Final Five

With Padmini Pagadala, associate director, Flipkart

Padmini Pagadala, associate director, Flipkart (right)Padmini Pagadala received her master's degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech and a master's degree in logistics and supply chain management from the National University of Singapore. Pagadala recently won an employee competition at Flipkart – an electronic commerce company headquartered in Bangalore, India – where she was named "CEO for a Day" and became a hashtag on social media overnight. Pagadala, pictured here with current Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy, hopes to one day run her own company.

What prompted you to get a master's in supply chain and industrial engineering?

For the pursuit of academics and to get out into the world. I knew that the education in an institute like Georgia Tech was much different from what I was used to, that it focused on current day applications and challenges. I believed that getting a master's degree in industrial engineering would equip me for any stream that I would choose to pursue. Plus, I had a strong desire to travel the world and meet people across cultures.

How do both disciplines apply to your role as associate director?

I use it daily in almost everything I do. In my current role, I design fulfilment centers (FCs) – how big they need to be based on what needs to be stored, how processes are designed so materials are processed the fastest with no room for error, types of storage modes, deciding on the types of material handling equipment and so on. From coming up with the square footage of the FCs to zeroing in on the process and ultimately providing the lowest cost possible to internal customers, it is core industrial engineering and supply chain all the way.

What did you learn from your CEO for a Day experience?

I wouldn't say I learned them in a day, but it was a nice reassurance of the management lessons one already knows, including finding a leadership style that comes naturally and adapting what works for you, making sure everyone is working toward the same goal and groups of individuals are working in tandem to achieve said goal. A lot of my colleagues and people I had never met wrote to me. From the minute it was announced until the end of day, I had about 50 emails in my inbox. My phone was buzzing throughout the next day for about a week. It was a heartwarming experience. Humility is underrated, and I think that a head sitting on square shoulders is a bonus to CEOs.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I would like to run a firm in about three to four years. I have broad feet and all my life have struggled to find pretty shoes. I would manufacture custom-made shoes that are pretty. I would also like to have ample time to exercise, pursue my hobbies, spend time with family and still run a profitable enterprise. Sounds like too much to ask? I hear asking for too much is the first CEO attribute.

What advice would you give students majoring in industrial engineering and supply chain?

Get your hands dirty. While you are equipping yourselves with the academic know-how, roll your sleeves up and find out how the job is done by doing it yourself. For instance, the optimal tote size to carry your orders in the warehouse may be of certain dimensions. After spending many hours on your work, you may later find the crate with the said dimensions to be unavailable in the market, and you may have to spend 1.2 times the cost to get it custom-made and need to wait six weeks. There is no substitute for learning by doing the work yourself.

– Interview by Cassandra Johnson