We can bring in huge benefits for Indian farmers, says Flipkart CEO

Kalyan Krishnamurthy says, being employee-friendly or employee-sensitive is not an initiative, that’s the culture of our company
Kalyan Krishnamurthy, chief executive officer of Flipkart Group, regularly practices Yoga. Since the lockdown, Krishnamurthy has increased his exercise intensity to stay calm and focused on running India’s largest e-commerce company and keep the morale of his employees high amid the Covid-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc on businesses across the globe. In an interview with Peerzada Abrar, Krishnamurthy said the biggest learning for the company during the pandemic has been to collaborate with the ecosystem and quickly adapt to the changing situations. Edited excerpts:

What was your strategy for business continuity during the lockdown and keep the morale of the employees high?

The leadership team of Flipkart got together and the first question we asked ourselves is how does this (lockdown) affect all the stakeholders — employees, customers, sellers, brands that supply to the sellers, and the governments. The biggest thing that was going through the minds of our employees was job security. All the leaders reached out to their teams and shared the message very clearly that “don't worry about job security at this time, and the company will stand behind you”. We thought about our customers who were looking for an uninterrupted supply of essentials in a very safe and clean way. The sellers were (concerned) about cash flows, and we assured them that “Flipkart is going to stand behind you”.

What has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown on the e-commerce and retail industry, including Flipkart?

Clearly, the consumption in the country will take a bit of a hit. Who knows, if it is for short term, six months, or even for a couple of years. Anybody engaging in commerce activities related to domestic consumption will face the impact. Clearly, the consumer trends have been changing over the last couple of months, and the biggest change we are seeing is in the definition of essentials itself. People are working from home and spending a lot of time there and eating out less. There is certainly a need for multiple screens and multiple devices in the same household. The way they think about fashion is also changing.

Flipkart is one of the earliest ones to assure its employees that there will be no salary cuts or layoffs, despite that the trend was different. Do you remain committed to that decision?

For us, being employee-friendly or employee-sensitive is not an initiative. That’s the culture of our company. A huge amount of work has gone into that. So, it was natural for us to do something like this to ensure that employees feel secured at this time. A huge number of employees are also co-owners of Flipkart. We are building the company for the next 20-30 years, and not for this month or next month.

One of the biggest issues that e-commerce firms faced during the lockdown was access to manpower as many of the workers returned to their home towns. How are you managing that challenge?

It is clearly a challenge. These are not difficult times just for you and us. Just think about what the migrant labourers are going through right now. People, who returned to their home towns leaving their jobs, now want to come back and are trying to figure out how to move around in the country with their families. It is (fine) if we don’t get the entire labour force back now. We would eventually figure it out. We’ll wait for them to come back, and will scale the operations appropriately.

E-commerce firms like Alibaba and JD played a critical role in China and other parts of the world during the lockdown. Were you able to do the job properly in India amid curbs?

We have maintained our commitment to our consumers. We have a very robust last-mile delivery network which ensures safety and hygiene at each and every step. We were definitely able to do the job properly. The Government of India has done a tremendous job. Don't forget it’s a large country. The government has done so much to ensure that the citizens are as safe as they can be. And in that process, they will do what is right for the country. We are very clear that we will partner with them, and we will absolutely go along with that. That’s the way we have done things, and it has worked very well for the country.

The government has rejected Flipkart’s application to enter the food retail business. Your comments?

This is a massive industry. We believe that we can bring in huge benefits for the Indian farmers over the next few years, through technology and innovation. It’s very heartening to see that the honourable prime minister and other ministers are bringing radical reforms in agriculture to help farmers. We just wanted to play our part in this. There have been some clarifications and requests from the authorities with regard to our application, and we are working on those. We are confident that we will clarify those technical (details). Our job is to build a very compliant business. We will reapply for it, and the government has to decide. But, we will absolutely respect whatever decision the government takes on this matter.

After the recent funding by Facebook and others in Reliance Jio Platforms, which runs e-commerce venture JioMart, analysts say the company may be in an advantageous position as compared to Flipkart and Amazon to tap into the market. What’s your view?

It is a massive market opportunity. We believe it’s very good for the ecosystem and the market to have more players. I don't want to call out any specific companies or players. We believe, the market will expand, while the adoption (of e-commerce) will further speed-up and more trust will be built in the ecosystem. We welcome any player coming into the market and playing along. We have absolutely no concerns or issues with that.

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