“Everyone will fall one day or the other, how fast you get up and fight back is what will define you as a person. There are thousands of ways to move ahead but only one way to stay still. So be resilient, bounce back and move ahead with confidence.” This is the leadership motto by which 49 year old Sumit Saran (Director, SS Associates) lives and mentors his team to follow, especially amid the pandemic. Saran grew up in Patna and came to Delhi in 1989 after completing his twelfth grade. “While in Patna all my focus was on playing cricket. An important leadership lesson I learnt from Sports was that as a sportsperson, if you are fearful inside, you can never perform on the field. This is a learning that trickled down in my professional life too. I pursued my graduation and post graduation from Delhi University and that’s where I met my would be wife, who used to study in Lady Sri Ram College. After completing my Masters in Political Science where I picked up a paper on International food trade business, I got picked up by The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry ( FICCI ) and thence my career began,” recalls Saran.
“An important leadership lesson I learnt from Sports was that as a sportsperson, if you are fearful inside, you can never perform on the field. This is a learning that trickled down in my professional life too,” – Sumit Saran, Director SS Associates
After working with major brands across the food industry, in 2017, Saran set up SS associates, a leading company involved in the role of marketing foreign food products in India like the Washington Apples. During the lockdown, Saran battled many challenges that his company faced and came out of them by deploying an out of the box approach. “There were three parts to the challenges we faced during lockdown. The first was the initial shock that suddenly everything stopped. A lot of product was on the road and a lot of products that we represent are perishables (like apples, pears, cranberries etc). The sale points were blocked, the cold storages were getting full and the complete supply chain broke down in the first phase of the lockdown. It was a tough time. Eventually, we saw that there is a growth in the kind of categories of food that we represent. People wanted to eat healthier and more nutritious. So the challenge wasn’t on creating consumer demand it was on getting the products to the shelf,” says Saran elaborating on the steps he and his team took to fight and bounce back, “ We shifted a lot of our promotions from physical evens to online and electronic medium. We also realized that while the big retailers were having difficulty selling, because they were inside malls that were closed, the neighbourhood small fruit retailers that serve india had a big opportunity to benefit. So we got on to the roads, wore our masks and we were out supporting and empowering the small retailers on the road by giving them Covid kits with masks, gloves and sanitisers that they used for selling our products. And so we had our whole team with merchandises going and visiting all the small fruit retailers. And that made a huge difference.”
With more and more consumers, shifting towards buying Indian products, how did Saran and his team succeed in creating a thriving market demand? “As Indians we tend to want to consume only Indian food products. In our marketing, we are always conscious that we market product that at no point of time hurt or appear to hurt Indian farmers. For example, Indian pear season ends in September. USA pears that are just like our babugosha arrive in October. So what we have done for consumers who like pears, is extended the season of babugosha. We don’t market a particular fruit heavily when that Indian fruit is in season. We get Indians to promote our products. We don’t use foreign faces. Plus the foreign food products help to boost the prices of the Indian counterpart and the Indian farmer benefits,” shares Saran.
A big part of being a leader is knowing how to deal with failures and preparing for success. “I am a big believer that championships are won in off season. What you do at IPL is what’s available to your consumers and what they see, but why Mumbai Indians is Mumbai Indians is because of what they do when the IPL is not on. So in my business, we spend one month in launching a foreign food product, but we spend eleven months in preparation. And If after that, if something fails so be it, we learn from it. In life, don’t let something fail because of lack of effort,” shares Saran.
“I am a big believer that championships are won in off season. What you do at IPL is what’s available to your consumers and what they see, but why Mumbai Indians is Mumbai Indians is because of what they do when the IPL is not on,” – Sumit Saran
When asked about a leadership quality that can get one through hail and storm, Saran replies, “Belief in yourself. This is the most important leadership quality that can get one through hail and storm because it rubs off on other people. Self confidence and self worth comes from inside, and it will not come if you have not done enough work in the off season. Once a leader believes in themselves, they can pass it on to others.”
Author tweets @FizzyBuddha