Nandakumar Vijayan, Director of Marketing & Communications of Lulu Group International
Publicity Pundit, Nandakumar Vijayan, Director of Marketing and Communications of Lulu Group International has a gift when it comes to awareness campaigns in retail at a global level.
Spearheading the global marketing, communications, CSR initiatives, digital and social media of LuLu Group which operates malls, online shopping, hospitality and food processing businesses, Nanda has the nous to select the perfect medium for publicity campaigns that are result oriented and positions Lulu Group strategically as the go to retail partner in every market.
A marketing Guru and popular figure in the retail and marketing industry, Nandakumar is a veteran communications professional and has been with the multinational company for almost two decades, climbing the organisational ladder steadily while handling different portfolios.
As a communicator, Nandakumar has a sixth sense on what works for each of his campaigns. His vast experience with leading media organisations such as The Times of India and the Indian Express clearly has provided him with enough experience for impact messaging and synergy that he initiates to the target audience of all entities within the Lulu Group.
Using disruptive marketing initiatives and innovations, Nandakumar played a crucial role in transforming the Lulu brand from being a conventional supermarket to one of the most popular multinational retailing brands.
We meet with Nandakumar to find out what makes this seasoned marketing and communications professional the UAE’s leading marketeer and publicist.
Tell us a bit about Lulu Group and its different areas of business?
We are headquartered in Abu Dhabi as a highly diversified conglomerate with business entities that are continually evolving in strategic locations worldwide.
Lulu Group’s international business portfolio ranges from hypermarket operations to shopping mall development, food processing, manufacturing and trading of goods, hospitality assets and real estate.
We currently operate in 22 countries located across the Middle East, Asia, US, and Europe.
As we talk, we have 206 hypermarkets across the GCC, Egypt, India and the Far East, including Malaysia and Indonesia.
For hospitality we own franchises of some of the key Hotel Brands such as Marriott, Grand Hyatt, Sheraton in India and unique hotels such as the Great Scotland Yard in London and Waldorf Astoria in Edinburgh, Scotland.
We have been getting inspiration from all around us since we established our retail business in the early 90s at the height of the first Gulf War with strong fundamentals and ethos of “Here to stay and here to grow” so we have grown with the country and the region.
You can map our tremendous growth over the last few decades with UAE’s growth and we are very fortunate for the support and encouragement we have received from the leadership of the UAE and the country’s stability that has helped us grow steadily and strongly over the years.
Today we have more than 206 hypermarkets, almost 17 shopping malls in 12 countries across different regions which is definitely a high point for any organisation. And apart from that we also have our own consolidating and sourcing offices in almost all major countries in the world including USA, UK, Africa, GCC, Far East, India and China.
This ensures we have uninterrupted supply of specially food products in our stores at the most competitive prices as we connect directly with manufacturers and producers from around the world.
You make grocery shopping a fun thing to do all year with mega promotions and events. Where do you get inspiration for the ideas for these campaigns?
As our tagline says, we firmly believe in the fact that Lulu is where the world comes to shop and now obviously in the current situation safely also. It all comes from the simple philosophy of catering to over 200 diverse nationalities in the UAE. Our aim always has been to be the favourite shopping mall for everyone irrespective of tastes they prefer and give them what they want.
Hence our marketing initiatives follow the similar philosophy to think from the customers point of view, why would they come and shop at Lulu and what would be their reason to shop with us. It can be the price, product variety, our various festivals, promotional campaigns as we do everything from the customers perspective.
We want Lulu to be a place not just for shopping but for customers to get a slice of their own country or culture. That is why you see our campaigns and promotions targeting different nationalities and countries, Hence, our inspirations for these campaigns come from different people, the way they think and what they expect from Lulu.
Under your leadership, Lulu is now a trendsetter in retail marketing with media presence not only in the conventional ATL & BTL but also in social media. Tell us about your team and work ethics that make them excel at what they do with your guidance?
