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Kolkata always stands out for its calmness, food, says Burrabazar boy now near Bondi beach

Saurabh Jain of Reckitt Hygiene revisits his formative years in the city and takes us through his life and work in Sydney

Priyam Marik | Published 09.03.22, 03:58 PM
Currently the CMO at Reckitt Hygiene, Saurabh Jain grew up in Kolkata before living in various other Indian cities till his move to Sydney

Currently the CMO at Reckitt Hygiene, Saurabh Jain grew up in Kolkata before living in various other Indian cities till his move to Sydney

Courtesy: Saurabh Jain

Covid-19 has brought about a paradigm shift in virtually every industry over the last two years, but the impact on some has been more than most. For an organisation like Reckitt Hygiene, whose motto is to “protect, heal and nurture” through its ever-growing range of brands in health, hygiene and nutrition (think Dettol, Strepsils, Mortein and Veet), the pandemic has been a game-changer.

As a senior marketing official at Reckitt, Saurabh Jain has studied how the game has changed since March 2020, even as Reckitt makes its presence felt in households across 200-plus countries.

My Kolkata caught up with the Kolkata boy to find out how he has managed his professional transition during the pandemic, what life in Sydney looks like, his best memories from his time in Kolkata and more.

Edited excerpts from the conversation follow.

Reaching Victoria Memorial ahead of dawn to get a good spot for cricket

My Kolkata: Let’s start with Kolkata. You went to school (La Martiniere for Boys) and did your bachelor’s degree (St. Xavier’s College) in the city. What are your fondest memories from those days? 

Saurabh Jain: I think the lunch breaks at La Martiniere were always memorable. It was quite a task to take possession of your order, fend off competition from fellow mates and then gulp down a plate of chhola poori and chow mein in under a minute! It was one of those thrilling experiences that I can always recollect and laugh about. I used to love our weekend cricket plans with school friends and housemates. Reaching the Victoria Memorial grounds ahead of dawn to make sure we get a good spot away from the crowd was a fun experience. I’ve also cherished the school picnics with friends to the Botanical Garden or overnight trips to Sikkim and Santiniketan. Those trips used to be very eventful!

Jain (second from left) with his school friends from La Martiniere for Boys

Jain (second from left) with his school friends from La Martiniere for Boys

Courtesy: Saurabh Jain

Where in Kolkata did you spend your formative years and when did you move out of the city? 

I was born and brought up in Kolkata and consider myself a true Kolkatan by blood. I started off as a Burrabazar boy, which is where I spent the majority of my childhood, before moving to New Alipore in my teens. I left Kolkata for Mumbai for my Master’s in 2006 as a 24-year-old. 

What is your Kolkata connect now? Family, friends….

Yes. I have a lot of family and friends in Kolkata. My parents still live there in a joint family setup. The friends from school and the neighbours I grew up with are still very much in the city. 

There is always time for everything when in Kolkata

Jain loves his long walks inside Victoria Memorial

Jain loves his long walks inside Victoria Memorial

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What are the things you miss the most about the city?

For me, Kolkata has always stood out for its calmness and its food. Somehow, there is always time for everything when in Kolkata, no matter how busy you are – be it an ad-hoc game of carrom or pool after office or a walk in Victoria with your loved ones or a round of drinks in the Park Street pubs. You can always make time to connect with loved ones in Kolkata. It’s so easy these days to get absorbed into the pace of your own life that you don’t stop and enjoy the lighter and happier moments. But you can do that when you’re in Kolkata. 

The food is the other aspect I miss the most. Even for a vegetarian like me, the food scene in Kolkata is second to none. 

Anamika and Kusum, Mocambo and Bar-B-Q, Tolly and BRC

Chelo kabab at Peter Cat finds a place in Jain’s must-eat list when he is in Kolkata

Chelo kabab at Peter Cat finds a place in Jain’s must-eat list when he is in Kolkata

TT archives

How often do you come down to Kolkata and what are the must do/must visit/must eat… you have when here?

