Room 1

The two men stare at each other silently. It is a game of one-upmanship. The first person to bring an end to this awkward meeting, where tempers are frayed, will be the one who concedes. The hum of the air conditioner seems louder than usual. But there is another way to win this argument. Fight another day.

“Let’s just take this up with Kunal,” says one of the men. Jason Kothari, the chief strategy and investment officer, at Snapdeal, looks back at him and nods.

The meeting breaks. This senior Snapdeal employee walks out of Kothari’s cabin shaking his head. Nothing about this makes sense to him. The cabin. The way Kothari speaks. The isolation. The defeated faces of employees in the organisation. Nothing is right.

It is February 2017. The two had spent an hour, or maybe more, trying to work out how to lay off most of Snapdeal’s staff. It was Kothari’s first week at Snapdeal. He had no idea that he was going to be asked to take over the biggest layoffs in the company’s history. It was nerve-racking. He had never done this before. It showed.

“We need to fire everyone in the next three days,” says Kothari.

“No. It needs to be over a few weeks. It is an emotional time for the employees. They should be given time to adjust, to prepare,” the senior employee explains.

“But isn’t it easier to rip off the band-aid,” Kothari replies.

“Telling people they don’t have a job is not supposed to be done quickly. People have to be eased into it.”

“I fired 600 people in Housing. We did it in three days. It can be done,” Kothari whispers back.

“This is not 600 people! This is 1,500. This is not Housing. This is Snapdeal.”

While these two talk, let’s step out of the room for a bit.

You must know Jason Kothari. So, let’s start with simple things. He is the former CEO of Housing who managed to sell it to PropTiger. He is the former CEO of FreeCharge who sold the digital payments company to Axis Bank. That both these companies found a buyer is a feat in itself. So far, the impression has been that Kothari has savant like capabilities of finding the mess in companies, cleaning up, fixing the business model, making the sale and moving on. He seems to be SoftBank’s one-man cleanup crew. Whenever the mess is too much to handle, Kothari is flown in. The joke within SoftBank companies is that if you see Kothari being introduced, it is time to move on. He is supposed to be the man who turned around Snapdeal, calmed the waters, made the sale to get ready to move on to the next SoftBank company in distress.

AUTHOR

Patanjali Pahwa

Patanjali has spent over seven years in journalism. He last worked at Business Standard as Principal Correspondent, where he wrote on startups, e-commerce companies and venture capital. He has worked at an array of institutions, which include Forbes India, Caravan and Outlook Business. He is a Mumbaikar, born and brought up. Patanjali did his BSc in IT from Mumbai University and then got his journalism degree from IIJNM in Bangalore. He is enamoured by Ernest Hemingway and Tom Waits and may try to sneak in references to them in his stories.

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