He is Mr Dependable at British consumer goods maker, Reckitt Benckiser, and the candidate the company’s board turned to in its hour of distress. Faced with the task of finding a suitable replacement for Bart Becht, the outgoing chief executive, Reckitt’s board chose 52-year-old Rakesh Kapoor to succeed him last week. Until then, Kapoor had been the head of Reckitt’s global category development, based out of the the company’s Slough headquarters.
His ascension to the top appears dramatic, but Kapoor, company insiders say, has earned his stripes.
Starting as a regional sales manager (north) at the Indian unit of Reckitt & Coleman in 1987, the alumnus of Modern School, BITS Pilani and XLRI-Jamshedpur slowly, but steadily, worked his way up the corporate ladder, becoming a global marketing director in a matter of ten years. By the next decade, Kapoor was in the executive committee of Reckitt Benckiser (Reckitt & Coleman had merged with Benckiser in 1999) as an executive vice-president overseeing global marketing, research & development, market research, product design, marketing design & media and digital marketing. Accountable for two key areas — power brands and innovations — Kapoor did not disappoint on either count.
The share of Reckitt’s powerbrands in its net revenues grew from 57 per cent when he took over in 2006, to 69 per cent by the end of 2010. Innovations, on the other hand, delivered an average of 30 per cent net revenue during the period.
Besides these, Kapoor has helped Reckitt make some game-changing moves such as the acquisition of Boots Healthcare International in 2006. He was the chief architect of this acquisition. This helped Reckitt add brands like Strepsils and Clearasil to its portfolio. He was also involved in the acquisition of SSL International in 2010. This helped Reckitt add Durex condoms and Dr Scholl’s foot care products to its list. Last year, Kapoor was actively involved in the high-profile acquisition of Paras, which again gave Reckitt the much-needed presence in India’s healthcare market, where it was known largely for its household and personal care products like Dettol.
Colleagues like Reckitt Benckiser India Chairman & Managing Director Chander Mohan Sethi describe Kapoor as a “great individual”. “I was privileged to have worked with him. He’s a great professional and a fantastic human being,” Sethi says.
Former colleague Shashank Sinha, currently the president for international business at Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL), describes him as a “dynamic man, a team player, who has the ability to motivate people to perform”. “What could have worked for him when the Reckitt board was choosing a successor to Brecht was his proven track record, his performance both in strategic and operational roles and his experience in emerging and developed markets,” Sinha says.
Kapoor has his task cut out as he gears up to lead the $12-billion consumer products major from September this year. Investors have hammered the Reckitt stock for missing analyst estimates in the fourth quarter of the 2010-11. The news of Becht’s exit in the middle of March did not help either. Though the company regained some ground this week, following the announcement of the first quarter results for 2011-12 — in which it reported a growth of 5 per cent in like-for-like sales and a 15 per cent increase in operating profits — investors are keeping their fingers crossed. In an earnings guidance for 2011-12 earlier this year, Reckitt said it expected a four per cent increase in like-for-like sales, lower than the six per cent achieved last year. Clearly, investors are concerned.
Kapoor is not revealing his cards just yet. He has turned down requests for interviews for the “next two months” as he prepares for his new role as the CEO. There will be some relief for Kapoor, with Becht assisting him as a part-time advisor till September 2012.
After that, the going will be solo, but given his penchant for delivering the goods, he is expected to come through, say company insiders. His understanding and experience of Reckitt’s key categories — household, healthcare and personal care — plus his knowledge of both developing and developed markets are expected to come to in handy.