We've moved away from business of chasing the competition: Flipkart CEO

Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy
Flipkart has been able to raise more capital in the last 12 months than it has in the nine previous years of its existence, and now, more capital is on the way as Walmart looks to back it offering a valuation of over $20 billion, according to sources. This swing has really helped Flipkart stay ahead of its rival Amazon, who has rarely missed such opportunities to dominate a market. This recent growth however, isn’t the doing of one of two people, but the entire team of top leaders at Flipkart says Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of the company, in an interview with Alnoor Peermohamed and Bibhu Mishra. Edited excerpts:

In the past two years, things have really swing around for Flipkart. From a time when it was looking difficult to raise the next round and global rivals were seeming like big threats, Flipkart has only become stronger. How much credit for this do you give your team?

I will disagree with the question slightly, but the thing is that today the business is not run by chasing any competition. We’ve moved away from that for about a year or year-and-a-half ago. We are a significant market leader, not just in the number of customers we have or the transactions we do, but also in terms of coming up with market-defining themes, creating new businesses, customer segments, geographies. So I will not necessarily relate my team to competition or anything like that. What you need to see here is that we have a solid seasoned team. The company is now 10 years old and there is a very strong group of people who have been with us for a very long time and who today have taken up very senior, very meaningful roles in the company.

How optimistic are you on the leadership pipeline you have? Are they capable of steering the company to the next level? 

When we look at our peer group, they’re global companies of $100 billion-plus scale, so this is the environment we are operating in. The kind of people Flipkart hires are visionaries who have seen scale, but are still very enterprising. They are entrepreneurial; they like to see pace and are innovative. The bar at Flipkart is very high and again it’s not that you need to do something better than others. We look at truly exceptional, game-changing leaders, and they are few in the country or in the world. So that’s what the population of leaders at Flipkart is. So because of that, do we take a little bit more effort than the average company in India to hire leaders? Yes we do.

How is the attrition at the senior level? Flipkart has lost a lot of leaders in several transitions in recent past.

If you look at the last one year or eight to ten months, the attrition at a leadership level at Flipkart has almost been nothing; it’s actually at a record low. Today, we have about 75 to 80 senior seasoned leaders in the company as Senior Directors and Vice Presidents in the company. They have a huge amount of experience and they come from very good backgrounds. They’ve achieved a lot, and these are not just run of the mill achievements; they’ve created categories, businesses; they’ve created scale.

One thing we see a top leadership team do is to think ahead and build the business for the long term and not just run day-to-day activities. Have you been able to do that at Flipkart?

We have a huge number of leaders today who manage a billion dollars plus in scale. Now, not every business, or every product can be measured in dollars, but that’s the kind of scale some of our leaders manage and we have a pretty good bench of people who do that. Some of them were CEOs in their previous roles, some were COOs, and these were consumer companies. These managers were managing big teams and touching millions of customers even in their previous roles. These are all very seasoned senior leaders and we have a very good bench of them at Flipkart today.

What makes Flipkart different from others, according to you? Is it the entrepreneurial culture, is it about decentralization of decision making or what else?

The company was founded ten years ago by Sachin and Binny with some philosophies -- customer first, being audacious and whatever we do has to be on the back of cutting edge technologies. These are the philosophies that the founders have imbibed in us when they started the company. What I have done is that I’ve taken that to the masses and the rest of the team, which is a very crucial aspect. Teams have a huge amount of empowerment, they are encouraged to take big decisions, to take risks as long as the data to supports them. I think at a high level and strategic level, we’re all aligned. Outside of that, I think a lot of our senior team members are handling multi-billion dollar mandates and we’re very proud to have nurtured leaders like them. 

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