The announcement was typical of Colgate-Palmolive. The oral care major, which has an over 52 per cent share of the domestic toothpaste market, opted to make no fuss about the fact that its India managing director of two years Mukul Deoras was being elevated to the position of president, Asia division of the company. The IIM-Ahmedabad-alumnus will continue, however, to be associated with the Indian unit as non-retiring director and chairman of the board. Replacing him will be Prabha Parameswaran, currently head of marketing at Colgate-Palmolive, Mexico, who will take over as India MD. The changes are effective February 1, 2012.
Both developments are significant. One because Deoras, who has been with Colgate for seven years in various capacities (he was earlier with Hindustan Unilever), joins the growing band of global Indians who are occupying key positions in multi-national companies, while Parameswaran’s appointment is in line with the increasing trend of women taking up the top job at consumer goods firms in India.
Last year, Coke’s Sangeeta Pendurkar replaced Anupam Dutta as the India managing director of Kelloggs India following the latter’s elevation as the head of the breakfast cereal major's South African and sub-Saharan operations.
Before that, Punita Lal was appointed the CEO of NourishCo, the joint venture company promoted by Tata Global Beverages and PepsiCo, while Sangeeta Talwar, erstwhile marketing director at Tata Global Beverages, is now the managing director and CEO of NDDB Dairy Services, the wholly-owned subsidiary of National Dairy Development Board.
For both Deoras and Parameswaran the appointments are not only significant milestones in their career, but will also test their mettle as professionals. Colgate in recent years in India has faced stiff competition in almost every category it is in including toothpaste, toothbrush and mouthwashes. The reason for this is the growth prospects that oral care as a segment presents. With people migrating from toothpowder to toothpaste, the latter is already seeing a compounded annual growth rate of 11 per cent. This is for the last four years. The toothbrush category, on the other hand, is growing at nine per cent per annum, while mouthwash as a category is growing at over 30 per cent per annum. If this is not enough, niche categories are beginning to take-off such as sensitivity toothpaste. GSK stepped into the segment earlier this year with Sensodyne prompting Colgate to launch an upgrade over its own sensitivity brand Colgate Sensitive in June. The latter has also been fighting Johnson & Johnson tooth & nail in mouthwash, while in toothpaste it has amongst others Dabur and Hindustan Unilever to deal with. In toothbrush, its chief rival remains HUL.
What all this means for Deoras and Parameswaran is that the road ahead in one of Colgate’s important Asian markets is not going to be easy. Deoras, who will be based in Hong Kong in his capacity as Asian division president, is expected to keep a close watch on Indian operations. Per-capita consumption of toothpaste in India remains low at 127 grams per year. In neighbouring China, it stands at 255 grams per year, while in Malaysia and Philippines, it is 304 and 244 grams per year respectively.