TomorrowMakers

Attitudes towards working women need to change, feels PepsiCo's ex-marketing director Vani Gupta.

Women must stand up and believe they are capable free thinkers
In a candid interview, Vani Gupta, former marketing director - Indian Snacks, Foods, PepsiCo India, talks about her leadership styles and philosphy, the personal and professional acheivements that made her feel proud, women empowerment, her money and success mantras and the biggest challenges that she has overcome to ensure a financial security. She has recently joined Hypersonic Advisory as a founder member and will lead the firm's consumer innovation practice.
 
1. You have worked with the best of global brands. Please brief us about your leadership styles and philosophy?
 
What I’ve learnt working with some wonderful people is this philosophy of balance and resilience. I’ve seen it again and again in my career. The consumer is changing, the market is changing. Technology and capital allow amazing products to be out there, faster than before. Leaders need to have both balance and resilience to navigate and win in these volatile times, together with a great deal of focus on the teams they are building. Brands have great runs. And sometimes things are slow. Market shares go up and down. But leaders who have confidence in their people and keep the focus on the consumer, always win. Always. 
 

2. You were Marketing Director at PepsiCo India. Can you name some of the most successful marketing ideas done by the company? What was the kind of impact they generated?
 
There are several examples. The Kurkure Family Express is one audacious idea I feel very proud of – this activation was built on the insight that summer holidays are a time for bonding with family, relaxed travel, and loads of snacking. And Kurkure has always brought families together. So we hired a train, went all across the country, and had families, musicians, chefs, entertainers, media, bloggers, radio Jockeys, actors and more on the train for a summer snacking extravaganza. We created ‘real advertising’, with real people. No makeup, studio, scripts, or sets. We were the most talked about brand for weeks – we broke all records on equity gain, and we won trust and love from consumers like never before at a very small cost. For more on this, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy5jhmsCevc
 
3. Can you share some memorable achievements that made you feel proud of yourself?
 
I led many firsts on Kurkure – our first ever entry into puffed snacks which won the Indra Nooyi Chairman’s Award for Innovation; the first ever No TV-led brand thematic campaign with Kurkure Family Express; the first ever Google insights-led Festive campaign which garnered more conversation online than all the e-commerce companies and auto brands, the first ever innovative traffic stopping outdoor and impact metro branding (much before all others followed). But through all of this, what makes me most proud is the support I had from my team. For example, for the Kurkure Family Express activation, there were more than seven different agencies that worked in harmony to deliver that massive event. Without people connecting as people, stepping up for one another, and going far beyond their defined roles, that activation would have been impossible to deliver. That makes me most proud as a leader.
 
4. Referring to your LinkedIn profile; being a single mom, what have been your biggest challenges in ensuring your financial security?
 
The choice I made in my life was to go it alone. While I made that choice I was aware that I would have to be at the top of my game every day. There is no backup. The early years were a struggle. When you are a couple, there’s this concept of ‘one salary to save and one to spend’. That goes out. The big decisions come around moving from consumption to savings without compromising on the quality of life.
 
5. Do you think women have a unique way of managing money?
 
Patience. That’s the attribute that makes a woman’s way unique. I know when there will be a sale, where, and for how much. I know where the best boutiques are, which ones have great designers but are not in the public eye yet. I’ve discovered lovely micro-brands on Instagram, which are most beautiful and not necessarily expensive – besides, they allow me the exclusivity that every woman wants! I know what to stock up on and what not to. I know how to patiently evaluate a financial advisor, and to sit out peaks and troughs in the market. Women are patient and hence money is safe with them.
 
6. What does ‘women empowerment’ mean to you, especially in the Indian context?
 
It starts with oneself. No one else can empower you – one must decide to feel and be empowered. Too often in our country women feel very disenfranchised and allow men to take on the mantle of free thinking and decision-making. This must change. Women must stand up and believe they are capable free thinkers. Then things will start to change. I walked out from a bad marriage and I know that even in upper class educated societies women struggle to do so. Not because there are economics holding them back, but a mindset. Women must believe in their own identity being independent from that of their men, be it fathers or husbands. India can become an unstoppable force if the women were to make this change in their heads.
 

