From a management trainee to CIO of Hindustan Unilever, here’s Shruti Kashyap’s 15-year journey

Celebrating India’s top enterprise business leaders, AWS and YourStory’s ‘HER Leadership’ interview series puts spotlight on the success story of Shruti Kashyap, CIO, Hindustan Unilever and Head of IT - South Asia, Unilever.
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“Take risks and acknowledge the fact that risks can go either way. A risk, however, will always be a learning experience,” says Shruti Kashyap, CIO, Hindustan Unilever and Head of IT - South Asia, Unilever. In a career spanning over 15 years, taking risks and challenging the status quo are just some of her many success mantras.

As part of YourStory’s ‘HER Leadership’ series that captures success stories of India’s top enterprise business leaders, Shruti describes herself as a “wannabe superwoman” who adds a touch of humour in everything she does. The ‘HER Leadership’ interview series is powered by AWS.

In her episode, Shruti recounts her professional achievements, experimenting with different roles at Unilever, developing a leadership style, and learning along the way. Her affable personality shines through, every single time she chooses to share an anecdote from her treasure trove of diverse experiences.

Road to success

Shruti’s indomitable spirit and solid mentorship have helped her face challenges head-on.

Speaking with Chandra Prakash Balani, Head – Global Enterprise, India, Amazon Internet Services Pvt Ltd, Shruti recalls how her openness to learning new things and excitement to take up opportunities have played catalysts in her journey at Unilever.

Around a decade ago, Shruti had to make a choice between sales technology, which was her domain of expertise, and digital marketing, which was an unexplored territory. “One of my mentors encouraged me to take up something new. I took on the new role, where I was part of the team designing marketing strategies for our brands,” she explains, adding that their team designed a mobile radio channel to create content for the vernacular markets. The content also carried Hindustan Unilever (HUL) brand advertising and proved to be a successful campaign, eventually becoming a strong social channel for HUL and winning the Cannes Gold Lion award which was a first for Unilever in the mobile category.

Another important milestone was the opportunity to lead the HUL-GSK merger, India’s largest FMCG merger. Although it was a great opportunity, many discouraged her to take it up, calling it a “step down” because she had to report to a peer for the same. “I spoke to one of my mentors who advised me not to let organisational structures come in the way of earning a great experience, always putting experience over everything else,” adds Shruti reiterating the importance of having good mentors.

Shruti is extremely proud of the application ‘Shikhar’ - built in partnership with AWS - a one-stop shop for all retailers that enabled them to place orders, and keep a track of stocks, offers and discounts, during the pandemic-induced lockdowns.

Learnings along the way

Sharing an anecdote, Shruti recalls the time when she had joined Unilever after her maternity leave and had confidently applied for the position of CIO at HUL. “I was extremely low and very lost. I did get the job two years later, and in hindsight, I realised that it wasn’t the right time for me earlier. I would have broken down handling a six-month child, and a demanding job,” she quips.

“Sometimes, as women, we feel guilty about taking it easy and put that pressure on ourselves. It is fine not to be a go-getter at all times … Sometimes, it is fine to take it easy for a while and bounce back,” adds Shruti.

She eventually earned her “dream job” in April 2020.

Shruti also speaks about how her understanding of topics such as diversity, inclusion and equity has evolved over the years. “At Unilever, we are looking at it more holistically. We are also looking at conversations around LGBTQ and are encouraging employees to talk about their own journeys,” adds Shruti, highlighting how these conversations have helped her gain a more nuanced understanding of such pertinent issues.

Leadership mantras

Shruti credits HUL for giving her new opportunities at regular intervals and a conducive work environment where she could thrive in all these years.

Through her many experiences, Shruti has learned how critical it is for a leader to be self-motivated because a leader’s low morale could easily spill over to the team, thereby impacting overall performance.

“As a leader, it's very important to have people who want to work for you. You don't want to become a leader where you want to hire someone, and they don't want to work for you,” adds Shruti, highlighting that she has learned to try and make a real difference by encouraging people to discover their purpose.

Stressing on developing the right “width and depth” for ensuring a successful career, Shruti reiterates that while one should always be open to learning new things, it’s important to develop expertise and build different skills and experiences. “Find one area where you could delve deep in, it could be a passion point, decide that for yourself. And then, if you have the right amount of width on top of this depth, you’ll become a more wholesome professional,” quips Shruti with a smile.

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