Manju Dhawan, co-founder, New Delhi-based Ecom Express, who was recently recognised as the ‘Woman Supply Chain Icon of the Year’ talks about her journey in the logistics industry…
Manju Dhawan, co-founder, New Delhi-based Ecom Express, an end-to-end ecommerce logistics solutions provider, was recently recognised as the ‘Woman Supply Chain Icon of the Year’ at the ‘Global Logistics Excellence Awards’ presented by Tata Strategic Management Group in association with CNBC TV 18. As the head of New Business Development and Customer Relationships Management, Dhawan has been instrumental in ensuring speed of delivery and service quality at Ecom Express, through implementation of innovative yet essential technology solutions and opportunities that augment and support productivity and efficiency.
Dhawan talks about her journey in the logistics industry, the role of women in sectors like logistics and how companies like Ecom Express are critical to the e-commerce wave we’re currently witnessing.
Congratulations on being awarded the ‘Woman Supply Chain Icon of the Year’. Please tell us what this means to you personally and some of the milestones in your professional life that have led to this?
The logistics industry can at times be one of the most challenging but certainly rewarding industries, and the women who work to give the best service deserve to be rewarded and recognized. Women play a huge role in the supply chain landscape and the industry has extraordinary women working to succeed in a male-dominated sector.
Being a part of this industry is exhilarating, and being one of the few women makes it even more so. What has kept me driven in the sector are the fascinating possibilities, challenges, something new to learn and new goals to be accomplished.
I am proud of this award and I applaud the efforts of Tata Strategic Management to recognize deserving women in the supply chain. We still have a long way to go in recognizing the contributions of women.
Please share some of the challenges women face in the logistics industry traditionally, and if and how it is changing. What more needs to be done to make it attractive for women?
Logistics is perceived to primarily involve transport and warehouse operations, which has led to the belief that the industry is more male dominated. There is a need for diversity in this industry too just like every other industry.
When I started in logistics, I once noticed at an internal meeting that there were only one or two women present. But as the competitive landscape changes, in addition to needing drivers and warehouse workforce, there is also a requirement for business development and other functions in which customers operate where women’s contribution can be enhanced.
To attract women in this industry, it is imperative to educate them of the opportunities available and what this industry has to offer. There should be conscious effort towards hiring women at levels where their contributions are visible so that other women are encouraged into the industry. Only by valuing diversity and by promoting the scope of opportunities available for women will the industry be able to attract the right talent and overcome its perception issues of being male-dominated.
Women who join this industry need to know that it is a service industry and need to have good problem solving skills and an ability to think quickly, logically and analytically.
Does Ecom have any special policies aimed at improving equal opportunities to women? Are there other women in strategic positions in the company? How do you hope to improve their presence?
Currently, we have women employees working at various capacities within the organization. We have not only hired women in the HR, Finance, Commercial, Legal, Customer Service functions and other back-end roles but there are examples within the system where women have been assigned roles which would largely be considered as the role of a male. From a female Cluster Head in Tinsukia district of Assam, to women in-charge of Distribution Centres in Sonepat (Haryana) and Kolkata (West Bengal), to a State Manager in Jharkhand, we have also built a fleet of delivery associates comprising of women in the North East. The women associates handle all the functions of a delivery centre besides actually delivering packages. We are also trying to hire more women for key roles to promote gender diversity across all levels.
Tell us about your founding journey and the pain point you wished to address through it.
My business partners TA Krishnan, Sanjeev Saxena, K Satyanarayana and I were friends and colleagues having careers spanning over 26 years each in the Express and Logistics Industry. We were familiar with various aspects of this sector, and often discussed about the growing need for a specialised logistics services provider to meet the requirements of the e-commerce segment. The industry was largely catered to by the traditional courier services providers, and needed a specialized service.
We were confident that with our cumulative experience of 100 years in the industry, we meet this need. This led us to start the company in early 2013.Today, Ecom Express redefines ecommerce logistics, introducing solutions and commanding a reach across the length and breadth of the country.
Share with us the challenges and strategies that helped Ecom achieve milestones and grow. Please share your overall strengths (team, customers and reach) as well as your vision for the future. Where do you expect the company to be in three years?
Ecom Express strives for a combination of consistency and innovation to add value and develop delivery logistics solutions as a powerful means of differentiation. Our network coverage has not only facilitated, but driven rapid ecommerce volume growth in remote locations.
In the e-commerce industry, speed of delivery is as important as the service quality for a customer. In order to facilitate reliable service to customers, Ecom Express has invested in innovative tech solutions and opportunities that augment and support productivity and efficiency in support of improved service deliverables. Tech-based backend solutions and in the field are at a large scale ramp-up mode and we see this being a clear differentiator in offering seamless solutions across the supply chain system.
Unlike other logistics partner for the e-commerce industry, Ecom Express prefers last mile delivery staff on the company’s rolls as we understand the aspirations of our employees and encourage them to grow in their career with us. The strategy has yielded rich results with front line delivery associates growing within the organization to lead positions in a short span of four years since the company has come into existence. Another key consideration for this decision is the lack of formal education for the development of logistics professionals in India.
Another unique initiative of Ecom Express is to launch the complete coverage of states within the country. Though considered revolutionary to build infrastructure to cover every last doorstep within the country, the company has identified models that can build this scale sustainably and has successfully executed the strategy in 12 states: Delhi, Goa, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and our recent addition being the states of Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar and West Bengal.
Ecom Express’ growth trajectory has been commendable and has been growing in excess of 100 per cent continuously for the last two years, making it one of the fastest growing start-ups in the country. We are operationally profitable and are poised to break-even this year.
We currently service over 17000 pin codes across 1600+ towns through our network of 1700+ delivery centres. The same number, at the beginning of 2016 was 6000 pin codes across 600+ towns through 700 delivery centres. This network and reach make us an indispensable logistics partner for any ecommerce company.
Can you share some of your experiences/inspirations that helped you grow professionally? What were some of the challenges specific to you and how did you overcome them?
Working in the express and logistics industry during the initial years itself was a really formative experience. However, after spending more than two decades pursuing a single career path, there was an urge to break the monotony of a corporate career and start something new, and that came by in the form of becoming an entrepreneur.
Logistics, today, is one of the most important and relevant sectors of our economy and is the backbone of our development trajectory. Ever since I have been a part of this industry, challenges of dealing with transporters and customers have never held me back. I believe hard work and right attitude are the ultimate qualities which take one ahead in life and in career. I think that it is for these reasons that I was able to survive in the logistics industry and the guidance and influence of able seniors and colleagues helped me climb up the ladder gradually and attain a leadership position.
The advice you would give to young women looking to make a career in the logistics industry.
Women who join this industry need to know that it is a service industry and need to have good problem solving skills and an ability to think quickly, logically and analytically. This industry has a huge network of its own and has a lot to put forward to the ones who aspire to thrive in this competitive field. Those considering the move into logistics should focus on building their own unique identity. It’s important to focus on what you can bring to your role that is currently missing.
Your vision for your future
My aim is to stay focused on fostering an environment of constant improvement to ensure that our competences are maximised. My vision is aligned to that of the organization, which is to retain/enhance the leadership position in the market through exceptional business growth driven by geographical reach.
I also look forward to playing an active role in developing the logistics industry through innovative products and solutions to benefit customers in terms of convenience, service and faster delivery in a direction to build a robust and responsive eco-system empowering the Industry.