Top-level exodus continues at Ola, after Rajiv Bansal’s exit

Apart from CFO Rajiv Bansal and marketing chief Raghuvesh Sarup, Ola’s chief operating officer of offline initiatives Anuj Bhargava has also resigned


Ola has also initiated talks for a fresh round of funding. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Ola has also initiated talks for a fresh round of funding. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

New Delhi/Bengaluru: Ola, India’s largest ride-hailing service, continues to witness a spate of top-level departures, at a time when the Bengaluru-based start-up is locked in a fierce market-share battle with Uber and is almost certain to raise its next round of funding at a lower valuation.

Apart from the exits of chief financial officer (CFO) Rajiv Bansal and marketing chief Raghuvesh Sarup, Ola’s chief operating officer of offline initiatives Anuj Bhargava—one of the company’s key architects behind recent initiatives such as Ola Play—has also resigned, according to two people aware of the development. Both of them requested anonymity. As part of the Ola Play initiative, Ola installed tablets in its cabs through which customers can access personalized content such as music, movies, shopping, and also control the air-conditioning.

Several other senior directors have quit in the last two weeks, the people said. Ola confirmed Bhargava’s departure from the company, but denied the exits of any other executives. Sriram V. Iyer, head of engineering and senior director at Ola, has also quit. The exits come at a time when Ola is facing unprecedented churn across its ranks and, as a result, has been forced to hire executives from top companies such as Pepsi to fill some of these vacancies. Ola has simultaneously conducted a reshuffle across its business units, the people mentioned above said.

In January, Ola named Vishal Kaul, a PepsiCo veteran, as its chief operating officer (COO) and elevated former COO Pranay Jivrajka as a founding partner. In January, Ola also hired former SAB Miller India executive Shalabh Seth as the chief executive of its leasing subsidiary Ola Fleet Technologies Pvt. Ltd to help grow the supply of cars.

The company has, however, struggled with senior-level exits. Some of the senior executives who have quit include Sundeep Sahni, a former executive at e-commerce firm Lazada Indonesia who was hired as vice-president of new initiatives, and Abhimanyu Rawal, head of Ola’s luxury car business. Both Sahni and Rawal quit in December last year.

Earlier in February, Mint reported that Ola’s CFO and former Infosys veteran Bansal has resigned. Ola has named operations head Pallav Singh as its interim CFO. Mint also reported that Ola’s CMO Sarup had resigned from the company.

The top-level departures come at an awkward time for Ola, even as it attempts to stave off a fierce challenge from US-based rival Uber Technologies, which has made significant inroads in India’s ride-hailing market over the past 18 months.

The outcome of this battle, along with a simultaneous battle for market dominance between Flipkart and Amazon, could very well define the future of India’s start-up ecosystem, as billions of dollars are at stake. To fend off Uber, Ola has also initiated talks for a fresh round of funding.

Mint had first reported in June that Ola had initiated talks with investors to raise $300-400 million as it seeks to maintain its lead over arch rival Uber. Earlier in February, Mint also reported that US-based investment firm Vanguard Group has slashed the valuation of its stake in India’s largest cab-hailing service Ola. Vanguard invested in Ola in 2015.

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