Employee Speak: Phanindra Sama, CEO, redBus ;V4 Issue 2


About Phanindra Sama and redBus: Phanindra Sama “Phani” is a Founder and the CEO of redBus.in, India’s largest bus ticketing company. Founded in August 2006, redBus today has operations across 15 states and offers services for 5000+ routes and has built a robust distribution of over 75000 outlets! redBus is amongst Forbes top 5 start-ups to watch in 2010.

Phani has been ranked No. 3 amongst India’s Most Promising Entrepreneurs by Business World. He was awarded Star Entrepreneur of the year at 3i summit, Mumbai and BITSAA 30 under 30 award. He has also been selected as Endeavor Entrepreneur (www.endeavor.org) and TiE Entrepreneur (www.tie.org). Phani, a State ranker in Intermediate examination, Andhra Pradesh Sr. Secondary Board, graduated with distinction from BITS-Pilani, and worked with Texas Instruments, Bangalore before co-founding redBus.

1. redBus closed 2009 with a bang by featuring in Forbes India year end edition as one of the top 5 hottest start-ups to watch in 2010. What are your focus areas for the coming year?

We are scaling up. We have just crossed 200 employees. We will be adding another 75 people. To sustain the past growth rates we will need to be organised differently. So we are restructuring the organisation. We have a good set of people and a desired culture is already in place. So right now I am not as panicked about the quality of people as I was in the earlier days. I believe the current team and our culture will ensure we get in quality people. Now, how we architect the system or how we use each manager’s talent is important. I am trying to implement a matrix organisation with an innovation. There will be only solid line reporting. Functional Mangers will have no reportees. There are a lot of talented people who are on top of state of art technology etc, but they fall flat when they need to manage people and processes. So in our new organisation structure such people will be the functional experts whose entrepreneurial skills company will leverage. Only staff managers will have reportees.

2. Would you agree that the managers have a big role to play in an organisation’s success? Considering the phenomenal success redBus has had in the recent years, which characteristics of high performing Managers do redBus Managers display?

Yes I do. The entrepreneurial characteristics of redBus Managers have contributed to our company’s growth and success. By entrepreneurial I mean the ability to be creative, think out of box, not taking lack of resources as a hindrance but as a challenge. Our managers are quite mature. They roll up their sleeves and are quite hands on at work.

3. Before founding redBus what kind of Managers did you consider as effective Managers and now that you are the CEO has your perspective changed?

Before founding redBus I was a reportee and I thought a manager who was considerate, who would help me learn and grow is an effective manager. Now when I am on the other side, I appreciate those managers who can get things done. In our office we have a photo of JRD TATA with a quote that says “We have to manage people as people ….” Effective Managers are Managers who can influence teams to results and drive performance without losing human touch.

4. Is it necessary for Managers in a start up to have a different set of skill sets as compared to Mangers in an established company, to be effective in their roles?

Yes, certainly. While in mature organisations one has to be good at handling complexity, entrepreneurial skills is what is necessary in a start up.

5. How can Managers who have not been trained in mature organizations build their career and credibility in growing companies? Also, what do Managers of that profile find attractive in working for start ups?

The only way to build a career and credibility, regardless of whether you are working for a start-up or not, is by working sincerely. It is more so in a start-up as the Senior Management has very clear visibility into people’s performance. Managers in start-up find this visibility attractive in working for start-ups.

6. Please share your thoughts on how can small and medium sized organisations groom and grow their Managers?

Start ups can’t afford to invest a lot in formal training. However there are other ways to develop managers. Communication is one such tool. We communicate a lot. CEOs should take every opportunity to talk about and give examples of the management style they would want to build in the company. Even naming a conference room as JRD TATA room, affects the way one behaves when one is in that room. I read a lot of management books. In my one-on-one meeting with my managers, I give them copies of the pages of the message I want to give them. This I find is more effective than giving books. I also believe that people react to mails. People come to office in the morning with a blank mind. So I send a mail in the morning which can influence their behaviour for the day.

One should try and discover good training institutes that charge very nominal fees. They are the ones with no frills, but provide good value for the money one pays. Then there are the networks that technology teams can be part of. These are groups such as Bar Camps, Head start, Open Coffee Club, AMC etc., who interact on the internet and meet up also to exchange ideas. Participation is absolutely free. For instance there is a mobile Monday focusing on mobile Technology, geek night outs that discuss latest software technology on Friday etc. I don’t actually need to participate in these networks since I am not directly dealing with technology but I make it a point to pull my team members along to such meets. Another thing we do at redBus is that every 2nd Saturday we invite people to talk about their favourite topic. My schoolmate spoke about Google maps and earth last week and it opened up new thought processes. Every CEO would know at least 24 talk worthy people and that would take care of topics for 2 years at least. Next Saturday we are having a person talk on software testing and quality.

7. What do you feel are some of the measures, which organisations and leaders in small and medium sized organisations, can take to support and ensure effectiveness among Managers?

