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How Gauri Oak Leads from the Top

[first published on the Hammer and Mop blog]

When we sought a Stannis Baratheon to lead our operations with renewed vigor (the post highlighting the need), we hadn’t expected someone who identifies herself with Arya Stark to be so firmly at the helm in just a week’s time. Hammer and Mop was going through a certain transition at that time, and we knew that we had to find a leader with strong fundamentals and ethics to conceptualize and drive the change. Gauri has been the answer.

Before Hammer and Mop

Gauri graduated as an electronics engineer, joined TCS and won a well deserved Dubai-based project. This was her first tryst with leadership and managing other folks. Opting for an MBA in Operations after a while, she bagged a scholarship tour to Japan along with a dream internship at Mattel, at the Hot Wheels factory in Malaysia. While the dream ride could have continued, this eccentric lady ditched the placement season and took off for a long vacation to Europe.

Joining a Bootstrapped Startup

Once back, she scouted for opportunities offering a high level of accountability which would also feed her desire to create. Having worked on the factory floor and studied the Japanese systems with a certain passion, Gauri was no stranger to the sweat that goes in to build something from scratch. She was clearly hungry for more.

“You guys were the promptest of the lot.
My email got a reply within two hours.”

Well, the quick reply from our end certainly did leave an impression. We had loved her application because she had the right kind of valuable experience, the seniority which we were keen to add to our team and the right tone (for she referred to our Game of Thrones blog post). A call was scheduled and things seemed right. She dropped by the other day, and spoke at length about the situation we are in and the tasks at hand. She hopped on board the next day, and suddenly, things started moving faster than we had imagined. We are all mad in here, and she was the right kind of mad too.

Her decision to join us helped, and was a major one on her part. Considering a 2-year old bootstrapped services startup, still in the process of figuring out ways to grow is a delicious challenge. However, dedicating precious time and energy without expecting much in financial returns is a decision we’re grateful for.

The Sheer Grit

The first few months was not a cakewalk, and threw up unpleasant experiences for our new Head of Operations. From tricky customer service experiences to communication gaps within the team – there was a lot to learn and a lot to change. Our field teams had developed an understandable inertia and were used to doing things in a certain way. Gauri offered radical (yet efficient) solutions.

“One of the first things I did was to empower the managers and the supervisors. Once we built a certain accountable hierarchy, having them to trust the new system was easier.”

Creation of an idea is one thing, execution is another. Her resilience has been tested time and again by the effort to follow through every instruction and ensuring her team of 25+ understands and obeys. She has had to visit sites, be tough on a few employees, be on long counseling calls, design training sessions and build processes from scratch. It is not a week-long thing, the results are showing after 8 long months.

Evolving the Storyline

As a company grows, tackling the back end operations is one aspect. Changing the way we do business is another. Right from the start, we have been focusing internally of what will make this interesting business tick – it involved balancing customer expectations, customer needs (identified and unidentified), creating viable service alternatives and having a sound logic behind pricing.

“I have had the opportunity to add a blend of my personality to the brand essence.”

We have always prided ourselves as someone who strongly believes in complementary skill sets. Our client servicing team often ends up bending over backwards for our customers. A strong Ops Head who doesn’t empathize as much in certain situations only provides the right balance. From wild eyed optimists to grounded realists – we need them all, we love them all.

Gauri’s colleague (on a condition of anonymity) chimes in-

“If Hammer and Mop is Zeus, Gauri is his thunderbolt.
And we are just the fluffy white clouds he sits on.”

As she fit into her role and made space for more hunger, we brainstormed and changed the way we were tackling the problem. Hammer and Mop has always been obsessed about consistent quality and predictable service flows. We now had the right operations mindset to lead it through. Over the period of months and now as we grow into a complete home improvement & maintenance company, Gauri has been at the helm armed with feedback straight off the field.

The Results

She was asked to design the Ops structure from scratch, something that was much needed for growing services company. Her work involved talking to the team members and teaching them why the new system helps. We had to weed out troublemakers. After a lot of trial and error, we had realized the right combination of the things we have been doing.

“I have seen the boys feel better about themselves. They are proud of the work they do, track their progress themselves, trust the management and feel strongly about the brand.” 

It has been 9 months since Gauri came on board, and pretty much handled a lot of things as a COO. Right from the teams on the field to stock management, tracking cash flow to maintaining high levels of retention – she is an integral part of the core team that drives us.

Where do we go from here?

Infinity and beyond, clearly, because our patrons inspire us to grow. Gauri has been the right catalyst for growth and we saw some major inductions and development within 6 months of her being Hammer and Mop. We, as an organization, are currently on a steep learning curve and are working towards to making everything better. Quoting a favorite customer – “Above and beyond..” 🙂


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