On Campus

‘Customer is Maharaja’ say Mumbai Dabbawalas

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on March 03, 2014

Donning the hat: IIM Raipur students engrossed at a session by representatives of the Mumbai dabbawalas

IIM Raipur gets the rundown on the world-famous deliverymen



‘Customers shall not remain hungry.’ This is the mission that drives our day-to-day activities, said Subodh Sangle and Nitin Sawant, who were representing the famous Mumbai Dabbawalas at the IIM Raipur campus. The duo was invited to explain the modus operandi and nitty-gritty of their operations to the students. Nutan Tiffin Suppliers Charitable Trust and Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association are the official bodies representing the Mumbai Dabbawalas.

World-famous for their extremely efficient operational strategy which has earned them the ‘Six Sigma’ certification, the Mumbai Dabbawalas’ story is a case study for every marketing and operations student. It was the IIM Raipur students’ turn to become part of the live case study session now. They listened to Sangle and Sawant intently and asked questions about the Dabbawala business model.

Management principles

The duo discussed various management principles such as keeping operational costs at a minimum, seeking co-operation and proper coordination from within the organisation; and at the same time keeping eyes and ears open for competition outside the organisation. Sangle explained the flow logic of the operations right from collecting the lunch boxes ( dabbas) to sorting them, uploading them into the trains, downloading them from the trains to the stations and finally sorting them again and distributing it to the various destinations. He illustrated their unique coding system to help minimise errors.

Unspoken principles

Apart from their unique business operations, the Mumbai Dabbawalas live by certain unspoken principles, such as preserving the Indian family’s faith in hot meals. Also unique to their operations is that they have zero-level fuel consumption, and standard prices for everyone.

Driving factors

Sawant emphasised that discipline and humility were the driving factors of their success. More importantly, for any business to be successful it is essential to be clear about the mission to be accomplished. Their parting message to the students was — ‘Consumer is not the Raja. He is the Maharaja. Always carry out your operations keeping that in mind.’

Published on March 02, 2014

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