I would say stretch as much as possible in terms of paying Managers salaries to get good guys in. Cut down somewhere else, maybe air conditioning, marketing etc. Earlier I made a mistake by saying “This is my budget and I can’t afford to pay more”. I used to spend more on real estate etc. But good people deserve good money. Also, I would say making Managers effective is a lot to do with the CEO’s behaviour. The CEO’s behaviour is mirrored in the company culture and employee behaviour. Hence it is important for CEOs to behave in a way they would like their teams to behave. And do give them all the possible freedom.

Employee Speak: Mr. Ashutosh Atray, VP Training and Fleet Management, V-Link Taxis Pvt. Ltd; Jan'08


1. Tell us something about your company and what it is trying to do in the Market.

V-Link Taxis is a service oriented company. Its main aim is to provide hassle free, quality, premium service to its commuters which is not yet available in so many cities.

2. What is your role in the company?

I am responsible for Training and Resources.  Besides developing and ensuring that quality training is imparted to drivers, I am also responsible for effective utilization of resources like infrastructure, vehicles and the mobile servicing team.

3. What are the key challenges you face in your industry and specifically in your role?  How do you deal with them?

Tapping, attracting and retaining the talent pool among taxi drivers is a great challenge. The second key challenge is to maintain quality in service delivery to the customer.  Quality is required at several levels and departments, ranging from the call center, vehicle fitment, driver selection and training, IT systems and Recovery/Accounts.  In order to ensure quality, the entire machinery needs to be well oiled and work as a single unit. Each department needs to perform as a team based on set processes in a timely manner with a firm focus on business goals. The third key challenge is driver training and attitude.  Each driver reacts uniquely to different situations and to the same situations at different times.  Ensuring their adherence to processes to deliver the same quality each time is challenging.

4. What kind of training do you provide to the drivers who are deployed in Meru cabs?

In a way the driver is the face of our company. A lot depends on how the driver performs on that day.  Every thing becomes null and void if the driver makes the customer unhappy. We have a 5 day comprehensive training program that covers several topics like good driving, road safety, basic maintenance, technical specifications, city topography, personal hygiene, etiquette etc.

5. Is the training provided by V-Link to it’s cab drivers unique to the taxi industry in India?

It is unique.  Besides being very comprehensive and covering various aspects as mentioned before, strict adherence on the part of the driver to the set processes is largely dependent on the driver since he is not just an employee but a mini entrepreneur.  Our training also touches upon this aspect and raises the self esteem of the driver by making him understand the finer nuances of his new role. He not only needs to perform well but also needs to exhibit a finer behaviour and process adherence as this impacts the company as well as his business.

6. Recently V-Link was in the news regarding the training facility provided at the Regional Transport Office. How is this unique and what are the advantages for the driver undergoing such a program? Do you feel this can be replicated anywhere else in the country?

The transport department would like to groom and educate the drivers of Mumbai city.   Being in the industry we would like to actively contribute towards this social cause.  Whenever a driver comes to the RTO for a new license or renewing an old one etc, the RTO encourages them to meet our team specifically designated permanently for training at the RTO. The training is conducted by professional trainers in a room set up for such training.  The purpose is to raise driver awareness to higher levels thereby ensuring safer roads.  This training is on ongoing basis.  When the driver completes this successfully he is presented a certificate as well. This initiative is 3 months old now and we are proud to say that every day about 60 to 70 drivers are trained and a total of over 6000 drivers have been trained so far. We have two more requests from the RTO and we are in the process of developing a multilingual training in Hindi and Marathi as well.

7. What are the unique challenges of training drivers?

Ensuring satisfactory levels of service is very challenging indeed.  For example, our training chalks out that the driver be well dressed, clean shaven, wearing good shoes in other words very neatly turned out. To ensure the above he is also given a uniform and shoes.  In addition to this he needs to display positive attitude and caring guest handling. However the driver does not consider appearance as a key factor for his success and many drivers do not realize that they can really make a day for a guest by giving perfect service. The driver is an integral part of customer experience of Meru.  Our driver relations team meets this challenge by closely interacting with the drivers and putting them through periodic repeat trainings.  In addition we also have a news letter as a point of contact with the drivers.

8. Can you tell us a little about the work done by the fleet management team?

The work of the Fleet management team is very specialized since there are a large number of vehicles involved.  The key performance indicator is efficiency.  Greater efficiency and lesser vehicle downtime results in better output and thereby translates into greater revenue.  For this purpose a large database of vehicle information is maintained and data analysis is done on key parameters like servicing and preventive maintenance.

9. What are the future plans that you have for training and fleet management that you have for V-Link?

For training we would like to establish a world class futuristic training facility where anyone can send their drivers for quality training.  This facility would adopt the best training methods and practices with handouts, top class professional trainers and multilingual training.  The MCT (Mobile Communication Terminal) will have all routes mapped and a driver will have the discretion to use best possible route to his destination.

For Fleet management we are developing software systems and processes for data analysis. We are also planning to open multi-model service centers that will service and repair all kinds of vehicles.

10. What is different about working with V-Link?

The company is growing very fast. The operations are going to be pan-India. The company has already established a good name for itself in the market place. It is a challenge to come up to expectations. A management which provides the right mix of support and liberty makes working here extremely satisfying.  I am happy to be a part of this dynamic new business initiative.