Food for thought for financiers

Monday, November 19, 2007

When executive education students go on field trips to India, they usually head to big corporate headquarters in cities such as Bangalore, where they can see the country?s high-tech industry at work. They do not often find themselves walking the streets of Mumbai, following a group of delivery men dressed in white cotton kurtas and Gandhi caps and carrying tins of curry, rice and chapattis.

But this is what a group of financiers found themselves doing as part of an executive education programme designed by Duke Corporate Education. And Duke CE is not the only institution to have become interested in the work of these delivery men.

Papers have been written analysing their efficiency by, among others, Singapore?s National University and Mumbai?s National Institute of Industrial Engineering. and in 2004, Harvard Business School published a case study of the system.The dabbawallas, as they are known, are part of a 5,000-strong workforce that every day collectively rushes tens of thousands of tiffin boxes (stacked cylindrical tins of food) across the city. The meals are cooked in the morning by wives, sisters and maids and ? using a relay system in which each meal changes hands several times ? they reach the right person by lunchtime.The entire process takes place in a matter of hours. In an unusual example of reverse logistics, the empty tins are collected after lunch and, using the same system, are returned to the housewives who packed them with food earlier that day.

The dabbawallas, ?dabba? meaning lunchbox and ?walla? meaning the person associated with the trade, work with the most basic equipment. No databases, software or barcode scanners are used. And instead of trucks or aircraft, they rely on their feet, their heads, bicycles, carts and the luggage compartments of the trains that make up Mumbai?s extensive suburban rail network.

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Source: Financial Times (link opens in a new window)