7. Do you carry any money mantra with you?
 
It’s not what you make that is important. It’s how you feel that is important. I feel rich – I’m grateful for what I have. And that keeps me happy. The reality is no amount of money is ever enough, so be happy with what you have but continue to happily pursue advancement. That is my mantra.  
 
8. Have you faced any gender discrimination at the workplace? How did you deal with them?
 
I have seen gender discrimination at work. On both sides. Men against women, and women against men. So for me it’s not something that has always made me feel like a victim. But it’s always something that has made me feel disgusted. I have always been a positive person with the confidence that nothing is beyond me; that I can achieve what I set out to. And so I must be given the opportunities to fail. Where this has been denied without clear and objective guidelines, I have called it out and demanded explanations. It starts with your own sense of self. Once that is firm and strong, the rest of the world plays fair.
 
9. What were your biggest challenges in reaching where you are today? How did you overcome them?
 
Changing my own view of myself was definitely my greatest challenge. Our society has very conventional moulds for defining success and happiness – whether it’s the right kind of marriage, family, job title, the company you work for, personal appearances. For me, getting comfortable with who I am, how I wanted to lead life – this was an internal struggle and the greatest challenge. Through all of life’s up and downs I came to discover the strength, resilience, and fortitude inside me. We all have it in us – not being defeated (at work or at home, no matter what), but pressing on with hope and cheer, giving one’s best every day, is the only absolute victory.
 
10. There are very few women in higher posts in India; what do you think is the reason?
 
I believe that women are more powerful than men. They have the ability to take on many roles and play them very well:  mother, sister, wife, colleague, boss. Men fail in some of these tasks because they focus on themselves more strongly. Women have to step in to fill several roles. I see women like myself managing a career and home. Other women focus on career. Yet others focus on their homes more deeply. These are choices. Could society and organisations support women more as they juggle multiple tasks? Of course. But equally, the responsibility lies in women to demand support, both from their organisations and the men at home. The reality is that attitudes in general towards working women are still very backward, even in the best of the companies I worked for. They are deeply entrenched, and daycare or flexi-timings alone are no evidence of true equality. The best women can do is to get more demanding. Stick in there. Don’t be scared to speak up. This applies as much to the West as it does to India – if not more. 
 
11. What do you do in your leisure time?
 
I’m into keeping my body and mind fit. I have been doing yoga since I was 15. I do boot camp sessions to strengthen myself. Then there’s Buddhism – a philosophy I follow for helping me through everyday life. I love to paint, and hang out with my son Nayan. I travel a lot with him. I’ve got a very good support system that has helped me balance life and work very nicely.
 
12. Do you think the concept of work-life balance exists? What are your thoughts on it?
 
Apart from the occasional stages of imbalance, I do believe in work-life balance. I love my work; I love my life outside of work. I wish each day had 48 hours. Not so that I could work more, but so that I could work more and play more.
 
13. What’s next on your list that you hope to achieve? Tell us about your aspirations and dreams?
 
I feel absolutely captivated by the entrepreneurial journey India is on. We have the youngest workforce in the world, and the fewest jobs. Which means the young are making their lives, and channelling their intellectual brilliance and enterprise into exciting new ventures. I want to be a part of that journey. I want to give back to India. I’ve had a very rewarding and rich career so far; I’ve learnt a lot, worked with the best, and cultivated a vast network of friends. I now feel a restless pressure to help young companies achieve their best. I’ve found a lovely bunch of partners – together we’re called Hypersonic Advisory. I love what we do, and hope to do a lot more!
 
14. Who or what has been your real inspiration?
 
A concept that I learnt in Buddhism is that each one of us is unique and beautiful. And that each of us is the Buddha. That we can be the best that we wish to be, by simply trying a little bit more every day. That we should never blame our circumstances, the parents we were born to, or what life serves us. That we alone have the power to change the universe, because we indeed are the entire universe. This for me is my guiding inspiration.

