Mr Banga is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India's premier management education institute.
He was born on October 31, 1954 in Shimla to Jaswant and Harbhajan Singh Banga. His father was a general in the Indian Army. Early childhood saw Manvinder Singh (better known as Vindi) crisscross the country, living in small villages and larger towns, wherever his father was posted. Schooling however was a more settled affair, and he attended Delhi Public School, going on to graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in 1975 with a gold medal and a BTech degree in Mechanical Engineering. From Delhi he moved to Ahmedabad to study at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM-A), where he met his wife, Kamini. Here too Vindi earned a gold medal.
Soon after leaving IIM-A, he joined Hindustan Lever as a management trainee. The FMCG giant had just introduced the concept of rural training for new hires, and Vindi was among the earliest to be inducted through the program. Back behind a desk, he quickly proved himself. Through the late 1980s, Vindi was given three out-of-turn promotions, catapulting him to the board of Hindustan Lever at age 41. Vindi impressed his superiors with his intellect. "He was the rare combination of intuition and analytical ability," Saurav Adhikari, president of HCL's Net business and Vindi's junior in Hindustan Lever in the 1980s, was once reported as saying. Vindi's clinical thinking was evident in 1997 when he and his team grappled with the problem of how to upgrade the Surf franchise. The result was a runaway success, and International Surf Excel went on to ward off rival Procter & Gamble's threat (Ariel) in the laundry detergent business.
Ironically, a few years earlier, in 1992, Hindustan Lever almost lost Vindi, when he signed on with Heinz as its India CEO. Keki Dadiseth, then the personnel director, who along with the Chairman SM Datta, managed to lure Vindi back. After Datta's term was over, Dadiseth moved up the ladder to become HLL Chairman, and in November 1998, Vindi moved to London for a sixteen month stint at Unilever UK, not only to learn about the latest management trends and to familiarize himself with the various parts of the global Lever empire, but also to be groomed as the next chairman of Hindustan Lever. Traditionally, every year, the Unilever leadership brings together the best talent in every country in which it operates, both to introduce local leaders to each other, as also to assess whom among them could be candidates for the Unilever chairmanship. In May 2000, Vindi returned to India as chairman of one of India's most respected companies.
He presided over HLL at a difficult time in the Indian FMCG industry. A general economic slowdown as well as heavy competition and price-cutting measures from HLL's rival Procter & Gamble, meant that HLL revenues and profits stopped seeing the double-digit growth they had under his predecessor Keki Dadiseth. Banga also implemented the Unilever Power Brand strategy of trimming HLL's vast portfolio of brands and singling out the core high-performers, with an aim to increasing focus and performance. This strategy also had mixed success.
In April 2004, HLL announced that it would replicate Unilever's organizational structure by splitting into two separate divisions, Foods, and Home & Personal Care (HPC). As part of this reorganization, Banga was made non-executive chairman of HLL, and also given additional responsibility as business group president of Unilever's $6 billion Asia HPC business.
In February 2005, as part of a major reorganization of Unilever's upper management, Banga was elevated to the Unilever Executive, where he currently serves as the global head of the Foods division.
On November 22, 2006, Unilever announced plans to reshape its Foods R&D organization in Europe, in order to 'further enable differentiated innovation'. The reorganization is part of the One Unilever programme designed to increase the leverage of its scale, improve market competitiveness and create a more cost-competitive structure. The announcement followed an extensive Science & Technology Review led by Banga, who said "The review showed that we have great people and strong capabilities. However, it also showed that by organising ourselves so that we could leverage our scale and play to our strengths we could improve our market competitiveness. By getting the benefits of focus and synergies I am convinced that today's announcement will make a significant difference to our innovation delivery.