You’re an alumnus of SIBM Pune – the 1987 batch. What was your greatest learning while here?
How to do everything yourself. I think that’s something you get out of here that you don’t get any place else. Whether you’re part of the cultural committee or you’re part of sports, it’s something you have to organise yourselves. As students, there are no funds available, and you have to do everything yourself. That’s the most important thing, I think, that I picked up.
What was one thing that changed in your life once you left SIBM Pune?
The big change in my life was Foster’s. It was not a multinational, it was a multinational abandoned baby. And we built it pretty much as an entrepreneur would. I think that was one real big change in my life, because it forced me to think like an entrepreneur. Today I think I’m strong in my own company because there, I had to worry about where my money was coming from. I had no money, so I had to make money. That was the changing point in my life, where I really learnt to work as an entrepreneur.
That actually leads me to my next question: Between being a part of a large company entering a new market, and starting up a completely new business of your own – what’s the real difference?
The difference is that you are the owner. If I was working for Carlsberg, there was a parent organisation to support me and look out for me. I didn’t have to worry about money, I knew there was a team to fall back on. Starting up, you’re alone. It’s scary. You don’t have a Board to correct you or guide you, you have to take decisions in your own head, you have to sound yourself off in your own head, have the debate by yourself. That’s the biggest difference – there’s no one to guide you when you’re starting your own business.
Given that, and the fact that you’ve worked in some of the best corporations in the world… what led you to entrepreneurship?
I think I was very lucky to be a part of many startups. Even in Unilever, I worked as a part of Brooke Bond and Taj Mahal teabags when they were launched in 1987, and it was a new launch – so even though I was part of a big corporation, I was still with a startup. All the companies I’ve worked with, no matter how established, have all been startups. So that got me thinking about entrepreneurship.
Speaking of your experience in the corporate world, one doubt many of our budding entrepreneurs have is: Do we go out and get some experience in the corporate world? Or do we invest right away, in ourselves and in our big ideas?
It’s difficult to say what the best way is, because experience isn’t confined to the corporate world. There’s experience being an entrepreneur, too. If I look at my own journey in the corporate world, I’d say I’ve learnt from companies like Unilever and Red Bull, where I had relatively short stints. At Foster’s and Carlsberg I learnt through experience; not really from the company. As an entrepreneur too, I’m learning from experience. Four years ago I had no idea of the retail space. Today I’ve made my mistakes and learnt through those mistakes. So it’s quite difficult to tell which way to go, it depends on you as an individual to a large ex-tent. If you feel you have a strong idea, I’d say go for it.
The idea, the risk appetite or the amount of hard work the entrepreneur is willing to put in? Which would you say is the most important factor?
More and more, there’s no such thing as a fantastic idea. Because with technology as it is, a fantastic idea will get copied. Today it’s about having the idea, but more about having a very clear vision, and it’s about execution. The strategy and execution are crucial, it’s not about the idea and it’s not about the money. Money will come if you do the right things, with a clear vision and hard work.
… and qualifications? How much value would you say an MBA really is for an entrepreneur?
I think an MBA really gives you an overall understanding of various business aspects. It’s not like being an MBA will make you a successful entrepreneur, we’ve seen enough examples of people with minimal formal education becoming extraordinarily successful. An MBA broadens your horizons. An MBA from an institute such as SIBM Pune, where there’s constant corporate interaction and learning, broadens them further. The more experiences you have, the more interesting activities you undertake, that’s when you get the most out of your MBA. When there’s a great eco-system already in place, and you already have opportunities to interact with the corporate world, that’s when your MBA works best for you.
And what would your one big piece of advice be for us... your juniors?
Stay hungry, stay foolish! :)