In a candid interview, Vani Gupta, former marketing director - Indian Snacks, Foods, PepsiCo India, talks about her leadership styles and philosphy, the personal and professional acheivements that made her feel proud, women empowerment, her money and success mantras and the biggest challenges that she has overcome to ensure a financial security. She has recently joined Hypersonic Advisory as a founder member and will lead the firm's consumer innovation practice.
 
1. You have worked with the best of global brands. Please brief us about your leadership styles and philosophy?
 
What I’ve learnt working with some wonderful people is this philosophy of balance and resilience. I’ve seen it again and again in my career. The consumer is changing, the market is changing. Technology and capital allow amazing products to be out there, faster than before. Leaders need to have both balance and resilience to navigate and win in these volatile times, together with a great deal of focus on the teams they are building. Brands have great runs. And sometimes things are slow. Market shares go up and down. But leaders who have confidence in their people and keep the focus on the consumer, always win. Always. 
 

2. You were Marketing Director at PepsiCo India. Can you name some of the most successful marketing ideas done by the company? What was the kind of impact they generated?
 
There are several examples. The Kurkure Family Express is one audacious idea I feel very proud of – this activation was built on the insight that summer holidays are a time for bonding with family, relaxed travel, and loads of snacking. And Kurkure has always brought families together. So we hired a train, went all across the country, and had families, musicians, chefs, entertainers, media, bloggers, radio Jockeys, actors and more on the train for a summer snacking extravaganza. We created ‘real advertising’, with real people. No makeup, studio, scripts, or sets. We were the most talked about brand for weeks – we broke all records on equity gain, and we won trust and love from consumers like never before at a very small cost. For more on this, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy5jhmsCevc
 
3. Can you share some memorable achievements that made you feel proud of yourself?
 
I led many firsts on Kurkure – our first ever entry into puffed snacks which won the Indra Nooyi Chairman’s Award for Innovation; the first ever No TV-led brand thematic campaign with Kurkure Family Express; the first ever Google insights-led Festive campaign which garnered more conversation online than all the e-commerce companies and auto brands, the first ever innovative traffic stopping outdoor and impact metro branding (much before all others followed). But through all of this, what makes me most proud is the support I had from my team. For example, for the Kurkure Family Express activation, there were more than seven different agencies that worked in harmony to deliver that massive event. Without people connecting as people, stepping up for one another, and going far beyond their defined roles, that activation would have been impossible to deliver. That makes me most proud as a leader.
 
4. Referring to your LinkedIn profile; being a single mom, what have been your biggest challenges in ensuring your financial security?
 
The choice I made in my life was to go it alone. While I made that choice I was aware that I would have to be at the top of my game every day. There is no backup. The early years were a struggle. When you are a couple, there’s this concept of ‘one salary to save and one to spend’. That goes out. The big decisions come around moving from consumption to savings without compromising on the quality of life.
 
5. Do you think women have a unique way of managing money?
 
Patience. That’s the attribute that makes a woman’s way unique. I know when there will be a sale, where, and for how much. I know where the best boutiques are, which ones have great designers but are not in the public eye yet. I’ve discovered lovely micro-brands on Instagram, which are most beautiful and not necessarily expensive – besides, they allow me the exclusivity that every woman wants! I know what to stock up on and what not to. I know how to patiently evaluate a financial advisor, and to sit out peaks and troughs in the market. Women are patient and hence money is safe with them.
 
6. What does ‘women empowerment’ mean to you, especially in the Indian context?
 
It starts with oneself. No one else can empower you – one must decide to feel and be empowered. Too often in our country women feel very disenfranchised and allow men to take on the mantle of free thinking and decision-making. This must change. Women must stand up and believe they are capable free thinkers. Then things will start to change. I walked out from a bad marriage and I know that even in upper class educated societies women struggle to do so. Not because there are economics holding them back, but a mindset. Women must believe in their own identity being independent from that of their men, be it fathers or husbands. India can become an unstoppable force if the women were to make this change in their heads.
 

