New Character

Induction of senior people often changes an organisation’s culture or character, according to Kartik Hosanagar, Professor of Internet Commerce at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “In young start-ups, founders often call the shots and there is no expectation of consistency. Individual whims may dominate over processes.”

“We find that senior people are questioning our style of operations and are creating processes that make logical and business sense,” says a 24-year-old employee of one of the top three e-commerce companies in India. “Earlier, we would blindly do things that Were suggested without a thought to the impact.”

For the seniors now walking into a young workplace, the ability to carry the entire team along is crucial. Some e-commerce companies – such as Amazon – even give them a crash course on the organisational philoso­phy and goals. It is intended to ensure their smooth integration into the team. Consider the example of Akhil Saxena. who joined Amazon in July 2013 as Director Operations. “Here we are obsessive about customer fo­cus and satisfaction. Any action is taken by keeping that in mind and catering to that need. Hence, it was important for me to take that time and understand the focus of Amazon so its values and style of functioning is consistent across geographies,” he says. The end result – he has man­aged to deliver with speed and effi­ciency and also ensure that the entire team works together with him on projects. “When I joined, there was only one fulfillment centre (ware­house), and in 14 months I was able to launch 11 centres,” says Saxena. Saxena’s over two-decade experi-


A number of high-profile seasoned hands are shifting to e-commerce companies

Abhijeet Muzumdar has

joined Amazon India as its head of corporate develop­ment and private invest­ments. He was the vice president of a global VC firm, Bessemer Venture Partners

Pratik Seal is now the Chief Marketing Officer at Housing, com. He was the business head at Star India

Punit Soni has crossed over to Flipkart as its Chief Product Officer. He was product man­agement executive at Google

Saikiran Krishnamurthy has

been recruited by Flipkart as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of its commerce division. He was partner at McKinsey & Co.

Vikram Raizada has joined Amazon as one of the cat­egory directors. He was the CEO (Retail) at Tara Jewels

Jeyandran Venugopaihas

been brought on board by Snapdeal to map out its future technology roadmap. Venugopai was previously with Yahoo! India

ence at Hindustan Unilever and KEC in operations has served him well in his current role at Amazon. But, above all, he believes that his sub­stantial experience in mentoring the young has played a pivotal role in his success. “I am comfortable with high quality and young talent, and have been a coach and mentor to many young leaders and trainees,” he says.

Others also point out that e-com­merce companies need a mentoring process for its young talent. “We re­alise that we cannot grow only on the basis of the high energy of 20-some- things. At the end of the day, they are young and are really are not in a po­sition to create processes that are re­quired to manage fast growth,” says Swati Bhargava, the 3 2-year-old founder of, an online cashback and coupon company.

No Longer Flat

So, what is clearly going out of the window is a flat organisation that was really at the heart of most of these young companies. “That does not work. Fact is people in their mid- to-late 30s are likely to be married and have kids. This makes them more settled and, in addition, they bring in valuable domain experi­ence,” says Bhargava. Yes, there is the critical bit about the comfort of investors too. They would surely be worried about an organisation that is run only by people in their 20s. And there is nothing better than getting a former entrepreneur or a professional to shake things up. “This is not some­thing new, even I was sought for skills as an entrepreneur,” says Subrata Mitra of Accel Partners, a venture capital fund, who was an early investor in Flipkart and is now on its board.

There are examples galore of e- commerce companies poaching sen­ior talent. Consultancies and con­sumer goods companies are the fa­vourite hunting grounds. Recently, Flipkart hired former McKinsey direc­tor Saikiran Krishnamurthy as Chief Operating Officer of its commerce di-
August 2 2015 BUSINESS TODAY 91


vision. Paytm has taken on board Nehul Malhotra, Head of Merchant Operations at McKinsey, as the digital payments company continues to forge ahead in mobile commerce.

Organisational Stress

Yet, this kind of recruitment policy is mixing up the age profiles, where the tenured talent is even older than the founders. It is not only changing the work dynamics and the work culture, but also leading to organisational stress.

Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO of OYO Rooms, candidly speaks about the impact of the induction of senior talent. “Of course, it is not easy dealing with people who are smarter than you,” says this 21-year-old, who set up his budget hotel aggregator when he was just 19. The company has re­cently brought on board Abhinav Sinha from the Boston Consulting Group. It has recruited Ayush Mathur (earlier with Parthenon Consulting) to head Delhi operations and, among others,

Shreerang Godbole from McKinsey & Co. to run    f

Mumbai operations.

“Fact is that found­ers are control freaks and they think they know it best. So, it is very stressful learning to back off and trust senior colleagues. You have to learn to give them space and auton­omy, and also earn their respect,” says Agarwal.

The learning and adjustment process is clearly not easy for the young talent in an out­fit, often including the founders. But wisdom gradually dawns on them that it is best to have seasoned


professionals running the show. “He (Agarwal) is extremely driven and passionate and has the gift of getting many senior people on board. But, he is also a guy who has no experience of having worked in a professionally- run organisation. So he is also learn­ing and evolving as a leader,” says Ravi Kiran, former CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group South East and South Asia, who is now the co­founder of VentureNursery – the start-up accelerator for OYO Rooms. Today, OYO Rooms has over 500 people on its rolls with average age around 24 years, and the leadership team of around 50 people has senior talent in their early forties as well.

Experienced people com­ing into an organisation can bring in key processes, says


Hosanagar of Wharton School. “Another such change, particularly in Silicon Valley, can be work-life bal­ance. At valley start-ups run by 20-somethings, it’s not uncommon for employees to work late into the night and weekends. It’s just part of the culture. Introduction of someone senior can again change the norms,” he says.

It’s not just the youthful founders who are adapting under the seniors – the reverse is happening too as the evolving work ethos demands an openness and flexibility from tenured talent. Given this, reverse mentoring is not a fad, but an existential reality that most dynamic professionals, such as 42-year-old Ranjeet Oak, Chief Business Officer, Holidays, MakeMyTrip. com, readily embrace. “Sure, I do know the dynamics of what it takes to reach out to 700,000 retail outlets, but I needed to quickly learn the online go- to-market structure and online product structure from someone younger, given that MakeMyTrip does over 15,000 transactions on a daily basis,” admits Oak candidly, who has over 16 years of experience at P&G in various markets.

Are these people miss­ing out on a peer group that leads to a more cohe­sive culture? “Myntra is at the forefront of doing things and we have talent from global companies that adds to the diversity. a And there is employee ~ ownership in such struc- as tures that makes it very – attractive for any senior person,” says 42-year- old Vikram Kolar, Senior VP at Myntra,

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