Flipkart’s new CEO has his work cut out in the wake of top-level exits

Bengaluru: Flipkart new CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy is left with just three senior leaders to steer the day-to-day operations at the company after an exodus of top executives at India’s most valuable Internet start-up.

Two more senior executives, engineering heads Hari Vasudev and Ashish Agrawal, have resigned from Flipkart this week, joining three others who left earlier this month, in the fastest clear-out of senior leaders the company has seen, two people familiar with the matter said, on condition of anonymity. In all, as many as 12 Flipkart leaders at the level of senior vice-president, the second-highest executive rank, have now left the company over the past year.

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Krishnamurthy’s leadership team now comprises newly promoted chief operating officer Nitin Seth chief technology officer Ravi Garikipati, another engineering head Ravi Krishnaswamy, apart from finance controller Rajnish Baweja. All of the other leadership roles in functions including finance, legal, product and categories at the company are unoccupied, raising questions about Flipkart’s ability to manage its businesses and whether Krishnamurthy will be stretched too thin as CEO. Krishnamurthy directly oversees Flipkart’s retail and advertising businesses and is also steering Ekart, the company’s massive logistics arm (though this is formally under Seth). The upheaval at Flipkart is a consequence of the company’s missteps of 2015, which caused it to cede ground to arch-rival Amazon India. Until the end of 2015, Flipkart enjoyed a comfortable lead over Amazon but the latter is now running neck and neck with Flipkart at the top of India’s $15 billion e-commerce market.

Vasudev and Agrawal directed questions to Flipkart’s communications team. Flipkart declined to comment.

On 9 January, Flipkart changed its CEO, replacing co-founder Binny Bansal with Krishnamurthy, who joined the company for a second stint in June from Tiger Global Management, Flipkart’s largest investor that many believe is now effectively running the company. In the same week, it emerged that three top executives—Saikiran Krishnamurthy, the former head of Flipkart’s logistics business, marketing head Samardeep Subandh and chief product officer Surojit Chatterjee—resigned from the company.

Starting in late 2014, the online retailer began a recruiting spree, replacing its old management team with high-profile executives from companies such as Google Inc. and McKinsey Inc. The company’s co-founder and then CEO Sachin Bansal wanted a stellar team of leaders to eventually carry Flipkart to an initial public offering. Now, all of those executives have left Flipkart and Bansal was pushed to the role of non-executive chairman last January.

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The exits of this month were driven by Kalyan Krishnamurthy’s elevation and the corresponding removal of Binny Bansal from an operational role, a move that shocked many of Flipkart’s top leaders. The change was made by Flipkart’s board, primarily Lee Fixel, a managing director at Tiger Global. Fixel has pumped in roughly $1 billion into Flipkart since he first invested in the company in 2009. His reputation as a start-up investment star hinges on Flipkart.

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India’s top Internet start-ups including Flipkart, Snapdeal and Zomato that hired costly, high-profile talent in the go-go period of 2015 have seen most of these executives leave on a bitter note as these companies either judged them to be inept or were unable to integrate them into their corporate culture.

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