ITC succession plan already in place for post-Deveshwar era

Rarely do companies give a detailed behind-the-scenes account of board decisions. And for a company like ITC, it's probably rarer than a unicorn. But when the cigarettes-to-hotels major updated shareholders about succession planning through its annual general notice filed with the stock exchanges, it gave a vivid description of how the events unfolded.

ITC said its chairman Yogesh Chander Deveshwar, whose current term ends in 2017, had expressed a desire to shed the executive role. This was in accordance with what he had indicated at the 100th AGM in 2011 in order to put in place a youthful leadership at the helm in the longer term interest of the company. But at the request of the Nomination & Compensation Committee and the Board, recognising the need for orderly transition in a company of ITC's size and complexity, Deveshwar had instead agreed to provide guidance and mentorship as a non-executive chairman to the new executive management that is planned to be put in place. .

ITC's urgency is almost palpable. But unique personalities call for unusual measures and Deveshwar is one such, having transformed ITC from a tobacco company into an FMCG major.

But Deveshwar's job is far from over. ITC is in a challenging environment. It's bad enough that the tax onslaught had brought down cigarette volumes, but now the new health warnings on cigarette packs is adding to certainty. Twice in the current year, cigarette makers including ITC, had halted production.

Over the next year, Deveshwar will have to ready the next generation of leaders to take on the challenge. The process is already on as ITC has put in place a second generation of leaders.

It is widely believed that the scales are tipped in favour of Sanjiv Puri. In 2014, he was made president of the FMCG business, a position that had been created for him. Finally, last year, he was elevated to the board.

Like Deveshwar, Puri who has had a successful stint in the company's FMCG division, is happy with ITC's diversification and plans to build world-class Indian brands. 

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