Abanti Sankaranarayanan has the distinction of being the first and the only woman Managing Director in the alcobev industry. When she decided to join the sector as MD of the then Diageo India (Pvt) Ltd after quitting the Tata Group, her family didn’t have any misgiving and supported her decision.
Abanti was born in a Bengali family to learned and cultured parents. Her father was a member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Her early life was spent in Patna and Delhi, with annual summer vacation trips to (the then) Calcutta. It was a childhood immersed in family, friends, reading, travel, music and cricket with an upbringing that placed high value on integrity, tolerance and culture.
Joining the Alcobev Industry Talking about her family’s reaction to her joining the alcobev industry, she says, “They were pleased at my joining Diageo!” “My mum-in-law, a lawyer, and a warm host to family and friends, was thrilled,” Abanti recalls. “She keeps a good bar at home and thought it would get better if I join the industry,” she adds with a smile.
Talking about her decision to enter the alcobev industry, she says, “I didn’t see myself getting into alcohol business. What pulled me was Diageo and lifestyle. Diageo attracted me with its fantastic global brands and distinctive culture. Out of my 18 years with the Tata Group, I spent five years in its luxury hospitality business and 10 in FMCG (Tata Global Beverages). It was in many ways, a natural extension of a career spent in lifestyle and consumer products.”
Abanti’s initial foray in her professional life was as the Brand Manager, Tata Tea Premium and as the Sales Manager – West Bengal, in Tata Tea (now Tata Global Beverages Ltd.). The most valuable lesson she learnt is that targets are achieved only when marketing and sales work in tandem and reinforce each other.
Abanti presently heads Strategy & Corporate Affairs for Diageo India and is also a member of its Executive Committee (ExCom). Her key responsibilities are developing and driving the business strategy for Diageo in India, proactively shaping an enabling policy and regulatory environment and building corporate reputation – “the last two in service of our mid-term and long-term strategic business goals”.
She says Diageo stands out as a company that values its people, gives them the freedom to succeed, and spurs them to think big. “My eight-year-long and continuing career in Diageo has helped me grow both as a leader and as a person. I have done three different roles during my tenure with Diageo – Marketing & Innovations Director for two years, followed by a promotion to Managing Director for Diageo India Pvt. Ltd., then elevation to my current role in Diageo India (Diageo + USL combine). Diageo believes in growing its leaders through diverse experiences and I am an example of that!” she elaborates. On how she strikes a work-life balance, Abanti says, “By being very clear on what is a bigger priority – and it is my family. As a professional, I am ambitious, but I know that whatever I may achieve professionally will not matter if I fail with my family. And that helps me make choices on where I work, how I work and when I work!” She says succeeding as a professional requires sustained hard work, high performance orientation “and as you grow more senior, the ability to engage and inspire people you work with. None of this is easy because as a professional, you have to earn your lapel – it isn’t an entitlement”. She says her goal in life is to make a real difference to organisations and people she works for.