7. Do you carry any money mantra with you?
 
It’s not what you make that is important. It’s how you feel that is important. I feel rich – I’m grateful for what I have. And that keeps me happy. The reality is no amount of money is ever enough, so be happy with what you have but continue to happily pursue advancement. That is my mantra.  
 
8. Have you faced any gender discrimination at the workplace? How did you deal with them?
 
I have seen gender discrimination at work. On both sides. Men against women, and women against men. So for me it’s not something that has always made me feel like a victim. But it’s always something that has made me feel disgusted. I have always been a positive person with the confidence that nothing is beyond me; that I can achieve what I set out to. And so I must be given the opportunities to fail. Where this has been denied without clear and objective guidelines, I have called it out and demanded explanations. It starts with your own sense of self. Once that is firm and strong, the rest of the world plays fair.
 
9. What were your biggest challenges in reaching where you are today? How did you overcome them?
 
Changing my own view of myself was definitely my greatest challenge. Our society has very conventional moulds for defining success and happiness – whether it’s the right kind of marriage, family, job title, the company you work for, personal appearances. For me, getting comfortable with who I am, how I wanted to lead life – this was an internal struggle and the greatest challenge. Through all of life’s up and downs I came to discover the strength, resilience, and fortitude inside me. We all have it in us – not being defeated (at work or at home, no matter what), but pressing on with hope and cheer, giving one’s best every day, is the only absolute victory.
 
10. There are very few women in higher posts in India; what do you think is the reason?
 
I believe that women are more powerful than men. They have the ability to take on many roles and play them very well:  mother, sister, wife, colleague, boss. Men fail in some of these tasks because they focus on themselves more strongly. Women have to step in to fill several roles. I see women like myself managing a career and home. Other women focus on career. Yet others focus on their homes more deeply. These are choices. Could society and organisations support women more as they juggle multiple tasks? Of course. But equally, the responsibility lies in women to demand support, both from their organisations and the men at home. The reality is that attitudes in general towards working women are still very backward, even in the best of the companies I worked for. They are deeply entrenched, and daycare or flexi-timings alone are no evidence of true equality. The best women can do is to get more demanding. Stick in there. Don’t be scared to speak up. This applies as much to the West as it does to India – if not more. 
 
11. What do you do in your leisure time?
 
I’m into keeping my body and mind fit. I have been doing yoga since I was 15. I do boot camp sessions to strengthen myself. Then there’s Buddhism – a philosophy I follow for helping me through everyday life. I love to paint, and hang out with my son Nayan. I travel a lot with him. I’ve got a very good support system that has helped me balance life and work very nicely.
 
12. Do you think the concept of work-life balance exists? What are your thoughts on it?
 
Apart from the occasional stages of imbalance, I do believe in work-life balance. I love my work; I love my life outside of work. I wish each day had 48 hours. Not so that I could work more, but so that I could work more and play more.
 
13. What’s next on your list that you hope to achieve? Tell us about your aspirations and dreams?
 
I feel absolutely captivated by the entrepreneurial journey India is on. We have the youngest workforce in the world, and the fewest jobs. Which means the young are making their lives, and channelling their intellectual brilliance and enterprise into exciting new ventures. I want to be a part of that journey. I want to give back to India. I’ve had a very rewarding and rich career so far; I’ve learnt a lot, worked with the best, and cultivated a vast network of friends. I now feel a restless pressure to help young companies achieve their best. I’ve found a lovely bunch of partners – together we’re called Hypersonic Advisory. I love what we do, and hope to do a lot more!
 
14. Who or what has been your real inspiration?
 
A concept that I learnt in Buddhism is that each one of us is unique and beautiful. And that each of us is the Buddha. That we can be the best that we wish to be, by simply trying a little bit more every day. That we should never blame our circumstances, the parents we were born to, or what life serves us. That we alone have the power to change the universe, because we indeed are the entire universe. This for me is my guiding inspiration.