Bengaluru: India’s largest e-commerce firm Flipkart Ltd announced on Wednesday that Mukesh Bansal, head of the company’s commerce platform and its third most powerful executive, as well as chief business officer Ankit Nagori would leave by May.
These departures follow a massive organisational restructuring by Flipkart only last month. On 11 January, Flipkart named co-founder Binny Bansal (who until then had been looking after the company’s supply chain) as its new chief executive officer, replacing Sachin Bansal, in a move that it claimed would strengthen its management bandwidth as it seeks to combat arch rival Amazon India and kick off preparations for an expected initial public offering (IPO) over the next few years. Two days later, Flipkart restructured the company’s core retail and marketplace business, called the commerce platform, into three large product-oriented groups and an engineering division.
Mukesh Bansal, who joined Flipkart when it bought his fashion retail business Myntra for more than $330 million in May 2014, took over leadership of the company’s fledgling advertising business along with his role of commerce platform head.
In an interview, Mukesh Bansal and Binny Bansal talk about what led to the former’s resignation, and their future plans:
What led you to leave?
Mukesh Bansal: This is something we had been discussing for the past few months. It’s been a very long journey for me since I started Myntra in February 2007. Myntra is doing really well now, with a new CEO and being the leader in fashion vertical. Over the last two years, the commerce platform has also made some good progress with a very strong leadership in place. With Binny coming in as CEO and driving the longer-term vision for Flipkart, I felt it would be good for him to start working directly with the leadership team at (the commerce platform of) Flipkart. It’s been very intense for me—the past nine years. And as Flipkart is doing really well with a great management team, I felt this was the right opportunity for me to step back. I am going to take some time off and figure out what to do next.
Binny Bansal: Mukesh is one of the best leaders I’ve had the privilege to work with. One of the big reasons for doing the Myntra deal was the kind of passion and vision that Mukesh brought, not just for Myntra but for e-commerce in general—what should e-commerce look like, what it can do and be. He’d built an amazing brand, company and organisation at Myntra. Since he’s come into Flipkart he’s kept changing the paradigm in multiple areas starting with fashion. Another area is m-commerce. We have 60% market share of m-commerce in India, four times bigger than our closest rival. He’s also changed the paradigm on leadership hiring. Today, we have the best leadership team in the country, by far. It’s sad to see him go and it’ll be difficult for us to fill Mukesh’s shoes.
Are you starting up?
Mukesh Bansal: Eventually, I will. But for now, I just want to take a break. All of my 30s has gone into building Myntra and Flipkart. Right now, I’m just going to focus on my fitness, spending time with my kids, catching up on reading and travelling. That is what I’ll be doing for the next 3-6 months.
Again, why leave now? After the past two restructuring initiatives at Flipkart your role has only expanded.
Mukesh Bansal: We’ve been discussing (my departure) for a while, since October. I wanted to give Binny some time to come in and settle as new CEO. We also restructured the commerce platform into product groups. So I wanted to give some time to Binny to understand the commerce platform and build relationships with the leaders there. We have some great leaders coming in and this was the right time to leave. I really did want to take a break.
The past two years or so, I’ve been like a co-founder here. I’ve worked very closely with Sachin and Binny on all aspects including strategy and organisation. I got financially and emotionally vested in the success of the group. For me, it was about setting up the company for long-term success. And we are in that space today.
Binny Bansal: The idea was to do it in a phased manner.
How difficult was the decision? Apart from being in a leadership role, you also have a lot of employee stock options (ESOPs) worth millions of dollars.
Mukesh Bansal: It was a tough decision. I took my time. Emotionally, it was really hard. I’ve built some deep relationships with people here. To be able to work here with the calibre of leaders that we have was great. And Myntra is something I’ve been obviously closely involved with. So there will be withdrawal symptoms. But it’s really the confidence in Binny’s ability to lead the company and the calibre of the leadership team that gave me the courage to take this step.
Will you look at a replacement for Mukesh?
Binny Bansal: For now the product and ad teams will report to me. Over the next few months, we’ll take stock of the situation and see whether we need a replacement. We’re not immediately looking at someone.
What was the thinking behind splitting commerce platform into three product groups?
Mukesh Bansal: We want to be a product and technology led organisation. You’re not building product as a service; you’re building product to deliver results. So we have three senior leaders driving product pieces, business pieces and ops (operations) pieces and having end-to-end responsibility for results. If you look at global product companies such as Google or Facebook, they are also structured in this way.
What is Sachin Bansal’s role exactly now?
Binny Bansal: Sachin’s role is handling all external-facing things. All investor relations, evangelising Flipkart outside, working on public policy, working with the government on making sure that India has the right framework for e-commerce in terms of taxation, goods movement, etc. On the logistics side a lot needs to change. He’ll be handling all of that.
Since January, Sachin has moved to a new role, Binny has become chairman, Mukesh and Ankit Nagori are leaving. Is there a risk of too much change too soon?
Mukesh Bansal: It’s part of natural evolution. I’d effectively moved on from Myntra for a while. And it looks like Myntra is doing even better after I wasn’t involved. As the company keeps growing, we’ll keep raising the bar. We’re able to attract the best, world-class talent. People’s roles will evolve. I spent nine years in Flipkart-Myntra. Most people will do 4-5-6 year stints because our company is moving so fast. Given the leadership quality we have, Sachin can afford to do other things. And he’s taken on almost half of a very important agenda for the organisation. And what I’m doing other leaders in commerce platform will step up and do.
Binny Bansal: Too fast may not be the right words. That happened early last year (when a bunch of leaders left Flipkart). We had a great Big Billion Day. Our priorities were m-commerce and growing the marketplace both of which we’ve done very well. E-commerce is evolving really fast and we need to align organisationally with how the business is changing and what consumers want.
Still, you practically got a new leadership team last year. It’s not normal for a big company to go through so many changes this fast.
Binny Bansal: If you look at the likes of Ankit, Mekin (Maheshwari, former HR head who left last year) and Sameer (Nigam, former engineering head who left last year) they’re all entrepreneurs at heart. And they’ve left to do their own thing. So we’ll keep grooming people, we’ll keep hiring externally and some of the people we groom will leave to be entrepreneurs. Why is that a bad thing? I see it as a natural evolution.