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Rajeev Krishnan to leverage expertise from Target, Wal-Mart, McKinsey, & SPAR to scale Sylcon Retail’s Supermarket and Specialty Concepts

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R S Roy
R S Roy
R S Roy is the editorial advisor at IMAGES Group

Krishnan’s plans include launching value-driven express supermarket formats and convenience stores for Gen Z, venturing into lifestyle jewellery, beauty and more…

Veteran food retailer Rajeev Krishnan, who recently joined the Sylcon Group to head its retail vertical that operates hypermarkets, supermarkets, restaurants, and speciality stores in Kerala, will use his global expertise and experience working with some of the leading brands to take the Kerala-based Sylcon Group’s retail business to the next level.

While the current formats are premium, Krishnan’s plans include value-driven express supermarket formats and convenience stores for Gen Z, he told IndiaRetailing. Super speciality retail formats will include lifestyle jewellery and beauty stores. Food will be a major focus, bringing niche concepts and experiential stores selling fresh vegetables and fruits, fish and meat, as well as offering cooking ingredients, dry fruits, nuts and spices, ready-to-cook meals, speciality dishes and delicacies, live kitchens, and more. On the food service front, Rajeev’s plans include moving beyond the current multicuisine premium restaurants in iconic locations to introducing unique concepts in multiple locations, but with focused offerings. Bakeries, tea cafes, quick bites, takeaways, and convenient dine-ins will be some of the new formats

A Leader with a Rich Legacy

Krishnan brings over three decades of experience in the retail, consumer, and education industries in the US and India to his role as CEO of Sylcon Retail. His career includes senior leadership roles at global giants like Target Corp, Wal-Mart, McKinsey, and SPAR. Rajeev’s expertise in blending operations, product innovation, technology, and strong organizational skills has consistently delivered outstanding results. His journey with top retailers has shaped his innovative mindset and disruptive merchandising strategies.

The Big Shift

Working with top global retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart, and SPAR equipped Krishnan with a global perspective. He wanted to apply it all to create something magical in the regional context. When he first met the promoters of the Sylcon, he was captivated by their spirit, openness to learn while growing, and desire to build something special. Their focus on community and teams made it an easy choice for him to make the shift.

Sylcon Retail has a rich history dating back to the early 1940s. Founded by the late K Hamsoo, who started his journey in Ceylon and later moved to Chennai and Kochi, Sylcon has grown from a humble beginning to a renowned brand in Kerala.

Today, Sylcon has made its mark across various businesses including footwear, lifestyle accessories, food, and supermarket segments in B2C retail.

Vision for Sylcon

Krishnan believes the journey ahead with Sylcon will be transformative for the Indian retail landscape. His goal is to infuse life, engagement, and unique experiences into every customer interaction across the retail and food and beverage industry. The strategic plan includes launching a variety of new concepts, ensuring sustainable growth, creating opportunities for vendors and communities, and developing an unparalleled talent pool in the service industry.

Under Rajeev’s leadership, 1943-founded Sylcon Retail is set to embark on a groundbreaking journey. The company envisions becoming the most engaging, innovative, and experiential retail brand with a strong emotional connection to its customers. Sylcon aims to positively impact the lives of its teams, guests, communities, and shareholders through innovation, creativity, and collaboration. The focus will be on delivering unmatched guest experiences and celebrating India’s rich traditions, cultures, and cuisines through immersive food retailing.

Sylcon Retail’s future will be built on trust, collaboration, and a willingness to disrupt traditional vendor partnerships. The company believes in the collective strength of many and the individual power of one to create exceptional experiences. Rajeev’s enthusiasm for joining Sylcon is fueled by the group’s free-spirited entrepreneurship, passion for excellence, and courage to dream big. Everything Sylcon undertakes is driven by a profound love and care for its customers and community.

