Women commanders at the war front

As India went under lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, online grocery major Bigbasket was under siege, and many of its key initiatives during the crisis have been being driven by women leaders.
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No one expected the events following the Covid-19 outbreak to unfold so rapidly. Increased international mobility resulted in a rapid spread of the virus. The virulence and ease with which this strain of the virus spread was grossly underestimated. Slowly, the extent of devastation it wreaked on whole nations was becoming evident. Cities and nations were quickly going under lockdown. India went under lockdown too.

Bigbasket was under siege. There was a surge in traffic on the evening the Janata Curfew was announced. Some days later, when the Prime Minister came on television again to announce a 21-day lockdown, all hell broke loose. The site and app were not geared to handle this kind of spike. The tech team swung into action and worked quickly with AWS to strengthen the capacity to handle this traffic.

But on the ground, Bigbasket faced three problems: People, People, and People! There was a huge shortage of people! Many customers who had never shopped for groceries online were forced to give it a shot. Some individuals had begun to draw parallels with the demonetisation moment for Paytm.

The big difference was that Paytm was a pure internet business and a surge in traffic could be handled by adding servers and re-architecting the software.

In contrast, Bigbasket is a brick and mortar business, and adding capacity is time consuming even in normal times. And these were not normal times. Capacity was shrinking because people who worked in the warehouses and last-mile delivery preferred the safety of staying home like everyone else who were forced to do so.

Tanuja Tewari, our VP HR, has been at the forefront of solving the people side of capacity. She has been in daily touch with the regions to ensure that safety and health is not compromised while we focus on creating capacity. She has worked tirelessly with partners to create win-win agreements that can be quickly operationalised on the ground. Her leadership style is perfect for a crisis – step back and create a hundred leaders across the company who feel like they own the place and feel inspired to go beyond the call of duty. She sees her role as one of energising, facilitating, encouraging, taking quick decisions, and clearing roadblocks. She is the perfect embodiment of ‘tough love’.

In Kavita Bagwe and Malarvizhi Damodaran (Malar), we have two amazing business HR heads driving our efforts tirelessly in Mumbai and Chennai. While Kavita is a feisty leader who can put the fear of God in the local toughs and union leaders, Malar is a soft-spoken leader known for her calm and courage. Malar has been quarantined because of her husband’s travel history, but she is available 24x7 on phone, Zoom, and WhatsApp, busy solving problems.

Lalita Aggarwal, our National Head Process for last mile, moved swiftly and stitched up agreements with Uber and redBus by working with closely with the teams at Uber, RedBus, and Bigbasket teams. She is also working with the likes of Swiggy, Zomato, and many others to utilise idle capacities. Her team worked 24x7 through the detail on operationalising these on the ground. Uber is now delivering Bigbasket orders in Bengaluru, Chennai, and Noida. Along with Divya Ganjoo from the Product team, she is driving other initiatives like ‘contactless delivery’.

Pallavi Palkar manages our business for all Tier II cities. Her first priority was to ensure the safety and protection of the field ops, and maximise the reach with limited available manpower. She has been ensuring that all protective equipment is available in all the 14 Tier II cities, and monitoring whether all checklists are being followed. She took the call to simplify the delivery processes by moving from four slots per day to a full day slot. This helps cover more households with the same manpower.

Yamuna is the one person who orchestrates the entire operational and financial reviews of the company with the management team. She has a total and in-depth understanding of how the business is tracking at any point in time. She has been continuously monitoring capacity, cancellations, out of stock, and representing the business on tech and product changes needed.

Shrobona joined Bigbasket as an intern right out of engineering. Within a year of joining, she is responsible for site merchandising, which is one of our key marketing functions. It is a complex function where one needs to blend data, creativity, stake-holder management, and consumer insights to curate the best experience for more than 15 million visitors thronging our site and app every month. She is at the forefront in this crisis.

As we ramp up our manpower through unconventional sources, we were aware that if we were not careful, the whole process of training would be compromised.

Neelam Ahluwalia, our VP (L&D) has worked tirelessly with the regions ensuring that training is not compromised. She and her team have come up with innovative ways of communicating key messages to the field staff, and her team has been churning out explainer as well as communication videos with speed. Anagha Karvir from her team has been the energy and spirit behind the creative communication with the use of videos, posters and content on monitors in the lunch halls.

As I was reflecting on a Sunday morning, I suddenly realised that many of our key initiatives in this crisis are being driven by our women leaders.

There are many more who are working behind the scenes whose names may not find a mention in this piece.

We are deeply proud of them!

Fortunately, things are slowly turning around and we are slowly adding capacity. But frankly, these are uncertain times and one can never predict or extrapolate. God forbid if an employee in a store tests positive, the store needs to be shut and capacity can further shrink.



In conclusion, it is important for all of us to stay positive, communicate hope and optimism for our teams. God willing, we will overcome!

(Edited by Megha Reddy)

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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