Corporate View: Bikash Mukherjee, Amway India

Published: Sep 2018
Bikash Mukherjee, Amway India

Bikash Mukherjee, AVP – Head of Treasury at Amway India, strives to be ahead of the game and his storied career is punctuated with innovation after innovation. Here he reveals the secret of his success and what is next on the agenda.

Bikash Mukherjee

AVP – Head of Treasury

It is impossible to be at status-quo when working in a dynamic company like Amway India. Innovation necessarily flows through the company, which was created to give Indian entrepreneurs the chance to own and operate their own business. It is this continual need to innovate and reach Amway India’s family of distributors that inspires Bikash Mukherjee, AVP – Head of Treasury, Amway India to keep raising the bar of treasury excellence.

Since its formation in 1995, Amway India has gone from strength to strength. It is now India’s largest Direct Selling FMCG Company, with a nationwide presence, thanks to the millions of distributors who sell its nutrition, beauty and household products to over 8,900 postal regions.

Corporate treasury has played a crucial role in facilitating this growth. Most notably, it ensures that Amway India gives wide options of payment to its distributors to buy it’s products. Mukherjee explains that this is very vital in a country like India which is geographically and socially so diverse. “In Urban areas our distributors are comfortable using digital forms of payment,” he says. “In many rural areas, however, cash is the only option. And Treasury ensures Amway India can cater to all.”

By catering to all and innovating to provide Amway India with the tools to move forward, Mukherjee’s treasury team has proven the value it adds time and time again. It has also blazed a trail for other treasury departments in India.

Accidental treasurer

This is no mean feat for an individual who initially harboured no intention of becoming a treasurer. After graduating from university, Mukherjee joined an auditing firm in New Delhi, working as an accountant for some years. He then moved to the corporate world, joining Gillette in a generic finance role. “This was an exciting opportunity,” he recalls. “Gillette is a huge brand in India with a wide presence. It was a great place to gain exposure to different areas of business.”

With corporate treasury not yet on his radar, Mukherjee joined Amway India in 2001 to lead the company’s reconciliation team. This move was “transformational” for Mukherjee. Not only did it set him on his path to become a world-class treasurer, but it also showed him the power of innovation, with Amway being fully open to resourcing his new ideas.

Upon joining Amway India, Mukherjee immediately set about improving its reconciliation processes. In a short space of time, he transformed what was a manual procedure into an automated process. With Amway India’s reconciliation teams beating its KPIs, management added corporate payments to the Mukherjee portfolio. Again, he highlighted the problems that existed and went out into the market to see what tools he could use to solve them. “I set up host-to-host payments with our key relationship bank to overcome this challenge,” he says. “This was very innovative at the time and we were one of the first companies in India to adopt this.”

The rest of Mukherjee’s career at Amway follows a similar narrative. Management repeatedly gave him challenges to solve, which he did, often exceeding expectations. This earned him many accolades, which included ‘employee of the year’ award. As an achiever, his portfolio grew, and management rewarded his success by giving him the position of AVP – Head of Treasury.

Today, Mukherjee handles Amway India’s core treasury operations. He also manages its insurance portfolio, sales accounting and audit. Supporting him are 16 full-time treasury professionals. Two sit alongside him in the head office conducting what he calls “strategic treasury”. The rest work in offices around the country, supporting the business with day-to-day treasury support, such as reconciliation, collections management and distributor payments.

Delivering customer experience

Despite achieving so much, Mukherjee has no plans to stop innovating. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to,” he says. “Our business is so dynamic and competition is so fierce that if you stop moving, you will be left behind.”

Mukherjee offers an example of a recent project that exemplifies this approach. He explains that over recent years Amway India has been onboarding roughly 50,000 distributors each month. The issue, however, is that many of these distributors live in rural parts of the country and are unbanked. As a result, they place orders over the phone and have to travel a significant distance to collect and pay for their goods at one of the firm’s 136 offices around the country.

“This isn’t a great experience for our distributors and they will stop working with us if we don’t solve this issue for them,” says Mukherjee. “I sat down with my team to brainstorm ideas for how we could fix it. We soon realised that there is one place close to all these distributors, no matter how rural: a state-run bank.”

Our business is so dynamic and competition is so fierce that if you stop moving, you will be left behind.

Mukherjee reached out to a handful of the state-run banks – many of whom operate over 15,000 branches across the country – to see if a partnership deal could be struck. “We worked together to build a solution that turns these branches into our collection agents,” explains Mukherjee.

“When our distributor places an order, they receive a text message containing a reference number which they can take to their local bank branch. The cashier puts this number into the bank system which links to our system to instruct them how much cash to collect. The distributor can then give the money owed to the cashier who deposits it in our account. The ERP then generates an invoice, allowing our warehouse staff to distribute the items. It is seamless.”

