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Bharat Patel
  Bharat Patel

Recently Retired P&G Exec Talks Globalization, Technology in India

9/30/2009 --

Bharat Patel, MBA '69, reflects on the "three Cs" and explains how he stays connected to Ross.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Bharat Patel, MBA '69, recently celebrated his retirement as chairman and director of Procter & Gamble, India. Based in Mumbai, Patel stepped down in April after overseeing the operation for close to 15 years. During his tenure he saw tremendous expansion in the Indian market.

"The annual eight to nine percent GDP growth of the economy over the past decade or so made P&G's global management sit up and notice India," Patel reflects. "And they got the R&D group to start focusing on value-for-money products -- superior-performing products, but not at high cost -- for India and other developing markets. Over the past five years the India operation has become one of the fastest growing businesses for P&G worldwide."

In retirement, Patel continues to lead advertising-related industry associations such as the Indian Society of Advertisers and the Advertising Standards Council of India. He also is working as a consultant to various firms in advertising and consumer goods. In addition, he serves as an independent director on several boards in the auto, pharmaceutical, IT, real estate, and banking industries. An active alumnus, Patel founded the University of Michigan India Alumni Association nearly a decade ago. In the following Q&A with Dividend, he talks about his career, the Indian market, and his ongoing connection to Ross.

Let's talk about the differences between selling Procter & Gamble products in an emerging market like India compared to a place like the U.S. or Europe.
Patel: The differences are huge. When I was the category manager of U.K. paper products and country manager of the Republic of Ireland in the late '80s, I used to say that the "three Cs" -- customers, consumers, and (product) categories -- in Europe were very different from what I was used to in India. For example, 80 percent of P&G's business in Ireland came from just three retail store chains. In India P&G directly distributed its products to countless "mom and pop" stores. Similarly, Pampers -- which I handled in the U.K. -- was one of the bestselling packaged consumer brands, but the disposable diaper category didn't even exist in India at that time.

What were your biggest challenges in leading this division and how did you overcome them?
Patel: The main challenge was to convince big retailers, which accounted for 20 to 25 percent of national sales, to take on upgrades and line extensions of brands. Because of their large scale, some of these big retailers (e.g., Boots in the U.K. or Dunnes Stores in Ireland) would demand lots of concessions for carrying new line extensions. Our company policy was not to discriminate in pricing and commercial terms between retailers. We overcame this challenge by collecting data and convincing retailers that not only will the line extensions increase their turnover and profit but also will bring new consumers to their stores.

How did the globalization of media and technology impact marketing, advertising, and other sales efforts in India?
Patel: One prime example of the globalization of technology and information was when P&G India went from having more than 3,000 distributors to about 24 or so in early 2000. P&G India used information and communication technology to leverage the size of large distributors and improve the quality of service to small retail stores, as well as reduce inventories and increase retail coverage from 200,000 to 700,000 stores.

You have been actively involved in the Ross alumni network for many years. Talk about the challenges and rewards of supporting the school and its alumni in a location so far removed from Ann Arbor.
Patel: I started the University of Michigan India Alumni Association eight years ago. The biggest challenge is to get the alumni proactively involved and participating in events. We launched the club with a big event in Mumbai during which Dean Robert Dolan, Professor C.K. Prahalad, and Professor Wayne Brockbank gave presentations. The club is closely connected to both the Ross School's alumni and admissions offices. The reward for supporting Ross is the opportunity to interact with fellow alumni and brilliant professors.

What are some of the ways you encourage prospective Indian students to consider Ross, especially when options for business school closer to home are always increasing?
Patel: The unique selling point of Ross is the action-based learning. For example, I remember a time when I worked with students to create an advertising campaign for U.S. Plywood-Champion Paper Inc. as part of a Ross marketing course -- and the company actually used the campaign we designed. I tell prospective students there is no other MBA program anywhere in the world that provides such learning.

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847,