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Dabbawallahs pack in biz tricks for IIM students

After Lalu Yadav's lecture at IIM-A, it was the turn of dabbawallahs from Mumbai to give future corporate honchos a lesson or two in business management, reports Ramesh Babu.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2006 03:50 IST

After Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav's lecture at a premier B-school, it was the turn of the humble dabbawallahs from Mumbai to give future corporate honchos a lesson or two in business management. On Sunday evening, students at the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, listened in rapt attention as office bearers of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association narrated their success stories to a packed auditorium.

Members of the association, better known as dabbawallahs, pick up packed lunches from suburban homes and delivers them to thousands of workers in Mumbai's business districts.

According to association president Raghunath D Megde and secretary Gangaram Talekar, the mind-boggling logistics involved in delivering 1,70,000 lunch boxes every day depends on a crude system of codes. And yet, the chances of the lunch boxes getting mixed up are one in 16 million.

"To us, work is worship. See, we don't have a single computer in our office. Still our error is only one in 16 million transactions," Megde said as the students applauded wholeheartedly.

No wonder, the association is among the few organisations in the world to have obtained the coveted six sigma rating — a term used in quality assurance if the percentage if performance accuracy is 99.9999999 or more.

The annual turnover of the dabbawallahs is Rs 40 crore. And everyone is a shareholder and gets an equal pay of about Rs 5,000 a month. "No strike or labour dispute, ours is a closely knit family. No liquor during work hours or no shirking, we mean business," the officebearers shared the secret of the success of the organisation started way back in 1890.

Though the average educational qualification of dabbawallahs is only till the eighth standard, they fielded posers from some of the best business brains in the country with élan.

When an inquisitive student asked about the long-pending wish of the Prince Charles to spend some time with them, Talekar said, "True, the Prince made a request in 2003 when he visited India. We are ready to meet him at a time convenient for all of us."

The simple lessons from the streets of Mumbai proved thoroughly enjoyable. "A good interactive session enjoyed by all. It is amazing that with a few symbols, colour markings and weird alphabets dabbawallahs (70 per cent of them are illiterates) are running the show so perfectly," coordinator of the programme, Dr Sanjay Jharkharia, lauded their unmatched efficiency and business mantra.

"We learnt many lessons. The most important being it is not fancy qualifications but common sense and good planning that's needed to run a successful venture," Prashant Motiwani, a final year student, summed it the experience. "They really won our admiration."

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First Published: Nov 28, 2006 03:50 IST