Connect at a Personal Level Before Bringing in Your Personal Agenda – Priyanka Gupta at MISB Bocconi Alumni meet
Last Friday, MISB Bocconi had organized an alumni meet for the students of the Mumbai campus. The attendees included alumni, current students, some exchange students from Italy, and a few administrators from MISB Bocconi. The event was held with a specific purpose – to imbibe in the students’ minds the importance of building a global network for local businesses. With this end in mind, MISB Bocconi invited Priyanka Gupta – an executive director at MPIL Industries, a steel structure fabrication company . MPIL Industries is a steel structures fabrication company, a family run business. Priyanka Gupta’s achievements at MPIL include establishing the company’s second factory at Tarapur, growing the business at a CAGR of 600% between 2008 and 2012, overseeing the growth of the team from 30 to 650 employees. She has been awarded “Woman Entrepreneur of the Year” on numerous occasions including most recently in 2013.
After being introduced to the audience by Alessandro Giuliani (managing director of MISB Bocconi) in an introductory note, Priyanka Gupta went on to speak about the art of networking, about different techniques, what to do and what not to do if you want to build meaningful relationships with people. She won over her audience with a very straightforward and plain-speaking approach in her talk. Here are some of the salient points of her speech paraphrased in first-person…
Why is global networking important – location does not matter any more
The conventional wisdom of location being paramount to business has now been turned on its head. Technology has an ability to bring disparate elements of a business together, even if they are at different physical locations. In such a world, it would be foolish to restrict oneself to a single location for any aspect of one’s business, be it potential customers, design, manufacture, supply or distribution. For example, I had been to a city in the Philippines recently, and they awarded a contract to build an airport. Can you guess which company won that contract? It was GVK (the Andhra Pradesh based company). This shows two things – one that business can come to you from the unlikeliest of places and you need to be alert enough to take these opportunities. The other thing is that all you need to do is connect at a personal level – you don’t always have to pick up local language skills etc.
The ability to network is extremely important if you want to make the best use of talent available everywhere in the world. Whenever a foreign company comes to India, they always hire local business partners and local managers to run the business – they will not try and impose the American way of doing business here.
The importance of being earnest in networking
While networking it is important to be earnest and connect at a personal level before bringing in your personal agenda. I would always appreciate it if someone writes a mail to me saying “I’d like to visit your office” rather than “Can you give me an internship”. The probability of my responding to the former email is much higher than the latter. It is important to find common ground and focus on the positives, rather than focus on the negatives, because people always want to talk to people who are positive and optimistic.
Different ways to network – safety should be paramount for women, especially in unfamiliar places
There are many different ways to network – but wanting to give, wanting to get involved in other people’s issues, is more important than anything else. I have a list of interesting articles archived from various publications like The Economist. Whenever I want to connect with someone – I send them an email with an interesting article. When you are in a foreign country – you have to look up places, and events, and groups of people with common interests and join them. Use your hobbies for networking – for example – if golfing is your hobby, visit a golf course. For women, safety first is a primary rule for networking in unfamiliar places. Go out for events only if you are sure the place is safe.
How networking helps
I will narrate a story. My family was looking at establishing a joint venture with an East Asian firm for fabrication. Now, this firm saw our facilities, they were happy and impressed, but not blown away. Then my father expressed his concern that he was worried – he wanted to make the business big enough so that both his children (me and my brother) could be occupied by it. This struck a chord with the East Asian businessman who had exactly the same problem with his children. They gave us business. Thus, opening yourself up emotionally definitely helps in a lot of cases.
What was your dream, and how has working here helped achieve your dream?
I have always been keen on running something. I used to be a self-declared leader in school – I enjoyed controlling, doing administrative work, making things happen. After going to grad. school, I realized wanted to do something of my own The easiest option was to join a trade business in our family. We then embarked on a platform to manufacture. That was when the work became my passion. When you see something being made, created, and see a tangible output, it produces a great sense of joy and satisfaction.
How did you gain relevant experience before working in this leadership role as an executive director at MPIL Industries?
I used to intern and work full-time at MPIL Industries before taking this top-management role. Nothing that I ever did in my internship prepared me for this role. There is no way to prepare for such roles using an internship. I would say that a liberal arts education taught me how to think – how to bid for tenders, how to manage people etc.
Your work has been in manufacturing, and building factories – generally these are male-dominated areas. Did you have to deal with labour issues or any other problems?
Building factories was easy – its part of what we basically do. About labour issues – I never went to to deal directly with labour issues – like people wanting a wage hike, or a shift change etc. I was really lucky to always have either my father or my brother handling labour issues. This is an area where I don’t think my intervention would have helped in any way, so I’ve always stayed out. If I were running this company without their involvement (father and brother), then I would hire someone to do this for me.
When I first visited a factory, there was a bit of awkwardness – the people there were uncomfortable talking to woman. However, my being there repeatedly helped break down barriers. During factory tours, people opened up and began speaking up. Therefore, frequent visits to the factory helps establish trust and credibility with the workers.
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