Fashion is one of the key pillars of the Flipkart group, the e-commerce giant valued at $11.6 billion. The group’s three fashion verticals— Flipkart Fashion, Myntra, and Jabong— together account for 80% of the online apparel market in India. They now sell more apparel than brick-and-mortar retailers such as Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle.
Such success stories are rarely scripted by one individual—it takes a team to win a game. Yet every game has a few standout performers, and in the game for fashion dominance Gunjan Soni has swung it hard for the Flipkart group.
The 38-year-old has been the chief marketing officer at Myntra, the flagship fashion website, since 2015, and last April was given the additional responsibility of head of Jabong after the group acquired the Gurugram-based company. It is a hot seat certainly, but one that has its share of challenges. Prior to the acquisition, Jabong’s sales were falling for nearly 18 months. In fact, the acquisition price of $70 million was a fraction of the valuation—$500 million and odd—Jabong commanded a few years back.
A baptism of fire, indeed.
But Soni is unfazed. She says on her to-do list at Jabong is the revival of website traffic and building confidence in the team. “There is no silver bullet in our business. So it’s been several interventions like launching new brands, marketing product innovations, customer service interventions, and other things that all came together to drive growth,” says Soni. She gained the methodical approach at her former job at consul - tancy firm McKinsey & Co
So far, she seems to be turning the tide. Jabong launched over 180 brands last year and its revenue has grown by 40% since the acquisition in July 2016—a significant figure for a company that was shrinking by 20% previously. “The full financial year is expected to end with 30% growth which given the starting point is effectively a whopping 50% year-on-year growth,” says Soni. Jabong’s operating profit—earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation—improved by 20 percentage points in 2017, too.
And as Soni told Fortune India last year, there is a concerted effort to move away from discount sales, and share the supply chain and technology with Myntra to trim costs. But Jabong’s turnaround is only part of Soni’s job demands. After all, she still holds the post of chief marketing officer at Myntra. “The year has been great with Myntra adding new customers. Our service-led campaign ‘No Questions Asked Returns’ saw unprecedented customer acquisitions and return on investment in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities,” says Soni.
Myntra already credits Soni with being the force behind the popular ‘End of Reason Sale’ campaign that runs annually. Her colleagues, current and former, say that her hands-on approach is one of the reasons for her success in leadership roles.
Soni’s ability to handle the dual responsibilities beats the general expectations one would normally have from a thirtysomething. But it isn’t new to her, overachieving has been always a trait in her professional career so far. Before joining the Flipkart group, Soni was one of the youngest partners at McKinsey, a position she reached after a rapid ascent through the ranks.
“I was instrumental in setting up McKinsey’s scientific marketing practice in India,” says Soni. “Back in 2012, application of Big Data in marketing was a rarity in India. It’s delightful to see how the same practices have become buzz - words for today’s marketers.” Soni says this helped her rapid climb to become a partner at the company. At McKinsey, she worked across consumer sectors and geographies, including India, Bhutan, Singapore, and Britain.
That isn’t all. Soni was later poached by Uday Shankar, the then-CEO of Star India, for the post of executive vice president for strategy at the entertainment company. “Uday said, ‘Enough of consulting. Time now for you to get your hands dirty and get into real business’,” says Soni. In her relatively short stint at Start India, Soni worked on new initiatives in digital content and sports which would ultimately become Hotstar, the video-streaming service. “Gunjan and I worked together at Star and her drive and enterprise really stood out. She has stellar problem-solving skills and is dogged about finding the answer,” says Ajit Mohan, CEO, Hotstar.
The hefty profile at Star India did not keep Soni there for long, though. The attraction of the new economy and the e-commerce industry made her quit a corporate giant for a startup, albeit one under the umbrella of Flipkart, a leviathan among India’s emerging companies. “Myntra caught my attention because I believe that in India, the time for fashion consumption has come. We are at that inflection point where even a kid is conscious of fashion. I just felt that this was a major revolution happening in e-commerce and I wanted to be a part of it,” says Soni.
Ananth Narayanan, CEO, Jabong and Myntra, says she has played that part to perfection. “Gunjan is an outstanding leader at Myntra and Jabong. Her insights and deep understanding of the digital consumer have helped us turn the business around at Jabong.”
(The article was originally published in 15 March-14 June special issue of the magazine.)