2016 is ending and Indian e-commerce majors – Flipkart, Snapdeal, Jabong, Paytm among others – are grappling with an exodus of management-level executives.
All have been aggressively recruiting top talent – including big-ticket Silicon valley veterans – with the millions of dollars they have raised. Retaining them, however, has not been so easy.
While employee movement is common to any business, experts believe that the pace at which it’s happening in the e-commerce space indicates challenges related to the organisational structure, expectations from employees, young leadership and lack of robust strategies.
“The current e-commerce scenario depicts a situation wherein the middle management is much more experienced than the top management, which may generate heat on some issues within the organisation,” explains CEO, Beyond Talent Management Pvt Ltd, Barkat Charania.
“Particularly in e-commerce, it is challenging to get the right person with required skills set at the right time. The industry needs professionals who are process-oriented and also have an entrepreneurial overview, people who are strategists and yet should be willing to get their hands dirty,” he notes.
Consider Flipkart, India’s biggest e-commerce player valued at more than $15 billion, which is currently struggling with major exits at the top level. At least four senior executives have quit Flipkart over the past four months. In 2015, a total of 16 senior executives quit Flipkart and its lifestyle e-tailing unit Myntra. While some moved on to take up senior positions in other tech startups, some donned the entrepreneur’s hat.
Recent among these departures is Punit Soni, Flipkart’s high profile catch from Silicon Valley, who joined the team as Chief Product Officer a year ago. While the reason for Soni’s exit is unclear, some media reports claim that Punit was made to leave because he was not able to work with the system and was finding it difficult and constrained to work with many seniors and stakeholders.
“The problem is that these companies are generally very young, and haven’t had the time to build a culture of retention. The business keeps on changing directions and thus, leadership may not feel the need for a high-powered individual any longer as the business has changed direction,” says Managing Partner at Hunt Partners – India, Sunit Mehra.
Other high profile exits include Flipkart’s former Head of Commerce & Advertising and Chairman of Myntra, Mukesh Bansal and Chief Business Officer, Ankit Nagori, who left the company together, in February, to start their own tech ventures. Manish Maheshwari, the Head of Seller Marketplace and Ecosystem at Flipkart, too, left the online retailer earlier this month to join Web18 as its Chief Executive Officer.
Slideshow: Top level executives who quit e-commerce firms in the past four months
Snapdeal’s Rajeev Singh
Flipkart’s Punit Soni
Jabong’s Puneet Gupta
Flipkart’s Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori
Flipkart’s Manish Maheshwari
Emails sent to Flipkart regarding the matter didn’t elicit any responses till the time of filing this story.
Meanwhile, at Snapdeal, Rajeev Singh, Former Associate Director of Market Development, quit the organisation earlier this month to join KartRocket, an e-commerce platform enabler, as its Vice President of Seller Ecosystem.
Among the other biggies, Jabong’s Business Head, Puneet Gupta too exited the company in March this year to join Amazon as Head, Sales, Marketing & Operations – Food Fashion and Grocery.
The worrying across-the-board exits indicate that e-commerce firms should consider restructuring their operations in order to focus on business fundamentals, where discount-driven growth and GMVs as profit metrics will no longer be an option. This is crucial, especially at a time when venture capitalists have begun asking questions on business metrics and profitability and have started controlling big-ticket investments from the beginning of 2016.
As for employee attrition, experts advise entrepreneurs to be mentally prepared for more such exits.
“There are plenty of new start-ups who want to hire people with prior relevant experience from established e-commerce brands in senior management positions. That is a tough ask,” Charania says.
“However, if companies are hiring professionals with entrepreneurial mindsets, they should be mentally prepared for the entrepreneurial temperament of their employees pushing them to seek new experiences,” he concludes.