Vinita Bali on leading with empathy and building a customer-first strategy

Vinita Bali, Independent Director and Former MD of Britannia Industries, talks about her bold career choices, giving back to the community, and how we need to work towards greater gender inclusion.

Vinita Bali on leading with empathy and building a customer-first strategy

Monday December 19, 2022,

4 min Read

At the end of the day we are not robots, our work is not measured only by productivity but by the relationships we form and how we make people feel,said Vinita Bali, Former Managing Director, Britannia Industries.

Vinita was speaking during a fireside chat with Prerna Jhunjunwala, Founder of Creative Galileo, India's largest early learning platform, at the first-ever edition of the No Ceiling Summit 2022. Powered by Kalaari Capital’s CXXO programme and YourStory, the No Ceiling Summit 2022 aimed towards creating an empowered community of women entrepreneurs, nurturing emerging talent and celebrating the efforts and achievements of women entrepreneurs and changemakers of today.

From being the youngest GM of Cadbury India, to being VP and Head of Global Business for Coca-Cola, onto taking up the role of MD and CEO of Britannia Industries, Vinita’s awe-inspiring career has been full of unconventional choices. Best-known for her transformation of the biscuit company, Vinita got her bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Delhi and a masters in management from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies before entering the corporate world. She also bagged a scholarship to Michigan State University and went on to serve as an intern at the United Nations Headquarters.

A bold road to success

In addition to being unconventional, Vinita’s career trajectory is nothing short of being bold and risky.

She headed the Sales and Marketing function for Cabury’s in South Africa in 1993-94, during the period of the most profound transition in the country, and even worked on the board of Cadbury Nigeria.I was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged me. When the Nigeria role came up I told my parents about it, they asked me if I wanted to go and I said yes and they said okay and that was that, she remembered.

Her move from Coca-Cola to Britannia happened at the time when the company was going through its toughest phase in history, but she chose to go down the path less trodden. I took the Britannia option because I like to go into environments or institutions which need to be shaped up. At heart I’m someone who likes to take things apart, put them together, and transform the organisation, she shared.

It was under Vinita’s leadership that Britannia experienced its fastest growth in the history of the company. She shifted the company’s focus to consumption segmentation as opposed to consumer segmentation. We went back to the basics. You can't have a business without customers. If you understand your customer needs and create a business model that does it better than anybody else, you've tasted success, she explained.

The social impact leader

With empathy being at the core of her leadership style, Vinita believes in valuing her people as much as she values her customers. How you treat people is going to determine the culture you end up creating; you have to be an iconoclast, she said.

Giving back to the community remains at the heart of things for her as she firmly believes in thinking holistically as an entrepreneur. Throughout her professional journey, Vinita has put deep thought into how she can contribute and give back to the ecosystem. Remembering her Coca-Cola stint, she said, We asked ourselves how many litres of water does it take to make a litre of Coke? And that started the efforts of many soft drink companies to look at rainwater harvesting and to put back into the ecosystem more water than we were taking out. Only then we could try to achieve balance in our environment and society.

In her advice to young entrepreneurs, Vinita urges them to start their journeys by thinking about the social issues their business can address, as every single business operates within the ecosystem of the society and it is impossible to isolate the two.

Breaking gender stereotypes

It is only because of the on-going discussion about gender, feels Vinita, that the biases keep coming back.

Citing her own example, she states that it's high time a person is valued for anything apart from their talent and intent. I am where I am because my work spoke for itself, not because I was a woman, not because I was privileged, not because I came from India. We have to make the whole gender debate as irrelevant as possible,she asserts.

Vinita signed off by sharing the beautiful words by Amelia Earhart, When you're 30 000 feet in the air you only see horizons not boundaries, a quote she continues to live by.