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Having become the Managing Director and CEO of BSH Household Appliances just six months before the pandemic, Neeraj Bahl was expected to ride out the storm. Instead, he went on the offensive and made Bosch a household name for Indian consumers.
He faces the difficulties of life head-on – a trait he nurtured early on to reach the corporate heights usually reserved for Indian technology or management institute graduates. “First, I never said no to any location in the country, and second, I never said no to any transfer or any position,” he tells The CEO Magazine.
In a career spanning more than 25 years, Neeraj has donned many hats. Before joining BSH, he worked in companies like Samsung, LG, Electrolux and Panasonic. “This has given me a complete understanding of business,” he says. “I can empathise with product guys, marketing guys, frontline people and I understand sales like the back of my hand. So that has helped me in changing the fortune of BSH India.”
Neeraj’s experience and resilience made an immediate impact on the company. “BSH India has gone through a lot of changes in the past couple of years. I worked very hard on brand awareness which has gone up significantly,” he shares. “I also realised that we were lacking badly in networking and not cashing in on our brand message. Bosch is a premium brand in the eyes of Indian consumer but our sales were not up to the mark.”
The lack of confidence in the sales team was apparent but ever since the team worked on it, he says their premium contribution to washing machines has gone up by more than 200 per cent.
Neeraj has differentiated BSH products in the market in three ways: by focusing on the brand value, enabling sales and marketing teams to not succumb to market pressure, and not being satisfied with any number. His fourth point has become a focus for BSH in India. “We are not scared of increasing any prices because we have to create our own line of strategy,” he reveals.
“We only focus on getting the right kind of channel and the right kind of placement. Fortunately, price isn’t a concern because customers expect and accept only high-quality products from Bosch.”
The recent success of BSH in India hinges on the relationships Neeraj has cultivated with the suppliers and partners. “Because we were honest and thorough with our suppliers, they helped us in the first three months of the pandemic,” he recalls. By building fantastic relationships with local suppliers, he was able to not only increase mixer grinder sales by five times but also solve the issue of product shortages.
A leader has to be a visionary who can think of consistent growth in every field, in every product.
When the market first opened after the pandemic in June 2020, it was volatile due to a lack of sales and bad credit. While most companies looked inward, BSH went the other way. “I told my team to have faith in trade and have faith in our people. This is the time to stand by our Indian brothers and partners,” he remembers.
“As management, we took absolutely the opposite call. It was a difficult time when our people needed us most. So we gave the highest ever bonuses and promotions on 1 April 2020. That sent a positive note to the team and the results are in front of us.”
Neeraj believes in forming a close-knit circle of core suppliers. BSH has 20 top partners who contribute significantly to the business, with the key suppliers in India providing washing machine parts, repair parts and finished products. “We take care of them as much as possible,” he confirms.
“Our mid-term goal is to grow four times in four years. We have a very, very aggressive growth plan to almost double every year,” Neeraj explains. He says BHS aims to achieve this by manufacturing its existing line-ups of products in India and introducing new products for the Indian market. This includes hood chimneys, cooktops and new types of refrigerators, washing machines and mixer grinders.
In the short-term, he has his plan set. “My focus for the next 12–18 months is to secure better raw materials and to ensure that we’re neither losing our top line nor our bottom line.”
Despite being bullish about the future, Neeraj knows the importance of sustainable growth. “I do not believe in growth without profit and growth which is not sustainable. A leader has to be a visionary who can think of consistent growth in every field, in every product. And that has to deliver better than last year.”
Neeraj’s vision is making a mark with BSH India: “Bosch is the most aspirational brand in India in appliances. That is my dream, and that is what we will achieve.”
“We had a revised number from our headquarters to drop the sales by 25–30 per cent in 2020,” Neeraj says. “Our teams were so motivated that India was the only organisation among so many countries in BSH that got the gold medal. Ultimately, we landed up in single-digit growth. I dedicate that completely to my teams.”