Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Flipkart HR head steps down, to move to an advisory role

Mekin Maheshwari has agreed to continue in his role as chief people officer until Flipkart recruits a new HR head

Flipkart Ltd’s human resources (HR) head Mekin Maheshwari, one of the company’s earliest senior employees, will give up the position and move on to an advisory role—the latest senior executive level exit at India’s most valuable e-commerce firm.

Maheshwari said he’s planning to work in the non-profit education sector by launching a start-up or join an existing company.

Maheshwari has agreed to continue in his role as chief people officer until Flipkart recruits a new HR head, two people familiar with the matter said, speaking said on the condition of anonymity. The company has already begun hunting for a new HR head, they added.

Since joining Flipkart in 2009, Maheshwari has held several roles, including those of engineering chief and head of Flipkart’s now defunct payments service PayZippy. He was shifted to the position of HR head in January 2014, after the departure of the previous HR chief, Aparna Ballakur.

After taking over the HR role, Maheshwari decentralized the function by hiring HR leaders for key functions such as technology and supply chain.

He designed and installed an improved performance management system, introduced progressive policies for employees such as its adoption programme, and helped hire thousands of people, including some high-profile senior executives.

In the past 20 months, Flipkart has grown more than fourfold in terms of the number of employees to roughly 33,000 people.

“The HR function has evolved into an integral part of growing Flipkart into the company it’s become. We’ve built up the organization at all levels, and the Flipkart senior leadership team, especially, is in a very good shape. It’s a good time to pass the baton. Personally, I’m now excited about doing something in the field of learning for people in age group of 14-25. Another related thing I’m looking at is teaching as a profession. I haven’t decided what exactly yet. It’ll take three to four months of free time after Flipkart," Maheshwari said.

He will continue to hold a non-operational, advisory role after leaving Flipkart on a full-time basis.

Over the past three months, at least five Flipkart leaders have left the company. These include Ravi Vora, chief executive officer (CEO) of Flipkart’s strategic brands group; chief technology officer Amod Malviya; and engineering head Sameer Nigam. Additionally, the CEOs of two start-ups acqui-hired by Flipkart have also quit. Acqui-hiring is the strategy of buying a company at a low price to hire its staff.

Analysts say the departures of these executives point to a familiar phase that fast-growing start-ups go through over time, especially ones such as Flipkart that are planning to go public. As young companies used to working in a see-as-you-go manner try and evolve into large organizations with established ways of doing things, they need professionals with experience of either having managed such change or with the experience of having worked in large organizations.

Flipkart has hired senior leaders accordingly. The company recruited Punit Soni as product head and Peeyush Ranjan as engineering head over the past two months; both came from Google. They were hired even though the senior tech roles were already occupied by Malviya, Nigam and Chatterjee. In the finance function, Flipkart hired Rajnish Baweja and Sanjay Baweja as finance controller and chief financial officer, respectively, in the second half of last year.

Fipkart isn’t the only start-up to hire a host of new leaders.

Rival Snapdeal run by Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd has also replaced the entire senior management team under its founders, Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal.

Still, the departures of so many senior executives in quick succession was unexpected and may hurt Flipkart’s image as an employer.

“It’s not healthy when so many senior people leave in such a quick time, especially those who’ve been around for several years. When so many senior executives leave, their reportees and their functions, in general, get affected. It will be tough for Flipkart to manage such churn and there is a perception that it has become a tough company to work at," said a headhunter who has worked with Flipkart in the past. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Maheshwari disagrees with this assessment and said that Flipkart’s attractiveness as an employer has improved. He pointed to a recent study by headhunting firm, which showed Flipkart’s employer ratings have increased. Additionally, Flipkart CEO Sachin Bansal got the highest approval ratings from the company’s employees, compared with the CEOs of other start-ups, according to the study.

“Anecdotally, it is possible that some employees may not be happy with us. But I prefer to go by data. Our latest Glassdoor rating is 3.9 versus 3.2 earlier. Even in our performance management survey, which measures transparency in the way employees are treated, our rating has improved by 15 points. It shows things are moving positively," Maheshwari said.

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