Innovating in traditional retail markets

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The story of Titan, the fifth-largest watch manufacturer in the world, is the story of serendipity. In a quest for an exciting project, two employees of the Indian conglomerate Tata Group decided to design a watch, even though the Indian government closely regulated business and banned large corporations from manufacturing watches at the time. Bhaskar Bhat was their first recruit in 1983; the first Titan watch hit the market four years later.

In his 35-year career at the company — during which he was managing director from 2002 to September 2019 — Bhat built Titan into a multibillion-dollar retail powerhouse that today sells jewelry, eyewear, precision engineering components (through a separate subsidiary), and, most recently, handwoven saris, in addition to watches. It has a base of 100 million customers, and in 2018, sales topped Rs197 billion (US$2.75 billion). Titan’s market value under Bhat’s leadership has increased from Rs 2.22 billion (US$30 million) in 2002 to its current value of Rs1.03 trillion (US$14.3 billion).

Bhat’s biggest legacy, however, is his continued emphasis on family culture, both inside the company and with customers. Titan’s advertising has always revolved around relationships and rites of passage: birthdays, graduations, weddings, retirement. This focus…

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