Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Christopher A. Bartlett. The Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan (referred as “Lifebuoy Unilever's” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Strategy & Execution. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Corporate governance, Customers, Emerging markets, Ethics, Health, Social responsibility, Strategy execution.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan Case Study

Unilever's new Global Brand VP must not only revitalize Lifebuoy soap's sagging market performance, but simultaneously impact the health of one billion people worldwide. The latter challenge comes from Unilever's new CEO who has introduced the Unilever Sustainable Living Program (USLP), a set of bold environmental and social objectives that he has integrated into the heart of the company's global strategy. In contrast to most corporate social responsibility programs, USLP's quantified objectives are clearly defined, tightly specified, and independently audited. And managers are held strictly accountable for their achievement. After describing the background of the 100 year old Lifebuoy soap brand which is now sold primarily in developing country markets, the case outlines the steps taken by Samir Singh, Lifebuoy's newly appointed Global Brand VP as he tries to reverse its declining sales and profit performance. The case then focuses on Singh's relationship with Sudir Sitapiti, the category manager for Lifebuoy in India, the brand's largest market worldwide. Although Sitapiti has done a creditable job in turning around sales and profitability, he has fallen behind on his USLP challenge to bring handwashing behavior change to 450 million people in poor, remote Indian villages. The case concludes with some specific marketing investment decisions that Sitapati is considering and that Singh hopes to influence.

Case Authors : Christopher A. Bartlett

Topic : Strategy & Execution

Related Areas : Corporate governance, Customers, Emerging markets, Ethics, Health, Social responsibility, Strategy execution

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10020919) -10020919 - -
Year 1 3469349 -6551570 3469349 0.9434 3272971
Year 2 3969350 -2582220 7438699 0.89 3532707
Year 3 3962675 1380455 11401374 0.8396 3327138
Year 4 3230696 4611151 14632070 0.7921 2559014
TOTAL 14632070 12691830

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2670911

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Payback Period
2. Profitability Index
3. Net Present Value
4. Internal Rate of Return

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Lifebuoy Unilever's have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.
2. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Lifebuoy Unilever's shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Strategy & Execution Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Lifebuoy Unilever's often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Lifebuoy Unilever's needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10020919) -10020919 - -
Year 1 3469349 -6551570 3469349 0.8696 3016825
Year 2 3969350 -2582220 7438699 0.7561 3001399
Year 3 3962675 1380455 11401374 0.6575 2605523
Year 4 3230696 4611151 14632070 0.5718 1847161
TOTAL 10470908

The Net NPV after 4 years is 449989

(10470908 - 10020919 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10020919) -10020919 - -
Year 1 3469349 -6551570 3469349 0.8333 2891124
Year 2 3969350 -2582220 7438699 0.6944 2756493
Year 3 3962675 1380455 11401374 0.5787 2293215
Year 4 3230696 4611151 14632070 0.4823 1558013
TOTAL 9498845

The Net NPV after 4 years is -522074

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9498845 - 10020919 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Lifebuoy Unilever's to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Lifebuoy Unilever's has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Lifebuoy Unilever's can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Lifebuoy Unilever's, then the stock price of the Lifebuoy Unilever's should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Lifebuoy Unilever's should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

References & Further Readings

Christopher A. Bartlett (2018), "Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.