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Meet the man who aims to make Tata Group’s e-commerce play CliQ

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As ‘Project Greyhound’ sees the light of day, its creator, Kanwar Rameshwar Singh Jamwal, executive director of Tata Industries, says he is nicely charged up before a critical match, but knows that it is more like the opening ceremony and the action comes later.
Jamwal, who is in charge of new projects at Tata Industries, recalls chairman Cyrus Mistry’s short but clear approval email in 2013 — “No me-too business”.
True to Greyhound’s characteristics of swiftness and keen sight, it has now metamorphosed into Tata’s latest business — CliQ, the country’s first online omni channel market place in a dog-eat-dog online retail world. CliQ was a result of Jamwal and his team’s suggestion to Mistry, who is closely monitoring its progress.
Mistry took several weeks to study Jamwal and his team’s plan before giving the green signal, and while the plan was frozen by the latter half of 2014, it was executed over the last 14 months.
While the Tata Group may be a tad late in getting onto the e-commerce bandwagon, Jamwal, 50, popularly known as ‘Jammie’ clarifies that CliQ will be differentiated in delivering customer service. “The heart of the Jaguar beats under the hood of our platform,” he told ET.
The Tatas launched their e-commerce website and mobile application under the brand name ‘Tata Cliq’, which will initially sell apparels, footwear and electronics and later add categories such as accessories, home furnishings and jewellery. These will include international and Indian brands as well as in-house products.
Tata Ind owns 90% of Tata Unistore, the company that will operate the online marketplace. The rest is owned by Trent, another Tata company that operates retail chains such as West side, Star Bazaar and Landmark.
CliQ’s differentiation from other online marketplaces, where sellers are free to sell any product, is that it will sell products from major brands and retailers, many more exclusive in nature, sourcing directly through their approved retailers.
That is also expected to help with the cost advantage when it comes to procuring products for the marketplace. The ‘phygital’ or omni channel experience is expected to be a major differentiator over time with CliQ and PiQ (order online and pick up from the store), return to store (an item ordered online), etc.
“CPM (Cyrus Mistry) would chip in every 4 to 6 weeks to help on the brainstorming and crafting the strategy,” Jamwal said. “We are different from a typical VC-funded startup; CliQ is a 20-30 year play,” he said.
The Tatas have picked up or leveraged talent from internal retail business Trent, Croma and Titan for CliQ’s working group, and from external e-commerce companies such as Flipkart , Jabong and Snapdeal for the operating team. “We did not see any point in reinventing the wheel in some areas” he said.
Through CliQ, he said, he wants to give customers a “phygital” experience. Hooking up the stores to the platform is not trivial. Operationalizing every store and managing a range of brands and retailers on the platform is key,” Jamwal said. “We have to be very efficient.”
Harminder Sahni, managing director of Wazir Advisors, said the strategy for now seems to be comparatively timid. “Choosing to leverage only the Tata retail chains is limiting the omnichannel strategy in a market where there is so much aggression from an Amazon and a Flipkart. Retail strategy is all about scale. It is limiting to view it through a corporate lens.”
Jamwal, an IIM-A alumnus, started his career with TAS (Tata Administrative Service) three decades ago. Having worked with JRD Tata, Ratan Tata and Mistry, he sees a common trait among the three — their entrepreneurial instincts do not differentiate between a multi-billion business and a Rs 20-crore venture.
Jamwal said the omnichannel plan was born out of a sense to do something large in a space that would be the future of retail. The Tata group, he said, has businesses which make significant differences in the areas they operate in. So what scale the business can take is important, it has to move the needle.
“My personal belief is if I can’t turn around some businesses which are in a space that’s conducive to turn around, then where do I get the right to start new businesses,” said Jamwal, The Tata group entered carbon fibre composites with Tata Advanced Materials (TAML) 25 years ago, way ahead of domestic market demand. From making personal armour and carbon-fibre parts for the Indian space industry, TAML moved to commercial aerospace.
“This was a tough space and we initially struggled against global players, but by building a team of external and internal talent, led by a CEO, SR Mukherjee, who joined us about 20 months ago. I would like to believe we have transformed the future of TAML. TAML now supplies to biggest aerospace firms, and is the largest Indian maker of composite parts and armour,” said Jamwal.
In DIESL logistics, the Tatas had a company with a legacy sourcing and distribution business that faced declining profitability and was subscale, and a fledgling 3rd party logistics (3PL) business that was unprofitable but had potential. “We brought in a talented CEO, Milind Shahane, a Tata veteran, and the new CFO and the team built a profitable and valuable 3PL logistics business,” he said.
R Mukundan, MD of Tata Chemicals, for whom Jamwal was a senior at Indian Hotels, said, “Apart from his strong sense of values, which is a common thread at Tatas, his sense of strategy and long-term thinking is very impressive… He is extremely insightful and has the tenacity to handle ambiguous or difficult projects. I remember learning a lot from Jamwal.
He was always robust with numbers and we always shared our strategy and plan with him to make sure it was on the right track. While he has been wheelchair-bound after a freak incident in 1994, it has honed his risk taking attitude. “It has put challenges in a bigger perspective. I am more of a risk taker. Yes, I did have my ‘why me’ moments.
It has also made me a little more fatalistic or accepting in realising that you are not always in control of your destiny. His passion for sports helped a great deal at work too. “My favourite was football, and when you play that game, you tend to look at success as the work of a team. It helps in the perspective that crafting and building a right team matters most, where not every player will be a goal scorer.”

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