Strategic Management

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CASE – 1 MANAGING HINDUSTAN UNILEVER STRATEGICALLY

Unilever is one of the world’s oldest multinational companies. Its origin goes back to the 19th century when a group of companies operating independently, produced soaps and margarine. In 1930, the companies merged to form Unilever that diversified into food products in 1940s. Through the next five decades, it emerged as a major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) multinational operating in several businesses. In 2004, the Unilever 2010 strategic plan was put into action with the mission to ‘bring vitality to life’ and ‘to meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good, and get more out of life’. The corporate strategy is of focusing on bore businesses of food, home care and personal care. Unilever operates in more than 100 countries, has a turnover of € 39.6 billion and net profit of € 3.685 billion in 2006 and derives 41 per cent of its income from the developing and emerging economies around the world. It has 179,000 employees and is a culturally-diverse organisation with its top management coming from 24 nations. Internationalisation is based on the principle of local roots with global scale aimed at becoming a ‘multi-local multinational’. The genesis of Hindustan Unilever (HUL) in India, goes back to 1888 when Unilever exported Sunlight soap to India. Three Indian, subsidiaries came into existence in the period 1931-1935 that merged to form Hindustan Lever in 1956. Mergers and acquisitions of Lipton (1972), Brooke Bond (1984), Ponds (1986), TOMCO (1993), Lakme (1998) and Modern Foods (2002) have resulted in an organisation that is a conglomerate of several businesses that have been continually restructured over the years. HUL is one of the largest FMCG company in India with total sales of Rs. 12,295 crore and net profit of 1855crore in 2006. There are over 15000 employees, including more than 1300 managers. The present corporate strategy of HUL is to focus on core businesses. These core businesses are in home and personal care and food. There are 20 different consumer categories in these two businesses. For instance, home and personal care is made up of personal wash, laundry, skin care, hair care, oral care, deodorants, colour cosmetics and ayurvedic personal and health care, while food businesses have tea, coffee, ice creams and processed food brands. Apart from the two product divisions, there are separate departments for specialty exports and new ventures. Strategic management at HUL is the responsibility of the board of directors headed by a chairman. There are five independent and five whole-time directors. The operational management is looked after by a management committee comprising of Vice Chairman, CEO and managing director and executive directors of the two business divisions and functional areas. The divisions have a lot of autonomy with dedicated assets and resources. A divisional committee having the executive director and heads of functions of sales, commercial and manufacturing looks after the business level decision-making. The functional-level management is the responsibility of the functional head. For instance, a marketing manager has a team of brand managers looking after the individual brands. Besides the decentralised divisional structure, HUL has centralised some functions such as finance, human resource management, research, technology, information technology and corporate and legal affairs. Unilever globally and HUL nationally, operate in the highly competitive FMCG markets. The consumer markets for FMCG products are finicky: it’s difficult to create customers and much more difficult to retain them. Price is often the central concern in a consumer purchase decision requiring producers to be on continual guard against cost increases. Sales and distribution are critical functions organisationally. HUL operates in such a milieu. It has strong competitors such as...
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