In Conversation with Srinivas Chunduru on Ola’s Pet-friendly Culture

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Srinivas Chunduru is Ola’s Group CHRO & CEO of Ola Skilling, and one of Ola’s key advisors. He collaborates with the team towards skilling initiatives that are in line with Ola’s mission of generating sustainable employment in the country.

He is also a part of the board of Ola Skilling Private Limited, an Ola group company, that partners with both government and private entities to enhance employment opportunities. With over two decades of work experience, he has worked across diverse functions ranging from P&L Management, Business Development, Corporate Strategy, Investor relations, and Strategic Human relations. He has also worked with organizations like The Piramal group and Larsen and Toubro in the past.

Srinivas is an alumnus of IIM (Ahmedabad) and Goa Institute of Management. He has completed his bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. Currently, he serves as a board member of two start-up organizations and is on the advisory board of several leading Business Schools. He is also a member of the CII National Committee on Skill Development for the year 2018-19.

Q- You are an influential business leader having a cross-functional experience in key leadership roles with astute companies. What has been this journey and your experience when working on a cross-functional team?

My journey so far has been very interesting and enriching. Over the past two decades, I have worked across diverse functions such as Business Development, Corporate Strategy, M&A, Strategic Human Resources and managing business P&L. One element that has emerged as a key feature of success at these various business functions is the ‘culture’ and the organization’s ability to embed the culture into people’s DNA.

Over the years I have come to believe that a company can grow only when its culture fosters growth, encourages collaborative working, allows you to experiment and offers great flexibility to its people to learn, unlearn and relearn. The most satisfying aspect of this journey has been my participation in creating scalable models of growth; models that resonate globally.

These are exciting times at Ola where we are expanding in every sense, and the company’s entrepreneurial culture is playing a pivotal role in our growth.

Q- What is your HR Philosophy and what do you think the HR should focus on for the future?

My personal HR philosophy is aligned to what I consider as the best career advice I have received till date – have a bias for action and do not get into paralysis by analysis mode. This is also very important for an agile environment like that of Ola. Human resource is all about creating a thriving culture, and culture cannot be about anything else, but people! Policies and people initiatives help set a direction and go a long way in helping employees grow, and all this will only be possible when we trust our instincts more than logic and get into action mode!

Additionally, HR is an integral part of the business and hence the focus should be on attaining a deeper understanding of the business and growth drivers. With evolving business landscape, HR needs to be more proactive and should learn about current and future technologies like AI, connected cars, electric mobility, shared mobility, food tech, internet of things, super apps, etc.

Q- Ola is India’s most successful startups, an innovative and technology-driven company. How do you think the HR function has contributed to the winning story of Ola?

These are exciting times at Ola as we continue to expand our offerings globally and also penetrating deeper within India with new product innovations. On the other hand, we are building verticals that are strengthening our core business.  The key to all of this is our people. We are present in over 250 cities across 4 countries and we strive to ensure that all our people practices resonate with our employees globally.

Deep engagement, best in class benefits and compensation, and diversity play a key role in our people strategy. Our policies and people initiatives are developed keeping in mind the financial, physical and emotional well being of all employees. Through our flagship program, the Ola Edge online portal, employees can structure and customize their compensation package with components based on their lifestyle, expense style, age, etc. We have introduced various Flexi-pay benefits such as learning assistance reimbursements, books, and periodicals reimbursements, meal cards, leave travel allowances, Voluntary Provident Fund (VPF), National Pension Scheme (NPS), etc. through which employees are educated and empowered to plan their salary components. Additionally, we offer life and medical insurance for all employees and their family members (spouse, children, parents). The uniqueness of the Ola Edge offering is in the best of benefits coming together, that can be customized to suit one’s needs, setting it apart from any other rewards program being offered to talent in the country today. 

Additionally, we are also significantly investing in the learning and development of our employees. This encourages our employees to take up newer challenges, evolve their thinking capacity and add to their skill sets constantly. Through our programmes, like Uday (Learning program for key support functions like HR, Finance, etc.) and Elevate (12-month induction for campus hires), we have adopted a very focussed, structured and output-oriented approach. Employees are able to understand and appreciate business nuances all the while having a bigger picture of the business from leaders, to be able to support them better. This includes rigorous workshops and on-location training that allows them to broaden their understanding of the business and create sharper solutions for business problems.

At the workplace, we have introduced best-in-class ‘Child Care Benefits‘ to help our employees with child-care. Parents can make the best choice for their children through our tie-ups with crèches in the vicinity of each and every office, available on our online childcare portal. Ola also encourages a dog-friendly work environment and employees are free to bring their dog(s) whenever they like. In addition to the initiatives and best practices, we engage in a plethora of activities that are aligned with our core values of information sharing and problem-solving. We organize Hackathons, Product Days and regular Town Halls to keep employees engaged and informed about various aspects of the company.

Q- Since you carry portfolios (CEO of Ola Skilling & Group CHRO), what are the evolving expectations between CEO & CHRO, and how to manage?

As I mentioned, HR is an integral part of the business and I firmly believe that every CEO is a CHRO by default for the business. The verticals that I handle, Human Resources and Skilling, are very closely related as both of these involve an invaluable asset – People. In my view, people agenda should be among the top agendas for any business leader, and my team is relentlessly working towards creating a conducive and collaborative environment that allows people to learn, grow, innovate, feel challenged and inspired. What keeps me on my toes is the fact that I deal with a diverse set of people between both my roles at Ola. While as the group’s CHRO, I work towards keeping the holistic growth of our 7000+ creative, talented and passionate workforce in mind; as the CEO of Ola Skilling, we are indulged in skilling and upskilling people from smaller, not-so-privileged pockets of the country, helping them to nurture the micro-entrepreneur in them!

Q- What are your expansion plans in India and how many jobs are Ola going to create in the coming years?

We are currently serving 250+ cities across India, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK and we continue to expand and grow our business across new geographies and verticals. We are always on the lookout for great talent and we aim to build a globally respected company from India.

Additionally, we had recently shared our ambition to build an Advanced Technology Center out of San Francisco in the US and are aiming to hire 150 engineers to build next-generation technologies in mobility out of this centre.

Q- What is your best piece of career advice for HR Aspirants who want to be great at their job?

HR is an evolving field and one needs to keep up with the changing trends. I have always been inclined towards self-development. Reading, meeting people from various sectors, attending industry events can reap far-reaching benefits in shaping up and broadening one’s perspective and will play a pivotal role in both personal and professional growth. HR is a combination of the left and right brain and hence, it is important to pick the balance. HR aspirants should have as much understanding of business drivers as any other functions like finance.

Thank you, Srinivas!

1 COMMENT

  1. Nice interview. Love to see Ola is encouraging a dog-friendly environment. I read somewhere, the benefits of pet-friendly work policies go beyond happier and healthier employees. A recent study by Nationwide found that 90% of people who work in a pet-friendly environment feel “highly connected” to the mission of their company.

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