A Trusted Mentor and Inspirational CEO

Beyond his professional achievements, Rajeev is recognized as one of India’s most trusted and inspirational CEOs. His commitment to building strong organizations and his HR orientation have earned him accolades. He is a mentor and coach to many leaders, helping them develop their self-awareness, leadership skills, and emotional intelligence. His passion for fostering strong partnerships and developing new concepts has had a significant impact on numerous small and medium businesses in the consumer, retail, and education sectors. A quick look at his achievements…

Target: Krishnan’s journey at Target spans over 18 years, during which he witnessed the company grow from about $5 billion to $60 billion. This extensive experience with one of the top retailers in the US and across the world was fundamental to shaping his career. He had the privilege of being part of numerous first-to-market and pilot initiatives across various functions, including HR, merchandising, operations, supply chain, and lean retail.

In his early years at Target, he was part of the team that propagated the first English as a Second Language initiatives, where Spanish was taught in stores, laying the foundation for building strong, diverse teams across the US. He was one of four store managers across the country to run the SMARTS clearance outlets for Target, where end-of-season products were remerchandised into a unique format. This experience contributed to the development of closeout and factory outlet concepts in later years. His understanding and strength in format development and concepts were honed through his involvement in piloting and launching various key Target store formats, such as Target Greatland, and Super Target. Each new version of the Target store prototype taught him the importance of continuous improvement and innovation.

One of Rajeev’s key contributions was in product and merchandising, where he helped create the micro merchandising concept. This initiative ensured that every Target store reflected its community and customer preferences, rather than adhering to a one-size-fits-all model. These initiatives set a benchmark for retailers across the US and continue to influence retailing in India today. A life-changing phase of his career was working with McKinsey & Company on one of the first lean retail initiatives in the US. This laid the foundation for numerous process, productivity, and measurement initiatives that yielded game-changing results for Target.

While his strengths in operations and merchandising were crucial to his success, he also became a strong believer in Target’s commitment to society and the communities it served. He led Target’s community service initiatives for the West Coast early in his career, shaping his passion for making a difference in people’s lives.

Bharti Wal-Mart: At Bharti Wal-Mart, he created and launched the now popular Indian hypermarket format at around 35,000 sq. ft., with a leadership position in fresh categories through farm-to-fork initiatives across fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat. He was responsible for leading the entire Easy Day format, growing it to approximately 132 stores within the first three years of its launch.

SPAR: During Rajeev’s tenure at SPAR, the company experienced the largest number of store openings. The SPAR Version 1.0 set the tone for the brand’s phygital retail story in India, becoming a leading player in the country with a strong presence in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mangaluru, Gurgaon, Delhi, Coimbatore, and other cities.

He established technology partnerships with companies such as Bosch, TCS, NEC, Perpule, and Techtronics, setting the stage for a digital revolution. SPAR became one of the fastest-growing omni-channel retailers, forming partnerships with Amazon, Dunzo, and various startups, establishing a leadership in quick commerce.

Under his leadership, vendor and merchandising partnerships reinvented the concept of Emotionally Connected (EQ) SPAR stores, focusing on engagement and experience. Initiatives such as Freshly, Going Nuts, Home Sweet Home, Grandma’s Corner, Fishy Vishy, and Sweet Tooth brought new meaning to the standard food/grocery and non-food ecosystem.

SPAR’s community and society connect initiatives, such as the partnership with SOS Children’s Villages, became highly successful CSR initiatives in India and worldwide. SPAR India also became one of the largest SPAR private label brands across Southeast Asia and the Middle East during his tenure. In recognition of SPAR India’s efforts, SPAR International hosted its annual shareholders meeting in India for the first time, opening significant business opportunities for SPAR’s Indian partners globally.

Rajeev Krishnan will be speaking at the upcoming India Food Forum on 27 & 28 November at Westin Powai Mumbai. Do not miss the opportunity to hear him share his insights on navigating the dynamic landscape of creating value through food retail.

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