BrandSutra: For Allied Blenders & Distillers‘ Anupam Bokey, behaviour is the most important trait in leadership

Anupam Bokey, CMO, Allied Blenders & Distillers (ABD) is a passionate and seasoned marketer, who now oversees the marketing of Officer’s Choice, one of the largest spirit brands in the world, among others in his brand portfolio. With an experience of marketing in more than 30 countries, and various consumer segments and categories in his 25-year career across RP Sanjeev Goenka Group, Unilever (in India, UK and Thailand) and Britannia, Bokey is a cauldron of consumer insights, which he shares here with BrandSutra.

From selling biscuits, soap, purifiers, detergents, healthy snacks to now alcobev products, you have mastered nearly every category in the consumer products space. Do share with us some of your learnings from the ground.

Indeed, it’s been a long journey of over 25 years and counting, over nine categories, two dozen brands and more than 30 countries. I have found that the biggest difference and the biggest equalisers are people, more than categories and brands. These people could be your consumers or people you work with. I’ve always been open-minded to any stimulus. A new perspective and new learning can come from any direction. I’ve always believed that learning is perpetual and that no experience ever goes to waste. Usually, the basic skills remain constant, and new category understanding also can be acquired. What takes time is building and developing your own point of view. That is the more difficult path.

This lockdown saw a complete shutdown of the alcobev sector. How did it impact the company? How are you getting back on track?

The lockdown shut down the category completely in April but it came back in off-trade pretty well. At ABD, our dependence on the on-trade is limited, where re-opening is slow, so the impact was a little less. We have one of the world’s largest selling whisky brands in Officer’s Choice and also the world’s fastest-growing whisky in Sterling Reserve. We observed downtrading at the lower mid-end due to stressed economic conditions to cheaper formats in States where they are available, but the semi-premium onwards end held in off-trade. Encouraged by signs of recovery, we started media investment in August, and also participated in the IPL, which resulted in share gains for us and we hope this trend will continue. At ABD, we are on a transformation journey with a big vision to become one of the most admired spirits companies. We persisted with the change agenda despite the pandemic, and with the category recovering, we will surely be in a very good position.

The alcobev category is evolving in India. How are you responding to new trends and formats? What nuggets of consumer behaviour can you share?

In spirits, whisky dominates in India and that trend remains intact. There are a few key trends that I’d like to highlight: First is consumers buying larger packs to reduce trips to the trade, which may sustain till the on-trade opens up fully. Secondly, since the younger consumer is more experimentative, it can pose a unique challenge to the heritage brands. However, it gives us an impetus in building our new brands and we’ve seen them gaining huge traction recently. The third aspect is the emergence of e-commerce, although in pockets. Even though it’s early days, it will be a good thing for our category going forward.

Anupam Bokey with his wife Sreoshi Bokey
Anupam Bokey with his wife Sreoshi Bokey

From what we know of you, you never lose your temper. What is your secret? How do you keep calm always?

There is no secret. I just follow an inclusive leadership style. I have huge respect for people and believe that they’re trying their best. I also believe that one can’t achieve anything alone. Everyone can add value and by staying calm and in-the-moment helps you identify that. Behaviour is the most important trait in leadership. It can build stronger teams and can also cast long shadows. Till date, I have seen the positive impact of my approach and hope there is nothing that can unsettle me!

What is the biggest challenge you have faced personally or professionally, and how did you overcome it?

There haven’t been major professional challenges, perhaps some hiccups along the way, but they got smoothened out. But sometimes I am not able to feel the pulse of the consumer or have a POV. My purpose is to ‘create disruptive ambition and catalyse disruptive deliveries’ and I find myself a little lost if I am not able to live my purpose. Personally, the challenges have been staying away from the family for days on end due to long travel, especially in my global and regional roles. It made me realise the importance of being with the family, and I am happy that I am finally in Mumbai!

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