Hina Nagarajan will lead India’s biggest liquor company United Spirits
Hina Nagarajan, who is the managing director of Africa emerging markets for Diageo, which owns USL, will take over from current CEO & MD Anand Kripalu in July. The liquor industry tends to be dominated by men, its products are consumed far more by men than by women, and in India, women — especially poorer women — have often virulently opposed liquor consumption. Nagarajan, who was associated with Reckitt Benckiser earlier, will not be the first woman to lead a spirits company in India, but will be the first to head a very large liquor company.
Abanti Sankaranarayan, who is currently the chief strategy and corporate affairs officer at USL, was the MD of Diageo India between 2010 and 2015, but that was when the British drinks giant had a very small presence in India. Diageo vaulted to the No. 1 position here after its acquisition of USL Kripalu will step down at the end of June, more than a year before his contract expires, the company said.
Kripalu came on board at the end of 2013, and assumed top role in May the following year. He leaves after a very tough year, the Covid pandemic having led to bars, pubs, hotels and restaurants shutting down and retail store sales plummeting. Fortunes of beer and spirits companies were adversely impacted multiple times over the past few years, including after demonetisation and the ban on sale of liquor along highways, a ban that was lifted after some months. Under Kripalu, who had stints in Mondelez and Unilever, USL focused more on its premium products — drinks which yield more margins compared to the mass market drinks. Such drinks, which include Johnnie Walker whiskey and Smirnoff vodka, now contribute more than half of the company’s volumes and two-thirds to the top line.