Avon Philippines’ new president and general manager, Kanwar Bhutani, was born in Delhi, India, went to American schools in Africa and the United Kingdom, and worked in North America. He speaks Punjabi, Hindi, Amharic and broken Spanish (to get by with the sales force in the West Coast).
Since he assumed his post in the Philippines last February, he has picked up “di ba (isn’t it)” and “maraming, maraming salamat (a profuse thank you).”
“When you’re surrounded by the beautiful people of the Philippines, this phrase always comes to mind: “Ang ganda-ganda ninyong lahat (you are all very beautiful).”
Bhutani and his family have visited the beaches in Bohol, Palawan, Bellaroca and Boracay. He even found it an adventure to experience the flooding through the front door when they stayed at a private house in Station One. “We enjoyed that as well.”
His flexibility in adopting to cultures makes him a perfect candidate to run global operations. He left India in 1966 at the age of 2 years old. His father’s work in the United Nations took him to various countries. Although he lived in exotic places such as Ethiopia and Kenya, he picked up the American accent in the missionary schools.
After acquiring his degree in corporate finance in New York University, he joined Avon Products Inc. where he worked his way from senior consultant in marketing intelligence to associate, which handles all aspects of sales and distribution.
After ten years, he joined another direct selling company, Tupperware, where he had key roles including managing director for India and subsequently, the president for North American operations.
“I wasn’t actively looking for another job and was content at Avon. However, an opportunity presented itself in 1994 at Tupperware. This was to set up a Forecasting Department and, subsequently, to work in the sales organization which is where my passion is. It gave me the opportunity to work directly with people and make a difference in their lives. It has helped me enrich my direct selling skills.”
While completing an advanced management program at Wharton, Bhutani envisioned himself leading a company in Asia. He attributes the desire to his Asian heritage.
Bhutani returned to Avon in 2010 as head of the North American operations “to fix the back end of the business.” He felt it was his way of giving back to the company that introduced him to direct selling.
In 2011, he was named vice president for sales of the Asia-Pacific region, giving the business a shot in the arm. As Avon Philippines’ president and GM he is tasked to maintain Avon’s leadership in the beauty field— the Philippines is the top direct selling company in Asia and in the Avon’s Top 10 countries, and launch new products and concepts.
Last July, the Philippines became the first country in the world to adopt the Project YOU (Your Opportunity Unlimited) wherein franchise dealers can develop and mentor other entrepreneurs as they climb up the Avon ladder. The incentives at stake are different cars including a Mercedes Benz, which will be awarded in February 2013
“When you share a new program, there’s excitement. But at the end of the day, when people sit down, they ask, ‘How does it impact me? I’m used to working in a certain way.’ It requires a change in mind-set.”
Training programs have been designed to create the effective progression of sales leaders.
“People have embraced it. That’s a good indicator,” says Bhutani. “Project YOU positions us competitively with an earnings opportunity unmatched in the industry. This is prestige as well. The average sales person can have a luxury car and drive that. In provinces, there are tricycles and we’ve got Mercedes. What sets us apart from competition is that it creates the aspiration that I can earn.”
As Project YOU becomes successful, it will be launched in other markets as well.
On his insight on direct selling, Bhutani explains, “Relationships are the core of any direct-selling company. What you call ‘dangling incentives,’ we call ‘pride in our achievements.’ Just as corporate CEOs get compensation for work, our sales force receives these incentives for their hard work.”
One of Bhutani’s goals is to provide an Avon bra in every Filipino woman’s dresser. Although Avon bras cost P300 to P500, Avon launched the P99 bra that is touted as a must-have apparel. In the first two weeks of its launch, the company has sold half a million pesos worth of those “desirable” bras.
“We didn’t sacrifice quality. It wasn’t about making money,” he says.
The Philippine phenomenon lured Avon’s new CEO Sherilyn McCoy to visit the country quietly. She met the core of the business—the sales force. Engaging them in dialogues, she came to know what’s working and how she could support them.
“She was blown away because of the energy of the people. The way the team welcomed her was like going to someone’s home.”
As Avon is bullish about sales, it is also very active in advocacies, the biggest of which is the breast cancer awareness. Around the country, it has been providing breast cancer education and awareness, screening and diagnosis, and giving access to treatment. On Oct. 21, it will organize its annual walk against breast cancer at the Mall of Asia.
“When I recruit people, whether internally or I talk to representatives I ask, ‘Why are you with Avon?’ The first thing they tell me is that because of what we stand for and what we do for society. While product is important, people come together for a good cause. I’d like to believe that with the causes that we do, we are doing good for society and the communities we live in. As a result, that’s what connects people and brings them together to have a company like ours.”