"Apart from values and ethics which I have tried to live by, the legacy I would like to leave behind is a very simple one - that I have always stood up for what I consider to be the right thing, and I have tried to be as fair and equitable as I could be." Ratan Tata
I started my career at Tata. BigBasket will surely be my last stop when it comes to a regular corporate job. However rational I may claim to be, deep inside I can’t somehow believe it is a coincidence!
I worked for Tata for 14 years and Tata will always be my first love. Tata made a mark on me right from day one. In this short article, I will try and avoid the temptation of being mushy and will keep my views sharply objective.
Tata was always about doing the right things and doing everything the right way irrespective of the consequences. I think there are a lot of people who are philosophically aligned to this thought process but where they break is the “irrespective of the consequences” part.
That’s where the rubber hits the road in business and that’s when your resolve and real strength of character is tested. It is never about knowing what is right – most of us get it. It is always about being able to do the right things, and that’s where the men and women of character are separated from the boys and girls.
Tata came out in flying colors every time irrespective of the situation or consequences. Tata was always about fair play. Time and again I noticed that vendors and partners could always expect justice from the Tata leadership. There was a case where a large EPC contractor had won a fixed price contract but during design and execution, they discovered that they had made serious errors in some key assumptions that resulted in a significant cost overrun.
Tata could have taken a perfectly legitimate stand that since it was a fixed price contract they were not bound to entertain any claims on price escalation. But eventually, Tata picked up a significant chunk of the extra cost simply because the EPC contractor was a long-term partner and had a track record of transparency and honesty in all their dealings.
This is just one of a million examples. And, interestingly, the higher the level of management the greater was the commitment to fair play and justice. Verbal promises and commitments mattered and were valued more than written contracts. It was the same sense of fair play that formed the foundation of their voluntary separation plans. No sane business savvy enterprise would have ever understood the generosity of these plans. But who said Tata was a sane business enterprise! Tata was insanely crazy about values. Business was secondary.
Was this the right thing to do? Were these beliefs valid? Did these ethics drive business results in a positive way? These are tough questions to answer and cannot be answered in a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. And Hari Menon’s quote below is a logical Segway to the next part of this article, and provides a beautiful answer to these questions.
"From time to time you need to look inside, remember who you are; always stay grounded, and then decide where you want to go and how to get there!" Hari Menon, BigBasket
BigBasket (BB) is the spitting image of Tata. Tata would have been proud to have the BigBasket founders in his management team. The commitment to customers is just maniacal. The sense of fair play is all pervasive and loyalty of people at both Tata and BB was about values and culture and never about money.
BB has serviced around 27 million orders till date and every single order has kept the customer as the centerpiece.
The BigBasket brand is known for ‘trust’ and ‘fairness’. Customers have always had the confidence to come to BB whenever they have had a problem with the BB products or services and these have always been addressed amicably and speedily.
This trust has been created through a lot of hard work and dedication – by being very particular about adhering to the highest quality standards across the entire supply chain. From fresh sourcing to stringent checks and safeguards, the BB processes are geared towards delivering the finest quality.
All of BB products even have transparent packaging to ensure that the products can be checked easily. BB sources a good percentage of fresh produce directly from farmers and payments are made to these farmers within 24 hours - every time.
By 2013-14, grocery had suddenly become the most interesting category in e-commerce, accounting for nearly 70 percent of retail. The market opportunity was massive. The TAM (Total Addressable Market) criteria for even the biggest of the hedge funds was easily met.
BB played in this space and did home delivery of grocery. There were other startups eyeing this mammoth market, and big hedge funds like Tiger and Softbank were in the play to place their bets. Anyone that knows them from past history knew the aggressive bets they placed and the resultant bloodbath it created in the category.
In the other hot space of taxi aggregation, the moment Olacabs received a $200 million funding from Softbank, the principal rival of Olacabs, TaxiForSure, found the hemorrhage difficult to sustain and had to eventually merge with Olacabs. TaxiForSure despite being in a weak spot got a very good deal thanks partly to the terrific personal chemistry between Subrata Mitra of Accel and Lee Fixel of Tiger, and partly to the possibility of Uber stepping in to acquire TaxiForSure.
Lee Fixel was known for shunning the limelight. Very few people, therefore, knew him well and fewer still knew him for fairness in his dealings.
Both Tiger and Softbank chose to back a rival in the grocery e-commerce. The game was bound to get pulsating.
Five years later, BB emerged as the undisputed leader. The combined capital of Tiger and Softbank was trumped by better execution and better values.
Tata faced a lot of crisis both during JRD and Ratan Tata’s eras. A crisis shows up one’s true colours and character. Tata emerged stronger after every crisis. BB too emerged stronger after every crisis. The response to a crisis was the same at both Tata and BB – an independent investigation that was determined to establish the real issue.
This is not to claim that there is no other way of building businesses. There are other ways. This is not passing moral judgment that this is right and other ways are wrong. It is just saying that you just need to be truthful to who you are and have the courage to live the values you deeply believe in, whether you are building a business or our life!
Disclaimer: These are my personal views and do not represent the views of my past or current employers.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)