King of the Aisles

Harish Manwani likes to spend time at the supermarket. Unlike most of us, he doesn't just pace the aisles with his wife, but makes it a point to check out what's on the shelves. As the guy heading up Unilever in emerging markets in Asia and Africa, he tells me it's become pretty much a habit.

When Manwani won the 2008 CNBC Asia Business Leader of the Year award in Seoul earlier this year, I remembered the first thing he did was to thank the people behind him. In his acceptance speech, he remarked that "Asia's time has come", referring to the region's growing economic importance. At a time when Unilever is in the throes of deep restructuring, Manwani knows Asia is less impacted and gets all excited when he talks about the prospects in the region.

Manwani made his early mark in India where he spent several years working with Hindustan Unilever. I smile when he told me how he managed to get Indian women in the poor rural areas to use his shampoo. It's stories like these that make you realize how seriously Manwani takes his job. No wise crack about the competition, (by competition I mean Procter and Gamble) can throw him off what he wants to say.

Just how Manwani tackles emerging markets will be closely watched. I'm willing to bet that the India born executive could emerge as a strong contender to bag the top job at Unilever next year.

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