Sandeep Kataria, Bata's Global CEO: An Indian footprint in a global brand

Sandeep Kataria, Bata Global CEO
The shoemaker to the world has turned to its largest and most trusted market in search of a new lieutenant. When Alexis Nasard quit as the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Lausanne-headquartered Bata Shoe Organisation in mid-October, it took the footwear major hardly any time to identify a replacement.


Sandeep Kataria, Bata India’s CEO, will now steer the multinational company, as its global head, stitching up its strategy for over 70 markets in which the shoemaker operates.


“This is a wonderful moment for the Indian retail market,” Lalit Agarwal, chairman and managing director, V-Mart Retail, who has known Kataria, said. “There have been many Indian executives from banking, technology and fast-moving consumer goods who’ve risen to global positions in their respective companies. It is nice to see an Indian retail executive climb up to the top of the ladder in his company.”


“I find Sandeep to be sharp and he knows how to navigate complex business problems. This ranges from diverse issues such as adopting digital technology across functions, responding to challenges arising from Covid-19 and attempting to stay relevant to youth. I’ve picked up some of these learnings in my interactions with him,” Agarwal said.


Peers say Kataria, 49, an IIT-XLRI alumnus, was quick to implement a number of initiatives during the Covid-19 crisis including launching direct-to-consumer (D2C) initiatives such as mobile stores, WhatsApp messaging, video calling and home deliveries. Kataria was also swift to recognise that stay-at-home consumers were keen to buy informal rather than formal footwear, launching new collections quickly to take advantage of this trend.


Experts say that Kataria’s exposure with MNCs such as Unilever, Yum Brands and Vodafone have stood him in good stead, shaping his outlook and professional life. “Sandeep brings a solid track record with global companies and a demonstrated ability in handling difficult situations such as Covid,” Arvind Singhal, chairman, Technopak, said.


While revenue in the June and September quarters of FY21 has gradually improved from Rs 134 crore to Rs 367 crore, net loss has narrowed to Rs 44 crore from Rs 101 crore in the same time. Since joining in November 2017, Kataria has managed to push up Bata’s bottomline two-fold, using a combination of cost-saving measures and careful business expansion to achieve it. Bata closed FY20 with net profit of Rs 329 crore and net sales of Rs 3,056 crore. Though the first half of FY21 has been marred due to Covid-19, the company is expected to recover from these challenges in the next half of the year.


The shoemaker has a unique relationship with India. Though a global brand founded in 1894 in the town of Zlin in the Czech Republic, many Indians perceive Bata to be a home-grown label, thanks in part to its ability to stay completely grounded. The second is its long history in the country.


Bata India was set up in 1931 in Konnagar, West Bengal, with the objective of providing shoes at an affordable price to Indians who founder Tomáš Bata saw walking around barefoot during visits to the then colonised country.


The brand remains the largest shoemaker in the country with over 1,600 owned and franchisee outlets.


While the brand has been modernising its image under Kataria in a bid to woo millennials, it remains a shoe for the common man. Most Indians grew up wearing Bata shoes, chappals and sandals due to its durability and economical price, a strategy that has been replicated by most other Indian labels in the last few years.


As Kataria said in a recent interaction with Business Standard: “The bulk of the footwear sold in India is below the Rs 500-price point. And most players are acutely aware of this.”


Under Kataria, the brand has been quickly moving into small towns and cities, setting up franchisee outlets in places such as Guntur in Andhra Pradesh and Moodbidri in Karnataka. Its 200th franchisee outlet was set up recently in Tenali, Andhra Pradesh, with more expected to come up in the months ahead.


Kataria is expected to take some of these learnings from India into international markets, especially South Asia, which is a big outpost for the footwear major. Over 40 per cent of Bata’s stores worldwide are located in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, where affordability and durability are key factors in the choice of footwear. At the same time, Kataria as global CEO is expected to continue on the path of modernising the 126-year-old brand, just as he did in India.


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