Industry veteran Harsh Mariwala, Chairman of Marico Limited, is not only an ace entrepreneur but someone who actively encourages entrepreneurship by spending 10-15% of his time on the Ascent Foundation set up by him to identify high-potential growth-stage entrepreneurs and enable them to scale up their enterprise. Launched in 2012 in Mumbai and 2018 in Chennai, Ascent creates a close-knit trust group of non-competing entrepreneurs who believe in learning from one another’s experiences – both of attaining success and overcoming failure. The foundation takes in entrepreneurs who have a minimum business size of Rs 1 crore and above if they are in the servicing industry and Rs 5 crore and above if they are in the manufacturing industry, and gives them access to a peer group - and mentors if need be - to help them scale up.
Now, there are 40 trust groups in all – 36 in Mumbai and four in Chennai - and each has 10-12 entrepreneurs, from non-competing diverse industries who meet for three hours once every month in a safe and confidential environment, enabling them to share and exchange experiences, ideas, insights and create a healthy ecosystem to learn from each other. Members of these trust groups come from cities such as Pune, Nasik, Nagpur, Erode, Madurai, etc. While the agenda for discussion is set by the group itself, the accent is on scaling up. “Each one in the group presents a business plan for the next three years, and that gets critiqued by the other members. Our suggested topics of discussion evolve around scaling up… how to attract and retain talent, how to get funding, how to make a pitch, how to improve cost structure, sales force effectiveness, digital marketing, etc., specific things that will help them scale up,” says Mariwala.
Apart from trust groups, the members of Ascent Foundation can also bank on the expertise of 30 mentors who are ex-CEOs of prominent companies or consultants. After the initial introductory meeting facilitated by the Foundation, it is up to the entrepreneur to fix the terms, monetary or otherwise, to get advice from these mentors. For entrepreneurs who need funding, the foundation also provides access to VCs and other entities.
ADVICE FROM MARIWALA
Mariwala scaled up his family’s trading business in spices and edible oils into consumer goods giant Marico Limited, which has a market cap of Rs 505 billion today. He has these tips to offer entrepreneurs:
1. CREATE A STRONG RIGHT TO WIN: You should find out what will enable you to win in a highly competitive environment – is it innovation, is it some pioneering initiative, it is service quality if you are in the services sector, is it some technology patent… you need to have a very strong right to win which will make you stand out compared to others, and which will be relevant for your success.
2. GOOD TALENT & GOOD CULTURE: Ask yourself what kind of people do you have, as ultimately all plans get converted through people. Good talent combined with good culture is key – you need to attract good talent for which you need a good culture. To retain good talent again, you need a good culture. Culture will also have to be tuned in to what it will deliver for your strategy.
3. ENSURE GOOD GOVERNANCE: Good governance is very important; I tell entrepreneurs not to take short cuts. If you start taking short cuts, it will hit you at some stage ands then you will be put back. We have seen in the recent past how some companies what has happened to many organisations which have taken short cuts on the governance front. It’s very important to do business in the right way and be absolutely above law so that you concentrate mainly on business, not other issues
REWIRING FOR RESILIENCE
Mariwala talks of the upcoming annual conclave run by Ascent Foundation, where thought leaders and entrepreneurs come together for a full day event to ideate and share their journeys and milestones. This year, the fourth edition of the conclave will be held on November 21 in Mumbai. Its theme is ‘Rewiring for Resilience’, structured around the importance of moulding resilient leaders. The conclave will highlight the importance of leaders who specialise in handling adversity with greater skills, reduce stress across the organisation and unite the team to emerge stronger from challenges. The conclave will also focus on emerging trends in new-age entrepreneurship and the techniques that are being adopted by leading entrepreneurs to keep up
with the fast-changing behaviours of their consumers.