Intrapreneurs @ mjunction: The Making of an E-Commerce Giant
Rajeev Kumar; Rupa
Rs 395, PP 140
mjunction is a truly unusual company and that's not just because it always spells its name beginning with a small m and keeps to small letters throughout. No capitals. But more seriously, it began life in 2001 rather humbly as a steel trader that spurned mundane pen-pushing manual paperwork and adopted e-technology savvy IT work systems with bravado and gusto.
This reviewer is inclined to award fine marks to the author Dr Rajeev Kumar, an academic-cum-manager in the Tata Group for not gilding the lily and heaping praise on then (in 2001) scarcely known Viresh Oberoi, a 43-year-old AGM (Re-Engineering) at Tata Steel. Albeit a senior level executive position at Tata Steel, it wasn't a glamorous job in a company where the likes of Russi Mody, Dr Jamshed J Irani and Aditya Kashyap have led top management teams that dazzled the public eye. The idea of creating an e-commerce company specifically for steel trading arose in Viresh Oberoi's mind (He isn't related to the hoteliering family) and the concept was solidly endorsed by Tata Steel MD Jamshed J Irani whose farsight led him to persuade Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), a government of India company, to be Tata Steel's equal partner in the steel portal, which qualified as one of India's earliest public-private sector joint ventures (JVs).
That's not all. Irani identified Viresh as a professional "who had fire in his belly" (Irani's words) and appointed him MD and CEO from day one of the newborn JV company. It was a tough job not least because mjunction's parents made no promise of support to the JV. It was left to Viresh and his team to earn both market confidence and revenue. This was easier said than done. This book vividly describes the difficulties the new JV faced and the strategies Viresh and his team adopted to overcome these challenges. The major ones were to convince client companies to change their age old buying-selling procedures to new and more transparent ones based on familiarity with computers and the internet.
According to Viresh, "We made elephants dance." He equated elephants with all the obstacles that he had to deal with such as employees unwilling to change, bottlenecks, bureaucracy, non-value added activities and outdated norms. The author reminds readers that it was also necessary for mjunction to develop a policy neutral work culture that would balance both public and private sector sensitivities. For instance, getting the support of the Central Vigilance Commissioner of India for e-procurement in the public sector was a huge breakthrough which enabled mjunction to expand beyond its initial work arena of steel trading.
The level of expansion that has taken place till today borders on daredevilry. The company is crazy about lapping up new ideas and to prove this point, the author has meticulously described new assignments taken up by mjunction and the benefits reaped, always measured in rupee terms literally, not metaphorically. In many cases the new work arena was large enough for the parent to create adjuncts carrying 'junction' in their names. A few examples are: metaljunction, coaljunction, buyjunction, valuejunction, financejunction, autojunction, and teajunction. Listing the rest is beyond the scope of this review. Suffice it to note that 'crazy' e-jobs successfully done included selling a company's private air strip, clearing a cyclone-hit township's streets of over a thousand uprooted trees, and breaking coal sales cartels by adopting transparent e-auctions. The author has quoted Viresh as follows: "As part of our strategy for diversification, we (are) always looking at all possibilities."
The strategy has worked, owing to which former SAIL Chairman & CEO Arvind Pande's opinion about mjunction is: "I am amazed at its growth." The company established in 2001with a start-up capital of Rs 8 crores and one intrapreneur, Viresh Oberoi, today runs on the collective brainpower of about 700 intrapreneurs, who are either employees or associates. Working as a team, in the financial year 2014, they created value of Rs 43,108 crores (audited figure) for customers. This makes it the world's largest e-marketplace for steel and India's tallest e-commerce Giant.
Sujoy Gupta is a business historian and corporate biographer