A Kolkata visit for me is an annual ritual, mostly to spend time with family and friends during Diwali. We host big family dinners, which are a great occasion to meet everyone at one go. Covid-19 has disrupted this routine over the last two years, but I’m hoping things will go back to normal soon.

No trip to Kolkata is complete without the visits to my favourite food joints. My top favourites are the paneer rolls at Anamika in Alipore and Kusum in Park Street, the lavish vegetarian spread at Jalapenos On Camac Street and the irreplaceable nostalgia of Mocambo and Bar-B-Q. And, of course, the Chelo Kebab at Peter Cat. Whenever I’m in Kolkata, a visit to Tollygunge Club or the Bengal Rowing Club is on the list as well. 

At Reckitt Hygiene, our purpose is more relevant now than ever before

A number of Reckitt Hygiene’s brands are very familiar to us in India, from Dettol to Strepsils and Mortein to Veet. What does your current role at Reckitt Hygiene entail?

I’m currently the chief marketing officer (CMO) of Reckitt Hygiene for Australia and New Zealand. I’m responsible for leading a team of talented individuals to grow our purpose-driven global brands like Harpic, Mortein, Finish, Airwick, among others in the ANZ market. 

Some of the most well-known brands developed by Reckitt Hygiene

Some of the most well-known brands developed by Reckitt Hygiene

Our portfolio is skewed towards brands that have a lasting impact on consumers’ lives at home. At no other time in history has our purpose been more relevant than today. Covid-19 has changed consumers’ relationships with their own homes with a lot more time being spent indoors. Our portfolio is geared to deliver and make consumers’ lives healthier and happier, be it providing best-in-class hygiene with Dettol, Lizol and Harpic to providing protection against mosquito-borne diseases through Mortein or even improving the ambience of homes with Airwick. Everything we do has become so much more relevant now. 

Has the pandemic changed your professional perspective or approach to work in any way?

Personally, the biggest learning from the pandemic has been our ability to adapt as humans. Initially, it was difficult to think that businesses would survive the lockdowns and be able to function smoothly with everyone working remotely. But here we are after two years and I can safely say that we all have adapted beautifully to the new reality. We’ve learnt to trust one another and navigate the uncertainties together. 

I wouldn’t trade my childhood in Kolkata with anything else

Jain with his wife Saloni

Jain with his wife Saloni

Courtesy: Saurabh Jain

Across your career in India, you have also lived in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Lucknow. How did living there compare to life in Kolkata? If you had to pick one of these as the ideal city to stay in India, which one would it be and why?

This is a very difficult one to answer as I’ve stayed in many of these cities at different stages of my life, and in many ways they have collectively shaped who I am today. I wouldn’t trade my childhood in Kolkata with anything else. But I’ve also loved the cities of Lucknow and Hyderabad for their cultural heritage and the people. I’ve spent almost a decade of my married life and parenthood in Gurgaon, which I now call home in India. Each of these cities has their place in my heart and I like to walk back and visit them every time I get a chance. 

Jain with his family

Jain with his family

Courtesy: Saurabh Jain

Bondi and Manly are Sydney’s go-to beaches

Across your career in India, you have also lived in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Lucknow. How did living there compare to life in Kolkata? If you had to pick one of these as the ideal city to stay in India, which one would it be and why?

This is a very difficult one to answer as I’ve stayed in many of these cities at different stages of my life, and in many ways they have collectively shaped who I am today. I wouldn’t trade my childhood in Kolkata with anything else. But I’ve also loved the cities of Lucknow and Hyderabad for their cultural heritage and the people. I’ve spent almost a decade of my married life and parenthood in Gurgaon, which I now call home in India. Each of these cities has their place in my heart and I like to walk back and visit them every time I get a chance. 

Jain feels that Sydney is an easy place for people from multiple cultures to blend in

Jain feels that Sydney is an easy place for people from multiple cultures to blend in

Courtesy: Saurabh Jain

What is life in Sydney like now? What are some of the lesser-known charms of the city that you would like to recommend to first-time visitors?

