Learning Management The Dabbawala Way

In 1890, when Mahadeo Havaji Bachche began a lunch delivery service with 100 men, little did he know that a hundred years later his barefoot delivery men carrying lunch boxes would get a SIX Sigma rating by Forbes magazine, get invited to the wedding of the future King of England and win prestigious awards for excellence in business without even pitching for them.
It was for a rendition of this success story by semi-literate men- the Dabbawalas of Mumbai, that eager students filled the conference hall at Shanti Business School on the 21st September- 2011. In adherence to the SBS objective to host reputed guest lecturers, and as part of the Logistics and Supply Chain Management studies, Dr. Pawan Aggarwal, the CEO of Mumbai Dabbawala Education Center was invited to present the case study of the Dabbawalas.
“This is an unforgettable success story with regard to all fields of business studies, and our students will remained inspired by it throughout their careers,” said Prof. P. Bala Bhaskaran, Executive Director SBS and SCS, “we are also pleased that it shares the SBS/SCS principle of an Indian core with a global outlook. Can it get better than this?”
An international speaker, Dr. Pawan Aggarwal, M.Com., B.Ed., LL.B., A.C.S., Ph.D., is also the President of Kamlabai Educational and Charitable Trust. Dr. Pawan completed his Ph.D thesis on - ‘A Study of Logistics and Supply Chain Management of Dabbawala in Mumbai’, and has lectured at Paris, Netherlands, US, UK and at management institutions all over India, spreading awareness about the Dabbawalas.
Greeted with a thunderous applause by students and faculty alike, Dr. Aggarwal looked every inch the quintessential Indian in his Gandhi topi and white kurta-pajama. Over the next one hour, he enthralled, humbled, inspired and moved his audience with the story of modest men, who became the toast of a city that still does not allow them to rise beyond their humble beginnings. In a world where success is equated with big money, fame, admitted Dr Aggarwal, took a while to catch up with these unpretentious men.
5000 dabbawalas in their trademark caps and kurta pajamas, travel 60-70 kms without the aid of modern technology or investment, and conduct 400,000 transactions every day. With no hierarchies dictating distribution of work or salary and no record of a strike, court dispute or police case, they are a force to reckon with and not a single business body has dared to compete with them. Despite being felicitated with several awards, invitations to top business schools and a Six Sigma rating, they are content with a modest salary of Rs 8000, citing their situation to be better than teachers who get half as much.
A shining example of their dedication to the customer would be the story of Prince Charles. The unassuming dabbawalas agreed to meet him at a place and time convenient to the workers so that in their own words, their ‘true king-the customer’ would not suffer. When the future King of England walked up to the roadside headquarters of the dabbawalas with utmost punctuality, it caught the attention of the world. It was remain a matter of debate as to who was privileged to meet whom.
Much to their delight, Dr. Aggarwal regaled the audience with endearing and hilarious stories about the dabbawalas. Another amusing incident involved Maharashtra C.M. Vilasrao Deshmukh reaching on time to felicitate them, fearing that the dabbawalas would leave before he arrived! Richard Branson, CEO Virgin Atlantic and Gary Locke, U.S. Secratary of Commerce are amongst those who have met the dabbawalas and praised the management model.
Finally, Dr Aggarwal fielded questions from SBS students regarding working model, business development, recruitment, retirement benefits and the simple answers could put any Strategic team to shame.
‘I laud your students,” he addressed Mr Jay Sanghani, “their questions are intelligent, and that is a sure shot way to success!” In his own modest way, he honoured the students who asked the most relevant questions, by giving each of them a Gandhi topi.
“It was our aim to provide the best to our students, and what bigger than the dabbawalas success story?” said Dr. Kishor Barad, Professor and Area Chair Marketing.

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