Sanjiv Puri moves a step closer to ITC top job

Cigarettes-to-hotels major ITC has appointed Sanjiv Puri chief operating officer (COO) with immediate effect, ending years of speculation as to who would succeed its longest serving chairman, Yogesh Chander Deveshwar.

In a filing with the stock exchanges, the company said the board of directors, at a meeting on July 22 redesignated wholetime director Puri as COO with immediate effect.

Puri's elevation is not a surprise, he was moving closer to the top job for a while. In 2014, Puri, 53, was made president of the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) business, a position carved out for him that first set off speculation he was being groomed for a bigger role. Last December, he was elevated to the board.

ITC has till February to name a successor for Deveshwar. In June, the company announced Deveshwar would slip into a non-executive role from February, but would continue as non-executive chairman for another three years.

When Deveshwar assumes a non-executive role next year, Puri is likely to step into his shoes as chief executive officer. Currently Deveshwar is chairman and CEO.

The board decision to redesignate Puri as COO came on a day Deveshwar addressed the company's annual general meeting in joint capacity as chairman and CEO for the last time. From Deveshwar's AGM speech it was clear Puri's task was cut out. The goal, as set out by the incumbent, is to make ITC a multinational corporation.

There are tangible goals as well. ITC is aspiring to be the top player in the FMCG space and has set a revenue target of Rs 1,00,000 crore by 2030. There are also new forays to manage like chocolates, dairy and coffee.

Puri probably is most suited to make the targets achievable, having handled a wide range of responsibilities in ITC from manufacturing, operations to information and digital technology.

The big break came in 2006 when Puri went on to lead ITC Infotech. Three years later, he became divisional chief executive of ITC's India tobacco division, handling additionally the charge of the company's trade marketing and distribution function. And then finally he was president of the FMCG business in 2014. There has been no looking back since.

Known to be conservative, ITC made quite a few acquisitions in the FMCG space around this time like the B-Natural juice brand. Among the bigger acquisitions were the brands Savlon and Shower to Shower.

It is most likely that there will be more acquisitions along the road. Puri told Business Standard in March acquisitions would happen because of the company’s target of achieving Rs 1,00,000 crore revenue from new FMCG businesses.

HEIR APPARENT?

Name: Sanjiv Puri,  

Age: 53 years

Education: Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur

Career:

1986: Joined ITC

2001: Became managing director, Surya Nepal — an ITC subsidiary

2006: Led ITC Infotech, spearheading Pyxis Solutions acquisition for more than $25 mn

2009: Became divisional chief executive of India Tobacco Division

2014: President, FMCG businesses — a position carved out for him

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