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‘Some learnings need to be shed for new learnings in a TUNA world’, says Vinaya Varma in a Leadership Series EDGE webinar

Published on February 10, 2022

Companies need to adopt new learnings – and also unlearn some lessons that may have helped them tide rough weather in the past – if they are to successfully navigate the choppy seas of the TUNA or Turbulent-Uncertain-Novel-Ambiguous world that we live in today, stated Vinaya Varma, MD & CEO, mjunction services limited, in an illuminating Leadership Series EDGE Webinar held on February 9, 2022, titled ‘Growing in the ‘TUNA World: The mjunction Story’.

This philosophy, explained Mr Varma, has enabled mjunction to emerge as the largest B2B e-commerce firm in India with nearly 1.4 lakh crore worth of goods and services transacted by over 300 small businesses on its various platforms in FY2021 alone. The company, which was profitable from year two itself and which is present in over 60 locations, remains debt-free with surplus cash to date.
Rough start

In a sense, mjunction’s inception prepared it for the TUNA reality because it ran into turbulence; the dotcom bubble had burst just before mjunction was incorporated in February 2001. This proved enabled it to revisit its business plans, which were modelled on global e-commerce success stories like buy4metals, all of whom collapsed with the dotcom crash.

mjunction was originally conceived as a 40:40:20 joint-venture between Tata Steel, SAIL and Kalyani Steel but the latter decided to opt. Meanwhile, Tata Steel and SAIL, which had contributed the first instalment of Rs 4 crore each of the Rs 20 crore authorised share capital, urged mjunction to create value from this Rs 8 crore initial capital alone. That remains its capital base to date.

Three key leadership lessons

Over the years, the company has faced numerous challenges such as the global financial crisis and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Three key leadership lessons have, however, helped it sail through, though Mr Varma cautioned that some lessons don’t always remain valid and need to be shed for new learnings, as mjunction is doing currently.

One early lesson that mjunction imbibed was to start small by running its business models on a pilot basis in order to make them profitable soon. This enabled it to experiment with different business models, some of which are running profitably even today.

Second, the company focused on creating value for its customers by developing solutions for their evolving needs.

Three, mjunction realised that people make the difference. So, it hired people with passion, enthusiasm and an attitude, even when there were no roles at times. Over time, they have made a significant contribution to the company’s growth.

TUNA times

Undoubtedly, businesses have always faced turbulence, uncertainty and ambiguity in the past. TUNA is the new reality, and there is no escaping it.

Thus, the resulting uncertainty makes it difficult to predict outcomes. It is also hard to distinguish cause and impact at times because of rising complexity and volatility.

Besides, huge shifts are taking place from new technology to changing consumer and business behaviour. Hence, it has become essential to build agility in every component of mjunction’s business today. The company now designs platform that are configurable and adaptable. Also, all team leaders continuously review decision-making processes to ensure the right people have the right empowerment.

This apart, the company’s clarity of vision and purpose and thrust on communications through townhalls, etc, are helping it navigate the TUNA world. It also frequently reviews its goals. At mjunction, there is no humiliation in admitting a failure and correcting it, as long as there is clarity of purpose, Mr Varma emphasised.

Unlearning and learning

The lessons learnt while rafting in a turbulent river may not work while navigating a larger ship in a choppy ocean. Hence, to survive in a TUNA world, mjunction is revisiting and recalibrating some of its earlier learnings.

For instance, unlike its earlier focus on small pilots, scale matters today. Hence, mjunction has shifted its focus to bigger business opportunities and is encouraging its employees to think bold instead of playing it safe. At the same time, it has adopted an asset-light strategy and is focusing on building platforms for people to transact.

Without taking its eye off the customer, the company is also moving away from customising solutions for a single client to catering to a larger market, thereby bringing standardisation and replicability to its solutions. And, with scale, skills have become as important as passion and enthusiasm while hiring today.

Mr Varma was confident that mjunction will continue to adapt and thrive in a TUNA world, as evident from his responses to the attendees’ interesting queries.