Not only does this solution provide Amway India’s distributors with an improved customer service, ensuring they continue doing business with them, it also solves other issues. “Because of this solution we have reduced footfall in our offices, allowing us to use our staff for more strategic work,” he says. “We have also mitigated much of the risk and cost of handling cash, as distributors now deposit payments straight into the bank rather than leaving them with our staff.”

Problem solving

Mukherjee’s work in solving business problems has transformed the status of the treasury within the organisation. He explains that across India, corporate treasury is commonly considered a back office function. At Amway it is very much part of the forefront of the business. As a result, it is common for other departments in the business to reach out to treasury to help them with issues they are having. “This is quite unique, even by international standards,” he says. “Typically, it is treasury that has to reach out and make its case, not the other way around.”

This recently came to the fore when the Amway India sales team contacted Mukherjee with an issue: a new line of premium products Amway India had launched was not selling as well as expected. “This isn’t a typical treasury issue,” says Mukherjee. “But sales knew there was possibly a financial reason it was struggling to shift the product.”

In his typical diligent fashion, Mukherjee spoke to a handful of Amway India’s distributors to understand their issues. “All said the same thing: they didn’t have the cash to pay for the goods up front,” he says. “Also, the banks were unwilling to lend them money.”

With knowledge and understanding of the problem, Mukherjee worked with his core banking partners to come up with a solution. This led to treasury developing a financing solution that Amway India’s distributors now use to purchase premium products. “This is yet another example of how a corporate treasury-led solution is enabling the business to flourish.”

Banking on support

Mukherjee is keen to note he wouldn’t be able to achieve what he has done without support. He pays tribute to the culture and leadership at Amway India, which provides a platform for innovators to thrive and is always open to exploring good ideas. He also pays homage to his team. “To be successful, you must surround yourself with the best people,” he says. “I have done this here and I am proud to be leading such a talented team.”

Enthusiastic external partners, such as banks, are also important. Indeed, for Mukherjee, they are vital allies. “I have made it my business to build a good network with the banks in India,” he says. “By doing so, I receive a first-rate customer service with all those with whom I work. This puts Amway India in a privileged position in so far as these banks will work hard to customise solutions for us. We are also often first in line to take advantage of any new solutions they develop. This ensures Amway India remains a market leader.”

Mukherjee also acknowledges the recent work of the Indian administration. “The government is focused on digitising the financial services industry in India,” he says. “We are supportive of this and have already taken advantage of many opportunities this has created. For example, we have implemented a paperless import remittances solution facilitated by the government. We also leverage UPI (Unified Payments Interface, an instant real-time payment system developed by National Payments Corporation of India).”

Doing what it takes

Whilst Mukherjee spends most of his time focusing on what is happening within India, he must also monitor what Amway is doing globally. He therefore holds regular calls with the head office treasury team in the United States to ensure he is up to speed on any major projects.

The relationship he has formed with the head office has paid dividends multiple times. For instance, he was recently appointed to lead the rollout of a new ERP system across India. Also, when Amway India built a new manufacturing plant it did so without borrowing. “To do this, we had to pause our royalty and dividend payments to the head office,” he says. “I was tasked with taking them through how this would work and ensuring that all the paperwork was in order.”

Of course, time zones are an issue for any treasurer sitting in India and dealing with the US; Mukherjee is no exception. He says he often has to make lots of calls through the night to ensure that these projects run smoothly. “I am not a morning person and prefer working at night so this is not a problem for me,” he jokes.

Despite not being a morning person, Mukherjee says he is on call 24/7. “I have positioned treasury as a strategic business partner. To fulfil that role we must ensure that we solve problems as soon as possible. We are therefore ready to respond to any issues, no matter what time of the day.”

Building an ecosystem

Having created a modern and value-adding treasury, Mukherjee is now keen to help other treasury departments in India reach a similar level. He is not alone in this endeavour and highlights how there are now daily workshops and talks held by the banks and other third parties around the country.

These are not only helping to build the standard of knowledge amongst treasurers in India; they are also helping to create a solid treasury ecosystem in the country. “This is something that hasn’t existed before,” he says. “It is exciting to see the treasury environment in India becoming so dynamic and energetic.”

Gaining exposure and building a network is something that Mukherjee believes is crucial for any aspiring treasury professional and he encourages his team to attend relevant events. This is also why he is so proud of his treasury’s five Adam Smith Awards Asia wins. “These have helped build my exposure across the region and helped me build lots of new relationships I can use to ensure we continue to follow best practice,” he says.

Pursuit of excellence

So what is next for a treasurer that has already achieved so much? Well, more innovation. “Amway India is a dynamic company that is growing rapidly,” says Mukherjee. “We aim to have US$1bn’ worth of sales by 2025; it will be my treasury’s responsibility to facilitate this. As a result, the challenges will keep coming and treasury will continue to be innovative to overcome these as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Longer-term, Mukherjee has the ultimate aim of becoming a CFO. And whilst this can be a daunting move for any treasury professional, Mukherjee has already shown that he has the skill set and confidence to make it with ease.

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