Sharat Dhall Curated

Chief Operating Officer at PolicyBazaar.com

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This profile has been added by users(CURATED) : Users who follow Sharat Dhall have come together to curate all possible video, text and audio interview to showcase Sharat Dhall's journey, experiences, achievements, advice, opinion in one place to inspire upcoming operations managerss. All content is sourced via different platforms and have been given due credit.

  • Where do you see myself 5 years from here?

    Working. Mentoring. Golfing. Running. Travelling. Reading.

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  • Any advice you wish to give?

    Believe in yourself and your team, communicate the goals clearly and review performance against them regularly, listen carefully and keep challenging yourself to keep learning new things.

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  • What do you consider as your most crucial step/assignment?

    Setting up the new business venture at Hindustan Unilever - Project Shakti - a rural initiative involving self-help group women, was a very enriching experience based on the concept of ‘Doing good while doing well’. The initiative involved working with State Governments and NGOs and became a great example of managing a public-private partnership at large scale. I got to lead the project right from the very initial stages, work independently on it, and scale it up across the country. Starting with less than 10 entrepreneurs, there were over 25,000 women entrepreneurs working on this initiative when I moved out 4 years later. This stint gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to work in any environment, build businesses from scratch and scale them up.

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  • What was the turning point of your career?

    Moving to the online space from the FMCG business was a big leap of faith that worked well for me. I moved in 2005 when the online market was very nascent and still evolving and I got the opportunity to work on some of the biggest global brands in travel and launch them in India.

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  • How your journey have been so far?

    After close to 3 years at Asian Paints, I moved to Hindustan Unilever were I started out in sales and then moved to a brand manager role handling Breeze soap. I then had the opportunity of heading a new venture business called Project Shakti, which involved working with Self Help Groups setting up a distribution network in the smallest of villages across the length and breadth of the country. It was a fantastic and very rewarding experience starting things from scratch and scaling it up across the country. After almost a decade with Hindustan Unilever, I moved on to Indiatimes.com as their Head of e-commerce, and then joined Expedia as their India MD, followed by a 3-year-stint as the MD of TripAdvisor India, setting up the India business in each case. In May 2011, I joined Yatra to head the B2C business. My journey in the online travel industry has been a thrilling roller-coaster ride and I have enjoyed every bit of it. Over the years I have learnt that being focused, hands on, approachable, respecting all colleagues are some of the best qualities a leader should have. Also, to groom and mentor your team for growth and leadership positions is extremely important.

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  • What skills you acquired in your first job?

    I see myself as a generalist who can adapt to any kind of organisation and business situation. I believe I can perform any kind of functional role from a business point of view. To me, all business is about getting the best from your people, analysing and getting insights from data, and a fierce consumer focus, and thankfully these are skills that I learnt early in my career.

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  • What things you learned at your first job?

    Asian Paints did a very rigorous forecasting exercise at the SKU level at the beginning of each quarter and handling one on my own was a great experience for me. The other great learning from this stint was managing the staff who were much older and far more experienced than I was, and I realized the value of listening to, learning from and respecting them, yet ensuring that I was able to funnel their efforts in the right strategic direction. Asian Paints was also culturally a very simple, modest and frugal company, and I really learnt the value of money right at the beginning of my career. o For someone just graduating from management school with no work experience this stint was extremely valuable from a people management point of view and has held me in good stead through my career.

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  • Share experience of your first job.

    Asian Paints operated a very unique model where the Branch managed not only the sales network, but also the warehouse and distribution operations. So the experience was a general management one rather than just a sales stint like it is at many other FMCG companies. As any other beginner, I was excited yet nervous about my first job. The language barrier was another challenge particularly when taking orders in Malayalam from upcountry distributors over the phone. I quickly learnt a smattering of Malayalam that I used to win them over.

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  • Which was your first company?

    I started out as a Management Trainee with Asian Paints based in Kochi.

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  • Since you've worked with travel agencies, what are your opinions on the way Indians travel changed?

    The way Indians travel is changing. We are clearly seeing a trend where Indians are far more experimentative in terms of their choice of destination. It is different from the time when people used to go for only popular destinations. They are looking for new, smaller and niche destinations. Another thing is a lot of younger people are travelling, happy to go on backpacking, singles, young couples, a lot more impulsive, roughing it out on small budget-type of travel, is also something we are seeing. Earlier it used to be one big family holiday either during summer holidays or winters; it used to be a big treat for families. But today we find that people are travelling through the year; people are taking many more short breaks, looking at the destinations at a few hours’ distance. For each of the metro cities, there are about 20-25 destinations that have become very popular for short breaks.

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  • With the competition increasing rapidly in the online travel space, how do you plan to ensure your position as one of the top three travel agencies? What is your strategy?

    Our focus has been mainly driving the non-air part of the business more aggressively...I think the intent was made clear when we bought Travelguru. That was a big move in pushing hard on the hotel side of the business. We really think that the opportunity on the non-air side is huge. The penetration today in online hotel bookings is in single digits. Last year the market has grown considerably as far as hotel bookings are concerned. We have been aggressive in terms of marketing as well. We have got good results on that side of the business, which has given us the feedback that we need to invest in that part. That’s what we are looking to do over next one year. The other thing is the mobile side of the business. Nobody can get away from that end, because clearly the number of people who are accessing Internet now over mobile is far more than the number of people who are accessing it through desktop. The kind of prices that the smartphones are coming in at, the penetration is increasing and so is the ease of accessing websites. The user experience is much better. That’s another big focus for us. More than 20% of booking for hotels come from mobiles. This continues to grow month on month. These are the two broad areas where we are really looking at investing aggressively and pushing in terms of future business growth. The money that was raised earlier will be used in these areas. As a brand, we are extremely strong and that is what drives the business and the growth despite all the competition that’s there. In terms of being in the top three, the numbers are clear. We are larger than the number three by a large margin, almost twice as large.

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  • With the competition increasing rapidly in the online travel space, how do you plan to ensure your position as one of the top three travel agencies? What is your strategy?

    Our focus has been mainly driving the non-air part of the business more aggressively...I think the intent was made clear when we bought Travelguru. That was a big move in pushing hard on the hotel side of the business. We really think that the opportunity on the non-air side is huge. The penetration today in online hotel bookings is in single digits. Last year the market has grown considerably as far as hotel bookings are concerned. We have been aggressive in terms of marketing as well. We have got good results on that side of the business, which has given us the feedback that we need to invest in that part. That’s what we are looking to do over next one year.

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