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While the heavy-hitting conglomerates Unilever and Johnson & Johnson dominate the home and personal care markets across much of the world, India has its own answer to these behemoths.
Jyothy Labs develops and manufactures everything from soap, toothpaste and deodorant to toilet cleaner, air fresheners, bug repellent and dish soap. The company was founded in 1983 by MP Ramachandran after he spent a year developing his own fabric whitener in his kitchen. Today, the company owns a wide portfolio of some of India’s most trusted brands.
In 2020, Ramachandran stepped aside as Managing Director and was replaced by his daughter, after whom the company is named. MR Jyothy had already been working at the company for well over a decade before she stepped into the leading role, and she had established a closeness and familiarity with her team that helped her navigate an extremely challenging first year.
As a team, we’ve delivered on many fronts.
“I took charge in 2020, right in the midst of the storm of the pandemic,” she says. “Unfortunately, my first day was spent not in the office but at home. We were in the middle of a six-month lockdown at that time, and when we finally opened up in September, it was with 50 per cent attendance.”
Having colleagues who intuitively understood her and her leadership style made all the difference.
“We are a hands-on company that meets people, has discussions and needs to see the product. We are a hardcore fast-moving consumer goods company. We need to see the communication. We need to be with people,” Jyothy says. “But we managed, and because my team knew me, it was much easier to connect with them even though we were all at home.”
Once you understand your consumer, you’re able to make a real difference in their lives, and this differentiates you from your peers.”
The benefits of that team unity were reflected on the balance sheet. “We were one of the few companies to be positive in that quarter – positive in terms of results – while we saw our peer companies in deep negatives,” Jyothy says. “Thereafter, quarter after quarter, we had fairly good results and an upward trend in terms of sales, so the journey has been good so far. As a team, we’ve delivered on many fronts.”
She previously worked as the company’s head of marketing, where she successfully introduced numerous brands to India and learned the importance of communicating to the consumer that these innovative products represent a lifestyle improvement.
“Once you understand your consumer, you’re able to make a real difference in their lives, and this differentiates you from your peers,” she says. “So now I know the consumers in my blood, I understand the consumers better and can offer them something better.”
As a marketer, Jyothy would often meet consumers herself and even visit their homes to understand their specific needs. “That’s the reason we could bring in those differentiations in our products, be very sure about the quality we offer and be confident that once they try our product they won’t go back to another. That’s our real strength: understanding the consumer.”
But it is not just the consumers whom Jyothy is striving to keep satisfied. One of her main goals over the coming years is to continue the company’s mission of ensuring that every stakeholder has a positive experience with Jyothy Labs.
“Whoever is associated with this company, be it the shareholders, the employees, my colleagues, the vendors – they should be happy being associated with the company. Being associated with the company should improve their life, and it should always be a profitable association for them,” she says. “That’s the goal.”
Partly in service of that goal, Jyothy is also focused on increasing turnover and profitability while expanding the product portfolio. For at least the next few years, that will mean adding more segments to the product categories the company already works in, namely, home care and personal care. But in the medium-term, assuming she achieves the level of growth she is aiming for, Jyothy is open to expanding into totally new categories such as food.
“Once we’ve consolidated and we become fairly large, we can then consider looking into any other adjacent segments,” she says.
One thing that sets Jyothy Labs apart from its competitors is that it runs 23 of its own manufacturing plants across India, and therefore manufactures about 85 per cent of its products in-house. “That gives us a big advantage because the quality is assured,” Jyothy says. “And we don’t have any unions in any of those factories, so they’re very well-run with able managers in charge.”
Having control of so much manufacturing capacity means the company can be confident in its ability to scale up production for new product launches, while allowing it greater control over costs.
I know the consumers in my blood, I understand the consumers better and can offer them something better.
“We can do it all within our system,” Jyothy says. “We can control quality and control scale. If you have an outsourced vendor, you always have conversion charges and things like that. So from an operations point of view, it gives us that edge to keep fairly large things under our control.”
When the company does turn to external organisations in its operations, it has a strict policy of either paying suppliers ahead of time or immediately upon delivery of the goods or services.
“This is extremely crucial and a very important point for us,” Jyothy says. “My dad had the principle right from the time the company was born of paying the vendors in advance. It is a bit different from the philosophy of most of our peers, who work on negative working capital. But for us, we never make any vendor wait for payments, from the time when we were small until now. You won’t find anyone at the reception desk waiting for their payment. If you go into the market and check with the vendors, you will know that Jyothy Labs is one of the best at paying.”
That reputation has served the company well, opening up fruitful relationships with companies that are willing to go the extra mile for their reliable partner.
“That’s the single motto that I have,” Jyothy says. “That any employee, association, vendor or shareholder does not have any sort of complaint.”