Fortunate to interact with Dr Pawan Girdharilal Agrawal, CEO of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association – a day to cherish

The  Dabbawala, (one who carries the box), in the Indian city of Mumbai carry and deliver freshly made food from customer’s home in a lunch box (Dabba) and deliver it to offices. It may sound simple, but it’s not. It is actually a highly specialized trade that has evolved in its current form over a century and has become integral to Mumbai’s culture.
It all started about 125 years back when a Parasi banker wanted to have home cooked food regularly in office and gave this responsibility to the first ever Dabbawala. Other people also liked the idea and the demand for Dabba delivery soared.
It was all informal and individual effort in the beginning, but visionary Mahadeo Havaji Bachche saw the opportunity and started the lunch delivery service in its present team-delivery format with 100 Dabbawalas. As the city grew, the demand for dabba delivery grew too. Their forefathers had the vision to create the Dabba coding system that’s going on strong even today.
The Coding system evolved through various stages with time. In the beginning it was simple colour coding. Now Mumbai is a widely spread metro with 3 local train routes. Their coding has also evolved into alpha numeric characters.
There about 5000 in number and deliver approximately 200,000 tiffin boxes every day.  They operate @ six sigma efficiency. Their error rate is one in 16million deliveries. They are 125 years old. Never have gone on strike and no police / court case against them. They earn a maximum  of Rs.15,000/- per month (annualized basis) and their attrition is zero %. A dream for any HR person or for any CEO’s that matter.
We had invited  Dr Pawan Girdharilal Agrawal, CEO of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association to address the Schneiderites as part of our Leadership Series and it was another memorable occassion for all us. He really inspired the 400+ audience and made us sit up and reflect.
I was fortunate to spend some time with him at our office in Whitefield, Bangalore.  A man who globe trots around the world, delivering his lecture on the Mumbai Dabbawala experience, who’s interacted with Prince Charles, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Richard Bronson of Virgin Atlantic, Amitabh, Sharukh Khan and all corporate honchos was so simple, very humble, down to earth and was so refreshing to see such a celbrity. He readily mingled with all and patiently posed for photographs with each one of them. The icing on the cake was when he gave away his trade mark Gandhi cap and a tiffin box memento. I was fortunate to be one of them to recieve this and surely will treasure this for long time to come.
It was truly another memorable day that I will cherish for long time to come. 

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