Sydney is a great city to live in. Culturally, it is such a diverse place with multiple nationalities all living under one roof. It is so easy for anyone to blend in. The city has so much to offer – a great central business district for shopping, historical and cultural places like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge alongside access to innumerable parks and beaches. It is especially a delight for ocean goers with Bondi and Manly being the top beaches to relax or have a swim in. 

Eden Gardens tops both the MCG and the SCG

According to Jain, neither the SCG (above) nor the MCG can quite the match the electrifying atmosphere of Eden Gardens

According to Jain, neither the SCG (above) nor the MCG can quite the match the electrifying atmosphere of Eden Gardens

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We have come to know that you are quite good at cricket. So have you made it to the SCG? What was that experience like?

I’ve played the game but I consider myself more of a fan of the sport than a player. I wish I were more talented. I’m lucky to have made it to both the MCG for a Boxing Day Test match between Australia and England and the SCG for an Australia versus Sri Lanka T20I. What stands out for me is how the audience becomes a part of the great show. There are thousands who come dressed in the most bizarre manner possible just to steal a bit of camera time!

But I dare say that the Eden Gardens still tops them all. The atmosphere there is so infectious and involving. Watching the game with over 80,000 passionate people is an emotional journey like no other.

Do you still play cricket regularly and did you ever think of taking it up professionally?

Like every second kind in the 1980s, I grew up wanting to be a cricketer. I joined the Rajasthan Club (in Kolkata) to pursue cricket professionally. However, given the talent pool in India, I realised pretty early on that I wouldn’t go very far. As a result, I left the pursuit of being a professional cricketer, though my love for the sport still remains. 

When I was in Gurgaon I used to play every weekend. I was a part of many teams, the one in my society where I was living and others that comprised my closest friends from the city. 

Jain is a cricket fanatic who once dreamt of playing as a professional

Jain is a cricket fanatic who once dreamt of playing as a professional

Courtesy: Saurabh Jain

Apart from cricket, what are your other hobbies or interests? 

I’m a very outdoor person and have tried my hand at many sports. I tried to pursue golf once when I was in Hyderabad, but I could never love the sport enough to do it justice. I learnt volleyball at the age of 35 along with friends from my society in Gurgaon. Coming back home from the office to an hour of volleyball and banter with friends is always a great way to close the day. 

Jain discovered his passion for volleyball in his mid thirties

Jain discovered his passion for volleyball in his mid thirties

Courtesy: Saurabh Jain

Degrees don’t define one’s destiny or success

You completed your MBA from SVKM’s Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) in 2006. Over the last decade, MBAs have arguably become the most popular academic choice for Indian students in their early 20s. But how important is an MBA to be a successful business professional in today’s world? Is one doomed without it?

Not at all. I don’t think degrees today define one’s destiny or success, be it an MBA or any other equivalent qualification. Honestly, I myself didn’t have the clarity to know what I wanted to achieve while growing up. However, I’ve never blocked myself from experiences. I’ve always been open to experimenting. There was a time when I pivoted towards economics and finance before realising that my true passion didn’t lie there. I realised only a decade ago that my passion resides in marketing, and when I did, I doubled down on it. 

Create your own opinion and always be curious

What are the three things you would tell a young business professional to keep in mind when they have just entered the industry?

Firstly, always have an open and positive mindset. Treat every opportunity as a learning experience no matter how big or small or how irrelevant it may seem at that moment. Secondly, create your own opinion. While you may take advice and listen to others, always create your own independent view of things. Remember that everyone’s point of view is based on their reality and yours may not be the same as someone else’s. Lastly, always be curious. If you have curiosity, you will ask questions, learn faster and navigate your chosen path well. 

Jain with his wife and children, Meera (extreme left) and Myraa

Jain with his wife and children, Meera (extreme left) and Myraa

Courtesy: Saurabh Jain

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I’m an experimenter by nature. Studying in multiple schools, living in various cities and then working in a few organisations have given me perspectives that I cherish. I don’t have a very clear roadmap for the future. Life for me has always fallen into place. I’m sure that when the right time arrives, I’ll stumble upon new passions, both personally and professionally, and then begin my pursuit of the same.

Last updated on 11.03.22, 05:02 PM
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