A pin up CEO parachuted to the board, Aditya Ghosh takes a back seat in Oyo
From posing for a groupfie with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to golgappas in Goa to sitting on a dinghy boat art installation at the Serendipity Arts Festival, the bromance between Ritesh Aggarwal, Oyo’s frenetic founder and Aditya Ghosh, till recently the most high-profile CEO catch for the entire Indian start up eco-system, always seemed absolutely tailor made for Instagram likes.
PDAs apart, when Ghosh, a former lawyer turned high-profile corporate executive who took IndiGo to soaring heights decided to check into Oyo Hotels and Homes as its CEO for India and CEO, in November 2018, the move was billed as strategic. Be the brain trust, confidante and consigliere to Agarwal. Someone who will have a calming influence on the 26-year old restless entrepreneur from Puri. Many would even compare Ghosh to an Eric Scmidt who lent business expertise to Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Or Steve Ballmer who succeeded Co-founder and CEO Bill Gates in Microsoft
And pivoted the tech corporation towards a devices and services strategy.
But barely a year later, on December 2nd, Ghosh was catapulted to the board of India’s second most valuable firm as a non executive director in a management transition that seemed as intriguing as it was perplexing. Since then, sources within the company said, Ghosh does not have any executive responsibility or operational role.
“The perspective I hope to bring, is two-fold – One, having run a large, publicly-traded profitable business for a long period of time, and second, having the unique experience of being the person on the board, who would have also run a large region for Oyo, for about a year,” Ghosh had told ET after “stepping up.”
But not everyone is buying that. “This is not a global board like Google. Oyo is no Oracle. This is a soft landing for Ghosh,” quipped an investor in the company on condition of anonymity.
For an executive who was obsessed about transparency and internal communication, he also has stopped coming to office daily. Instead works out of a different location said officials in the company. Interestingly, one of them claim Ghosh has not sent out an email since the last one month to the team. The last email he sent was on December 2nd, the day he was announced as moving to the board. The email mentioned that he will “actively focus” on 5 areas — safety and security, stakeholder relations, corporate governance and customer experience and revenue management.” All absolute musts before a planned IPO.
Today two Mckinsey alums – Rohit Kapoor, CEO India and South Asia and Mandar Vaiya, CEO – South East Asia & Middle East – are believed to be Agarwal’s A team along with Maninder Gulati, Chief Strategy Officer who oversees European operations and Abhinav Sinha –the Paolo Alto based COO. “There is an IIT, ISB, Mckinsey, BSG cohort that is as thick as thick can be.. Ghosh could never break through,” said another employee who recently quit the company.
“Aditya has joined the board of Oravel Stays Pvt Ltd. As a consequence, objectivity and impartiality in decisions and accountability for actions require that he recuse himself from day-to-day executive responsibilities of the kind that were typical during his time as CEO for India SA,” an Oyo spokesperson said.
So what gave?
ET spoke to several past and current employees, investors, close associates to piece together the tale behind the transition.
Many would argue this product vs growth argument is at the core. While Ghosh over emphasised improving the product to minimise customer complaints, for Agarwal it was business growth at any cost. Incidents such as murder and an alleged rape in an Oyo property seemed to bothered him incessantly.
Yet others claim Ghosh was not as hands on as he was expected to be. “He was a rather ineffectual leader who gave up early,” said an employee. Over the last year since taken charge, business development managers were given stiff targets to meet, especially in Tier 1 cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata etc), where there was saturation, and the concerns and pain points were around operational stability.
So losses swelled more than sixfold to Rs 2,384.69 crore in the fiscal year ended 31 March 2019, even as revenue jumped more than fourfold during the same period, according to a valuation report filed with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) in November.
In hindsight, even when Ghosh joined he was meant to head and oversee two markets – India and Nepal while Agarwal personally kept an iron grip of new frontiers like China and Japan. Even currently, Agarwal is based in the Valley.
“Ghosh was the face of Indigo but in reality everybody knew the entire credit goes to the co-founders Rakesh Gangwal and Rahul Bhatia,” said an old colleague from the airline who has followed Ghosh’s career path closely. “They coached Ghosh perfectly.”
But a handful did follow Ghosh to Oyo including people like Srikrishna R, who had worked in Indigo for over a decade before joining last year as VP of Sales and Distribution. Similarly, Ashish Banga, who is heading HR, Oyo International as per their Linkedin profile is another example.
On November 20th last year, while travelling to Miami, Florida, Agarwal ordered a cheesecake for Ghosh in a late night impromptu party as he completed 365 days in the organisation. “Every day I have learnt something new; unlearned and learned all at the same time; experienced highs and lows; challenged my own assumptions and perceptions; evolved as a person; pushed the boundaries” Ghosh wrote in a social media post and went on to add “To many more mountains to climb ahead! ?? Still Day Zero.” A few days later Ghosh was “elevated.”