RPG Foodworld (2001) and thereafter set-up 140 outlets across India for Cafe Coffee Day (since 2009) as General Manager - Business Development. Had the opportunity to work with several iconic F&B Clients during my 5.5 years stint running my own Business Advisory firm “Miles2Go Consulting Services” until 2019. F&B remains my most cherished vertical within Retail afterall even as I joined Levista Coffee as Vice President earlier this year. A full time role of employment, I am responsible for the business P/L where our coffee proudly shares valuable shelf space at Grocery stores with world famous brands like Bru, Nescafe and Sunrise as well as several homegrown brands like Narasus, Leo, Continental, Cothas, to name a few. 

There were two frogs which were climbing a small hillock. Fellow brethren told them not to venture since there was danger lurking ahead. One frog came back to where it started while the other frog kept leaping ahead and finally reached the summit. There was no danger there, rather there was a bounty in the offing. While everyone wondered why the frog never listened to anyone, they later realised that the Frog was deaf (to their comments and feedback) and surged ahead with a clear goal in mind.

The path I chose 23 years back was the road less taken. Retail was not all this glossy or popular way back then. Not only was an employment in Retail a low-income opportunity, It was chided as a very localised job assignment which doesn’t suit MBA profiles and one that is confined to a certain social strata of the society including a profiling that is even linked only to a few specific castes. 

Looking back, I missed several buses in other industries and lucrative job opportunities, but do I have a sense of grief or regret? Not a bit. I am very glad I chose this path and shall always be proud of what this Industry has taught me as I look forward to contributing meaningfully to my Country. 

I have just begun and I have Miles to Go before I sleep.


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