As someone who has worked over 20 years here, I have huge respect for each of my team members. We have a very simple work ethic where each one is trained and empowered to think independently, think creatively and out of the box.
We collect everyone’s ideas and put their thought processes in a cohesive manner so you will see our team members being multi-talented, multi taskers and have expertise in different areas. I Believe in cross training them and empowering them which ensures we carry out our initiatives in different markets effectively so we have successful leaders in each market.
Another work ethic that we follow that is being championed by our Chairman, Mr. YusuffAli is cultivating decent work relationships, empowering and rewarding the team members.
So instead of getting new talent, we invest in promoting our existing team so they take on bigger roles in bigger regions in areas of global operations and marketing. Our key motivation is to promote job satisfaction, creativity and keep our existing team motivated.
With so much happening within the conglomerate, how do you manage your time having to liaise with so many entities across the Group?
When you have multiple tasks ahead, you tend to become more efficient and effective at managing time than people who have less things to do. I think I have a system set for managing time effectively.
Thanks to multiple Technologies and advancement and communication tools especially due to the pandemic, we don’t spend much time traveling nowadays.
We can talk and discuss issues with our colleagues around the world in real time which saves time and efficiently take decisions faster.
Being old school, I still firmly believe in creating a to-do list every morning and ticking them off before I go home at night. That keeps me up to date with my team’s progress and project progress.
Which area of retail excites you most?
With majority of my experience in the field of retail and specifically marketing roles, I know mainly the retail industry but now I concentrate more on innovation and tech side of retail marketing which involves a lot of work on data analysis, data activation and creating seamless platforms for both staff and the consumer. It enables stakeholders to have clear vision of our activities.
Another area which I am trying to concentrate on is obviously digital and social media marketing where we work with great organizations and resources in creating beautiful apps and content for marketing initiatives that drive our numbers.
How do you start your day and what do you address first when you get into office?
Every day starts with a quick half an hour team meeting with regional heads from across the globe joining in and quick updates are exchanged, decisions taken which sets the tone for the day’s work for all of us. I also follow a strict schedule with regards to internal meetings as well as meetings with other stakeholders and vendors.
Whatever is said and done, I always try to find at least a couple of hours every day to update myself about latest technologies, Innovations, developments in the industry, development in the marketing and media space and interacting with some of the key influencers and stakeholders in the industry.
Being a hands-on person, I like to lead from the front and getting my hands dirty so I spend time daily in our retail shops as well as in the studio of our team where the real work is done.
We cater to almost 1.6 million customers per day throughout the 206 hypermarkets across the globe so it is a consumer centric business.
Being on the floor, we feel the pulse of the market, get updated on new products, our suppliers and customer preferences as being in the shops gets me close to our end users first hand.
Do you have any role models who inspire you or personalities you look up to?
I have spent most of my professional life at the Lulu Group, I learnt a lot from our Chairman Mr. YusuffAli who is a self-made entrepreneur starting from scratch and built an entire retail empire from his grit and determination and he leads from the front even today. He is truly inspirational.
In addition, I do pick up good tips and tricks from anybody who’s a practitioner of excellence and I look forward to many more interactions. And thanks to the web, a lot of resources and inspiring stories from around the world keep me up to date.
What personal qualities would you say help you most in your current role?
I absolutely believe in empowering my team members across different markets by being able to identify the right talent and nurturing them. I am slightly perfectionist and I have an eye for detail which at times creates deadline issues, but that is one quality which I think has helped me nurture this brand.
Another leadership quality i firmly beleieve is decentralization of power and job delegation across my team member in all regions, but being “perfectionist” is what I cherish the most.
On the personal front, what are your hobbies and how do you unwind?
Travelling and meeting and understanding people is something that I love. And thanks to the kind of job I have, I get enough of that so I try to make the most of my official trips which is quite often. I usually unwind with some Bollywood movies or reading light fictions.
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