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Market Leaders Rarely Cause Disruption As They Fear Cannibalization: Harit Nagpal

Today, Goafest 2024 kicked off, with Harit Nagpal, Managing Director and CEO of Tata Play, addressing the opening session titled ‘Adapt To Thrive Not Just Survive’. In his address, Nagpal emphasised that disruption could come from various sources such as God, competitors, technology, regulators, government, or any other factor. However, regardless of its origin, he stressed the critical need for adaptation.

| Published on May 30, 2024

Market Leaders Rarely Cause Disruption As They Fear Cannibalization: Harit Nagpal

Market leaders rarely initiate disruptions due to their comfort and fear of cannibalization, said Harit Nagpal, Managing Director and CEO of Tata Play, while emphasising that if they hesitate to act, others will step in so, it takes courage, but that’s the reality.

Today marked the commencement of Goafest 2024 in Mumbai, with Nagpal taking the stage to lead the opening session titled ‘Adapt To Thrive Not Just Survive’. In his address Nagpal emphasised the importance of adaptability as a key to thriving rather than merely surviving.

He highlighted the inevitability of disruption in our lives and the importance of resilience in the face of it. He said, “Disruption can be caused by anything or anyone, but it becomes our responsibility to survive and thrive.”

Nagpal said that the purpose of both disruption and adaptation is to thrive. Disruption could be caused by God, a competitor, technology, regulators, the government, or any other factor. Regardless of the source, it is our responsibility to adapt.

He also added that before the year 2000, there was a common process that CFOs would discuss, known as Business Continuity Planning. This involved creating scenarios and asking, “What if this happens? How would we respond?” The goal was to anticipate the unexpected and prepare for it.

“Everything that used to happen physically has now shifted to digital. Previously, 23% of my Tata Play subscribers recharged online. Today, 76% of my subscribers, including those in villages, are recharging online. This number continues to grow every minute. Even people we thought were illiterate or not digitally savvy are embracing this change,” Nagpal stated.

“Today, 80% of our calls are handled by people working from their homes. Many of them, such as married women with children and household responsibilities, work only 3 to 4 hours a day from their villages and cities. This setup accounts for 80% of our business operations. So, COVID-19, which posed challenges, we adapted to it and are actually working better off than we were then,” he added.

Furthermore, he mentioned that disruption is not a new concept. He cited the invention of fire, the wheel, concrete, the internal combustion engine, and even slime as examples. People got adapted to these changes. This trend continued into the recent past with the advent of the Worldwide Web, personal computers, search engines, mobile phones, e-mail, and now artificial intelligence, which are all recent disruptions.

“We have faced disruptions, adapted to them, and our lives have got better as a result. Disruption is not new, nor has it ended; it will continue. People often ask me about the next disruption. I tell them that while I don’t know what it will be, I am certain it will arrive faster than the previous disruption. If COVID-19 took 100 years to appear after the Spanish flu, the next major disruption won’t take 100 years and will be even bigger. The time between each disruption is decreasing, and each new disruption is reaching 50% of humanity more quickly,” Nagpal said.

“So, there are a few key points to consider. First, either you disrupt, or someone else will do it to you. So, it’s better that you eat your own lunch. Second, the best time to disrupt is when you are feeling comfortable. When you are comfortable, others notice it too and may take the opportunity to challenge you,” he added.

Furthermore, Nagpal elaborated that if there is a bank with 10,000 branches and 30,000 ATMs, making it the number one bank in the country, and one wants to disrupt it to become the number one bank, you cannot simply open 15,000 branches and 40,000 ATMs to compete. You have to innovate around the consumer, not just replicate what already exists in the industry. That is what disruption is all about.

He also added, “Once I am in the market, it is rare to see market leaders causing disruptions. This seldom happens because they are comfortable and fear cannibalizing. However, if they don’t take action, someone else will. It takes courage, but that’s the reality.”

He went on to say that a couple of months ago, he conducted a poll asking a simple question: “Do the basic principles of business stay the same over time, or do they change?” Out of 698 participants, 83% believed that basic principles of business change over time.

“However, this raises an important point. Why do we call them basics? When we start disrupting, we do it around the basics which is wrong because consider Newton’s laws of motion or the 4 Ps of marketing—these fundamentals have not changed and will never change. It’s the elements around them that evolve. To illustrate, if a zebra wants to disrupt, it doesn’t need to change its stripes; it just needs to stand differently,” Nagpal stated.

He also mentioned the book written by him, titled ‘Adapt’, highlighting key insights and lessons on adaptation and disruption. This book comprises 10 stories set in 10 different geographical locations.

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