As the P&G President of Asia–Pacific, India Subcontinent, Middle East and Africa, serving billions of consumers in 105 countries, Magesvaran Suranjan draws on the words from former P&G CEO Richard Deupree. In 1947, he said that if you leave all the money, buildings and brands, but take away the people, the company will fail. But if you take away the money, buildings and brands, but leave all the people, you can rebuild the whole thing in a decade.
“To this day, we represent that philosophy. We appreciate our people; their talents are crucial to delivering results. It is why we invest so much in their development. It is the investment in our people that sets our company apart,” says Suranjan. “Over my 24 years, I have had the good fortune and opportunity to acquire a strong set of skills and experiences that prepared me well for this role, and others along the way.”
“We appreciate our people; their talents are crucial to us.”
P&G, the largest household and personal care company in the world, has operations across 80 countries and brands sold in more than 180. Its portfolio of 65 brands includes household names such as Gillette, Pampers, Pantene, Oral-B and SK-II, Head & Shoulders, Olay and Vicks. The manufacturer and distributor is one of the fastest-growing of its kind, exceeding the growth of the consumer goods market.
Suranjan joined P&G at the Cincinnati headquarters in 1993 as a finance intern straight out of university. A year later, he became a financial analyst in dish care with the company, before being promoted to other financial roles. Since then, he has led operations from marketing to supply chains, from strategy to business planning and acquisitions, in the US, China and now in Singapore.
Making a difference
Each step has been invaluable in creating the leader that Suranjan is today. “I still love every minute of the journey,” he says. “I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of consumers across this region and globally through our brands that touch and improve lives in both small and substantial ways.”
Suranjan revealed he developed his leadership style by adopting various approaches implemented by colleagues he worked with and admired. Adept in strategic and analytical concept development, Suranjan mentors his team in the same way and believes that “consistency sees results”.
“One such concept is the three Ds approach: depth, deliberate and daring. It is the mantra for all my business units. The first D is ‘depth’. I motivate my team to work at greater depth than anyone else in the industry as I believe everyone should be a master of his or her own scope,” he explains.
“The second D is ‘deliberate’, which is to be clear on what we want to do, but be equally clear on what we do not want to do.
“The third D stands for ‘daring’. Surprisingly, this does not mean striving for 100% success. Suranjan believes aspirations should be unlimited, not finite. “To strive for 100% means we are not setting the bar high enough,” he explains. “We should be bold and aspire for unlimited success. It is okay to fall short, but being daring is a key element of our work culture.”
’Nothing is impossible’
Which brings Suranjan to another concept, one he has been driven by all his life. The idea that nothing is impossible. Using his own background as an example, Suranjan explains how he exceeded his own aspirations while growing up in Africa.
“I started off in a public school in Zambia and went on to study engineering at the University of Zambia. Then I went to the US to Indiana University, made it as a CPA, and earned an MBA from the University of Chicago.”
After graduation, Suranjan travelled across the US with his college mates, all packed into a van, learning essential life skills that business school could not offer. “Then I found my way to P&G and the journey has been fantastic. Who would have thought? I truly believe that nothing is impossible and I ask my colleagues to also adopt that as a mindset. And this is translated into the strong results we see today, the strongest in a decade.”
But it wasn’t until his career got into full swing that Suranjan’s leadership skills developed. If not for the diversity of the business leaders and departments he’s since worked with, he wouldn’t have been able to formulate his own approach to success. Having worked across four continents, Suranjan leverages his experience in an impressive swathe of P&G’s operations to strengthen the company’s standing with more than half of the world’s population.
I truly believe that nothing is impossible and my goal for my colleagues is for them to take that on as a mindset.”
Innovations and acquisitions
Over the years, Suranjan has led P&G through extraordinary innovations. In 2014, the opening of the Singapore Innovation Center (SgIC) at Biopolis brought to life P&G’s mission to create consumer-centric innovation and deliver great value, as well as the company’s incredibly strong R&D team and consumer research capabilities. It is P&G’s third high-tech innovation facility in Asia, emphasising the importance played by the region, where it serves more than two billion consumers with 25 brands. Impressively, all waste is reused, recycled or used for energy recovery instead of being sent directly to landfills.
“Just looking at our hair care range, we’ve created the Head & Shoulders Suprême collection with argan oil, which has long been used in Morocco for food and cosmetic purposes as a moisturiser. We have also developed the first perfume shampoo for the Rejoice franchise, and the Pantene Gold Series duo packs, to mention just a few.”
In April, P&G acquired Merck KGaA’s global Consumer Health business, one of its biggest acquisitions. The US$4.2 billion deal with the German pharmaceutical, chemical and life sciences company expanded P&G’s portfolio of over-the-counter consumer healthcare products and increased its exposure to Latin American and Asian markets. Around 3,300 employees from Merck Consumer Health will transition to P&G. “Yes, Merck is a decent-sized acquisition. It affirms our commitment to be a leader in the consumer health market,” Suranjan says. “I am looking forward to how we can accelerate the growth of this business and the new brands for us.”
Growing from within
Meanwhile, at the community level, P&G enjoys a strong corporate commitment. The P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water program has delivered more than 14 billion litres of clean drinking water via Purifier of Water packets, a formula invented by P&G fabric care scientists. “We are also active in UNICEF sabbaticals where employees take time off to serve UNICEF missions. While we are contributing skill sets, we are also learning new ones that help us become more well-rounded.”
Suranjan is fiercely proud of P&G’s reputation as an employer, thanks in no small part to his own skills as a leader. The company consistently wins awards for its commitment to diversity, developing and training its people, creating outstanding leaders and promoting gender equality.
He attributes P&G’s global success as an in-demand employer to its ‘grow from within’ philosophy, a development program aimed at retaining talented employees from the day they start, straight out of college. Thousands of hours are spent on training staff and investing in their future, ensuring success and consistency throughout the organisation.
“Of course, we do hire people from outside,” he adds. “But our strategy allows us to have consistency with diversity in our work environment, and we are committed to achieve gender balance at all levels. Another advantage we offer is the P&G Leadership Academy, a training program for every level, from the new hire to the vice president. Our people are our core.”
Today, 180 years later, P&G is still growing strong thanks to its relentless desire to improve people’s lives through innovation. Powered by its people, it seems the company is bound to continue to grow strongly for many years to come.