How do you feel coming back to TAPMI for an Alumni meet?
It has been a very great experience and nostalgic to come back to TAPMI. It’s good to connect with the old friends. TAPMI has played a big role in making us what we are now
You had a part time entrepreneurial stretch in your career, what made you leave that and go for a steady job?
When i was studying abroad during my 12th standard, I had worked in part time jobs to support my tuition fees, that was a turning point and gave me a great feeling of independence, accomplishment and thought me the value of money & hard work. When I was in B.Com., there was a lot of free time and I got into exhibition staffing and event management, It was great at that point in time but it wasn’t something which I felt I could scale up. So I did an MBA and joined HUL as a management trainee. HUL was a great experience as you are given tough jobs and large responsibilities right from an early stage and one moves across various division and roles , whenever I felt ‘I got bored of this job’, a new role with new challenge came up. Even now at Airtel, I run a circle with around Rs. 4500 crores and with approximately 700 employees. It is a far bigger scale than anything I can do on my own, while at the same time it is quite entrepreneurial.
Do you think India is still having a conservative attitude towards entrepreneurs?
I don’t think it is so anymore. More & more people are now willing to take a risk & strike out on their own , right from fresher’s out of college to people in mid management with very stable careers. The entrepreneurial bug is spreading and it’s now very “cool” to be an entrepreneur and PE ecosystem is also supporting them, with hubs like Bangalore being very active. Now even if you drop out of placement and opt for a start-up it builds an entrepreneurial image around you. Even when you work for say five years then resign and go for a start-up and come back to me, I’ll feel, ‘hey this guy got guts to do something on his own’ and you will be seen as a man with hunger, who can take risks & make things happen.
You have worked in various sectors in India and abroad, did you find any differences in competencies when it comes to different countries?
Every industry and every country has its own context. HUL in India is a market leader & one of the most respected companies and in a place like US it does not have the same stature as In India HUL is many times bigger than say P&G but that’s not the case everywhere. Similarly our largest selling cream is ‘Fair & Lovely’. It has a social context but in the western world it’s a different context. Therefore while the competences of hard work, resilience, team management remain the same in every place, you have to understand local culture, local insights and adapt to that. An aggressive pushy style might be a positive in some cultures but seen as a misfit in some other cultures.
Can you share us one challenge you faced in your journey in FMCG sector?
Part of my last role in HUL was business head of the Bakery business. Modern Bread was acquired by HUL from the government & operated as a virtual separate division. It was different from FMCG as it was a perishable product with 4-7 days shelf life & business was organized as an SBU with the factories, R&D , HR included as critical part of my role, in addition to Sales and marketing which was what all my prior roles had been. I would get involved in decision on capacities, capex, manufacturing, remuneration and rewards, which were all first time areas for me. Also Modern had been acquired from the government & had 1500 people, who I had to energize & motivate. The Modern team were the best in the bread business, but did not yet feel part of HUL as they were not integrated. It was a challenging role, but a great learning experience & helped me grow as a people and business leader.
While coming to Airtel, there was news in the recent past about Airtel planning to charge separate for Skype, don’t you think this will hurt Airtel as a brand?
I think essentially what we are saying is that there should be a level playing field. There is a certain cost of creating a telecom infrastructure & getting a license. It’s an ongoing debate, which will be taken up by the industry. But for now differential charging has been reversed.
How do you think TAPMI helped you in building your career?
I think it is 3 parts.
First, it played a big role in developing the conceptual learning, which helps you relate to and assimilate quickly into the real world and organization you join.
Second, the 2 year program gives you a 5-10 year head start as in most organization you entry point is somewhere in the middle and not at the bottom.
Finally third, it is the social context where you get to meet hundreds of students from various backgrounds and cultures. This really teach you how to be adaptable, adjust to situations, be self-reliant and come out of the comfort zone of your parental home. And get to build relationships for life and the fact that 50 people from 1997 batch are here today proves that.
Any suggestions for the TAPMI students on what competencies they need to develop to face the corporate world?
The concepts you learn here should be at the back of your mind and in real world you should see what is asked for and adapt to the situation. You should not keep saying that I learnt it that way and this is different. You need to unlearn and learn very frequently in the real world. Being pragmatic and aligning to the situation to get the job done is the mantra for success.