Tearing presentations, making staff run laps: How CEO Bhavish Aggarwal made Ola a ‘toxic’ workplace

Employees — past and present — have complained about Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal’s angry outbursts and punishments. They allege that he has made the Bengaluru-based startup a hostile work environment, often calling for meetings at 1 am

Imagine a tiny mistake at your job leads you to run three laps of your office. For employees at Ola this isn’t a hypothetical situation but a real one. The company, which started as a ride-sharing platform and today seeks to be the industry leader for electric vehicles, has grabbed headlines for its alleged toxic work culture.

Employees of the Bengaluru-based company have recounted to Bloomberg about founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal’s ruthless and abrasive behaviour at work, which has not only alienated staff but also upset board members.

Here’s a deeper look into the toxic work culture at Ola and Bhavish Aggarwal’s uber-aggressive management style.

What’s going on at Ola?

Employees — past and present — have revealed that 37-year-old Aggarwal often loses his cool at work, with them having to bear the brunt of his ire and aggression.

They told Bloomberg on condition of anonymity that Aggarwal tore up presentations because of a missing page number. In another instance, he used Punjabi epithets at staff and told teams they were useless.

If these weren’t shocking enough, executives claim that Aggarwal has also lost his cool over a sentence in a memo, a crooked paper clip and even the quality of the printing paper.

Bloomberg also reported that the CEO had asked an employee to run three laps around the several-acre-large Ola Futurefactory, all because of a shuttered entryway was kept open.

Aggarwal has been accused of unrealistic deadlines and unplanned meetings well past midnight — sometimes even at “1 am or 3 am”.

In May, a former employee told Deccan Herald that when the company was preparing for the rollout of Ola S1 series, Bhavish Aggarwal cut the deadline by two to three months. “When the company was gearing up for the rollout of Ola e-scooters after pulling ahead (the) deadline by some time, Bhavish Aggarwal further cut the deadline by two to three more months,” the employee was quoted as saying. While the top engineers were focused on delivering a strong product despite the earlier deadline, “once the deadline was cut further, we knew it cannot happen”.

Another business head, who has since departed the company told Bloomberg that Aggarwal’s expectations are like “having to run a marathon like Usain Bolt,” the world’s greatest sprinter.

There are also claims that Aggarwal doesn’t value time of people, especially those being interviewed. One of the candidates, who interviewed Ola for a chief experience officer (CXO)’s job told FactorDaily that he was made to wait for hours on the day of the scheduled appointment with Aggarwal. “At the end of the day, he didn’t even meet me,” the person said, requesting anonymity.

String of exits

Aggarwal’s belligerent attitude towards his staff is also reportedly the reason behind a string of exits from the company.

In May, Ola Electric’s chief marketing officer, Varun Dubey quit, citing personal reasons. Prior to him, Dinesh Radhakrishnan, left the startup. These departures came after other top-level exits, including those of Ola Cars CEO Arun Sirdeshmukh, Ola CFO Swayam Saurabh, Ola Electric’s Head of Quality Assurance Joseph Thomas and Ola Chief Operating Officer Gaurav Porwal.

Aggarwal speaks

When asked about his management style, the CEO and founder told Bloomberg, “Not everybody is a fit for our culture.”

Defending his behaviour, Aggarwal also said “passions and emotions run high and we are not on an easy journey.”

“But I don’t want to choose an easier journey for myself or for Ola. My anger, my frustration—that’s me as a whole,” Aggarwal said.

Internet fumes

The allegations of a toxic work culture at Ola has riled netizens, with many slamming the company and its founder.

Ex-NASSCOM official Saurabh Saha wrote in a LinkedIn post, “If this is true then Ola might be one of the most toxic places to work. Somehow, it’ll take a decade or two before Indian start-ups get what culture means. Till then the employees would be at the receiving end of such brutalities. I don’t think we, as Indians, understand the importance of respect in workplace. It’s become a breeding ground for disrespectful behaviour lately.”

Visiting professor of strategy at IIM-Sambhalpur Dr Nilesh Khare commented on Linkedin: “Leaders always have a choice — to rethink their own behaviour, beliefs and course correct or continue to feel the stress of running a low trust toxic environment.”

Another Twitter user also lamented Ola’s work culture, saying it showed a lack of empathy and humility.

Another user tagged Bhavish Aggarwal and wrote, “Read you shout and lose temper in meetings. Work atmosphere is also poor at Ola. Then you justified it by saying that the company culture is not for everyone. Please try to be less eccentric. It isn’t a sustainable style. You will only become more vulnerable and fatigued over time (sic).”

This article originally appeared on https://www.firstpost.com/ and was reproduced here with permission


14 thoughts on “Tearing presentations, making staff run laps: How CEO Bhavish Aggarwal made Ola a ‘toxic’ workplace

  1. This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

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