7 States & 7000 Km In The World Of Commodities – Nakulesh Kagathra’s Internship Experience At ITC

“Yours is the most critical and difficult project and the company has no idea how to go about things” – this was the first thing my mentor said to me during our first 5 minutes interaction. Yes, this what you get – a 5-minute interaction, when you enter the real corporate world after spending few good days in one of the country’s best hotels where everything right from your travel to your accommodation is being taken care of by the company. No elaborate explanation about the project, about the department or about the expectations of the company from the project, just a two line project statement and a poor intern is left to solve some great challenges on his own. During that first interaction, I asked my guide “Sir, with all due respect, how can you expect an intern to solve a problem to which people with 20+ years of domain experience have no solution”. At this, he just grinned and replied, “We are looking for a fresh perspective”.

This is how I started my most exciting journey of two months at ITC. My internship was in the Agri-Business Division of ITC, which is the country’s second largest exporter of agro-products which include Foods Grains, Spices, Marine Products, etc. My project was under ‘Trade’ domain which included understanding the Procurement and Logistics of competitors & benchmark it with ITC’s. Understanding a non-mainstream field initially seemed very difficult to me. So before I joined the company, I travelled to various local markets along with my dad, who is himself a businessman and understood some aspects of the value chain of various commodities. Another constraint was that no secondary data of any sort was available online and thus I realised at the very beginning that the project is not just ‘plug and play’, I will have to work very hard to collect competitors’ data and analyse it to come up with actionable recommendations.

In the initial few weeks, as per the recommendations of my seniors, I tried to thoroughly understand the project and what can be expected out of me in these 2 months. After that, I understood company’s processes in and out so that whenever I collected competitor’s information I could easily spot the difference and thus can help the company optimise the value chain, which was the whole aim. Then I developed a basic framework on which I would be comparing my firm’s processes with that of its competitors. After getting the approval, I embarked on a journey to visit 12 different markets across 6 different states covering more than 7000 km within a span of 35 days.

“There are ‘n’ number of ways of approaching a problem. But understanding the company’s expectations and aligning your approach is the most important thing”

I would divide the remaining article into two parts. One would cover my exciting and adventurous journey across India and what I learnt from many unique experiences along the way. The second part would cover interactions with my CEO and managers and my learnings by working in this corporate environment.

My 35 days journey across India was adventurous, to say the least that taught me some of the greatest lessons of life. I travelled via all modes of transportation right from a flight to an overloaded state transport bus connecting two remote villages. I interacted with people across the spectrum, right from suppliers with luxury cars and flamboyant bungalows in metro cities to traditional illiterate commodity supplier in a remote village in Rajasthan. I travelled to metro cities and even villages which even didn’t have a railway station, a hotel, or rickshaws/taxis. I travelled to North India eating Paneer and Parathas and communicating in Hindi and also to extreme South, eating dishes whose names I can’t even pronounce, keeping a translator to overcome language barrier. During these 35 days, I was a student, a procurement manager for the company, a travel agent and also an MBA grad who understands all intricacies of business. I have visited places with no mobile networks (I used to carry 4 to 5 sim cards in order to remain connected to the outside world), I have missed trains and buses, I have faced delayed trains, angry suppliers who declined to answer my questions, scorching heat, heavy rainfalls – basically everything which I haven’t thought in my wildest dreams when I said in my interview that “I love travelling”.

“Strong positive drive & empathy towards various stakeholders would always help you succeed in projects involving such extensive market research”.

During the remaining days which I spent in the corporate office, I analysed all the data I gathered during my visits and gave it a meaningful structure. My interactions with my guide, who was a super busy person, used to 2 to 5 minutes long. In this short time, you are supposed to convey the entire message and also take directions from him. I also interacted with the Divisional CEO a number of times. I realised that in business, people are not looking for big ‘Eureka’ moments. Managers are expected to focus on small things impacting the business as the ‘Devil is always in the detail’. Moreover, ‘Simplicity’ and ‘Structure’ are the two most important things managers and leaders in corporate firms look for.

“In the corporate world, small and actionable changes rather than big ‘Eureka’ moments are always the expectations.”

“In your final presentation, you are given 15 minutes to explain your 2 months of work to your CEO. Thus, keep the final presentation simple and highly structured.”

On the last day of my internship, I had a counselling session from my guide. In this session, I told him, “During my 2 months of internship, I don’t think I used a lot of knowledge which I gained in my b-school”. He replied, “MBA education will just give a small boast in your career. ‘Common sense’ & ‘Analytical Skills’ will take to places in corporate world”. To which I again asked him, “Then what according to you, MBA students should do before then join the corporate world apart from studying the course curriculum.” He replied, “Try to maximise your general awareness, as the more aware you are of the outside world the more perspectives and fresh ideas you would have and that is what is required”.

“Optimism in approach and simplicity and structure in presentation – magic mantra to ace your summer internship”

“Maximise your general awareness before you join the corporate world”

Nakulesh Kagathra

Nakulesh Kagathra is MBA-IB student of batch 2016-18 in Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi. He interned under 'Trade Domain' with ITC Limited.

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