Monday, December 19, 2011

Samanvay day one Lecture: Mr.Pawan Agarwal

If someone had mistaken this man and his colleague to be social activists actively campaigning in support for Anna Hazare, then that person could be forgiven. That’s because you don’t normally find CEO’s sporting a simple white dress, wearing a Gandhi cap. But, Mr.Pawan Agarwal, CEO Mumbai Dabbawala is not an ordinary man nor is the organization to which he belongs.
Highly qualified, Mr.Pawan Agarwal is a mix of intellect and practical sense. He is both a teacher and a leader brimming with energy and enthusiasm which affects all who meet him. Little did we know that the lecture he would give would go beyond the Dabbawalas connecting with the very fabric of our management theories.
He started his lecture by asking the same questions that were running in our minds. How do the dabbawalas do what they do so efficiently? Why no one else is able to replicate it? And then he started giving some very interesting answers.
Value systems play a role in customer confidence:

The Dabbawalas are not just any random group, but a specific sect of people called the Valkaris. They worship lord Vitalla in Pandaripur. In this sect those who take oath not to drink or Non-veg are called Malakri. Malakri or not the dabbawalas are not allowed to consume alcohol or Non-Veg before coming to work as customers might feel uncomfortable when the dabbawalas arrive to collect the tiffin boxes to be delivered. This fact would remind those who are related to management about the importance of Value systems in an organization.
Moreover, absenteeism from work which is not reported beforehand attracts a heavy fine which ensures that the dabbawalas show up for work as expected. However, if a Dabbawala reports that he wouldn’t show up for work beforehand then he is not subjected to the punishment of paying heavy fines.

Effectiveness need not be dependent on technology:

Later, he went on to explain what policies ensure the effectiveness of the dabbawalas.
The dabbawalas have access only to primitive technologies which they put to efficient use to accomplish their daily work. Collecting tiffin boxes from various households they transport them to their respective destinations using cycles, hand carts, wooden storage boxes and of course the suburban metro train service which forms the backbone of their service. It is amazing to see how in today’s world where technology has permeated to a great extent in many businesses, a business of this kind could exist. No IT. No latest technology. No Research & Development. Yet they have won some of the most prestigious awards in the industry circles including a certificate of Six Sigma compliance.
The point is they don’t need any to perform their activities to the best of their abilities. This should be an eye opener to those who believe that technology is a necessity in all businesses. Anything is necessary only if it serves a useful purpose to make the business activity better.
Communication – Visual representation can talk volumes
The entire job of delivering thousands of tiffin boxes over time have been made simple by a visual representation of the vital details of the delivery specifics.
Such a representation on top of each tiffin box is the lifeline of the dabbawala business. Hence, the dabbawalas always carry colour pencils with them and redraw the representation on top of tiffin boxes in case they seem to be fading beyond comprehension.
What’s the right pricing strategy?

Mr. Pawan Agarwal, spoke about the relationship they have with their customers. The organization values customer more than everything else. They demand a very nominal fee for their services which is the same for all customers irrespective of their income group. This equal treatment sends out a strong message that customer service is valued more than money.
Customer Relationship management is not an exclusive knowledge. It’s a very old science. Every businessman should know the nitty gritties of his customer relationship to run his business successfully.

Work is worship

Most of the dabbawalas are either illiterates or have only a basic level of education. But, they know their destination because of experience and that never fails them. The value of work experience shows in their efficiency which has earned them the Six Sigma recognition.

The grass root level workers are of two types. The members who deliver tiffin boxes and mukadams who are the group leaders. The group leaders are selected on the basis of a sole criterion. Age!
The dabbawalas respect elders and allow themselves to be guided by them. Hence, age is the sole criteria for becoming a group leader. How would that look on a Resume?!!
Org Structure – Simple and straightforward.
The Organization Structure of the dabbawalas is a simple hierarchy:
  • President
  • Vice President
  • General Secretry
  • Treasurer
  • Directors(9)
  • Mukadams (800)
  • Members(5000)·    
On the 15th of every month a meeting is held between the dabbawalas and the senior management to resolve any issues they might have at their workplace. That’s human resource management.
Corporate Social Responsibility

Finally, the Dabbawala senior management have taken initiatives like Sunday school education for the dabbawalas so that they can also learn English and computer science. This will help them apply this knowledge in their work. Moreover, the dabbawalas fund the lodging and dining for pilgrims to ashrams in fourholy places as a contribution to the society. Corporate social Responsibility at its best!
The impact
Education is just a tool to do the work you do more effectively and efficiently. It is not the sole criteria for success, especially in the field of management. Wisdom and culture can be nurtured by those who value it and perceive its power. The Mumbai dabbawalas have proved it and they continue to do so even as you read this very article.

Compiled By:
Bharath Raman
DoMS Interface
Class of 2013


  1. Can I have a d contact for Mr. Agarwal

  2. Really inspiring in series and while all the analysis I have feel that this blog is really informative all those quality that qualify a blog to be an excellent MBA thesis writing help.


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