When you do an MBA in Human Resource Management, you learn how to manage the workforce of the organization. Every organisation has its own set of values, visions, ideals, methodology, etc. The role of an HR is to develop and manage the company's culture, hire the best talents and retain them. At least, that's what is expected. But what if Aparna D. Ponnappa (Founder of REDD Network and XLRI alum) told you that there is more to the role and there is more to you. Aparna has worked with 7+ companies and has founded her own company. She started as an HR and ended up being the first female entrepreneur of her family. Her story is exciting and full of ups and downs. Read her full story here.
This article is part of SCMHRD initiative and brought to you by InsideIIM.
Question: Did you have an inclination towards HR before joining your b-school?
Answer: Prior to my b-school journey, I did an evening course on HR. It was an introductory class, so we didn't dig deep into the concepts. My knowledge of the field was very minimal. So, during the admission process when I had the chance to choose a specialisation, I chose HR (those days XLRI had HR as a separate option). During my undergrads (B.Com), I studied about both marketing and finance. At that time, I didn't know much about the HR subject which is why I chose it.
Question: What kind of activities were you associated with, during your B-school?
Answer: I wasn't very academic so I took part in a lot of informal committees. I was the head of the Mess Committee.
Question: Can you describe your summer project experience?
Answer: My summer project was with GE Capital Services. I ended up doing 5 projects. My experience there was really good. But, I didn't want to work with them so I wasn't looking forward to a PPO offer.
GE Capital Services was in Delhi, I didn't want to work there, even though I was brought up there. Secondly, I wanted to work in a place that was more grounded and real. GE was too capital intensive, for my taste.
But I prepped a lot of juniors who wanted to get into the company, as I have designed GE's induction module and onboarding modules.
Question: Major takeaways from those 2 months.
- Hard work of course
- Being open to things
- Leveraging relationships
- Getting things done.
The more you do the more you learn. During your internship time, volunteer to do more than you are asked. I was able to do multiple projects with GE because I never said no.
Back then, I was quite carefree, I didn't have work-ex, and didn't value PPO. Now that I worked with a lot of companies, I understand the worth of PPO. Do your internship with a mindset of converting it into a PPO. Don't reject that offer.
Question: Before joining your first job, did you have any dream roles/organizations in mind which you aspired to work for?
Answer: I was very confused back then. I did some relief work during Orissa floods. That made me want to join an NGO. Hence Initially I decided not to sit for placements. But those days, NGOs didn't value people who did an MBA. For them, MBA grads were suspicious and came with a chip on their shoulder.
By the time I decided to sit for placements, I wasn't eligible for most of the companies. I sat for only 1 company on day 1, and 2 or 3 on day 2. Many interviewers didn't find me suitable because I was more inclined to NGOs (as I prepped for that).
Luckily for me, Saint Gobain turned out to be a perfect match. My JD involved working in the factory. I accepted their offer. I loved working there, as it was a perfect combination of welfare and corporate work.
My advice to people who are sitting for placements would be to talk to more and more people and take career coaching workshops if possible. It will help you in paving your career in the right direction.
Question: Tell us about your current role in detail. Take us through a typical day. What are the things you oversee on a day to day basis?
Answer: About 50-60% of my time goes into client delivery because I also deliver workshops. Whether it's designing or delivery, there is a lot of time that goes into it. I spend about 10% of my time doing business development.
I also do a lot of target setting, goal setting, monthly planning, etc. This year I am closing ahead of schedule, in terms of what I was planning to do in December.
When I'm doing training programs it becomes hectic. I have to do back to back travel. The day typically starts pretty early (around 3-4-5 in the morning), as I do my research, follow up on my mails, then head out to my workshops.
There are times when the only sleep I get is during my commute/flight. Typically, from an outsider's view, it can be said that I work very hard and I travel a lot. For me, it has become a way of life. And, I enjoy it.
Question: Please describe your career trajectory (Designations and responsibilities).
Answer: In Saint Gobain, I was hard working and eager to do things. Very quickly I became the L&D (Learning and Development) head for the South Based Operation.
Few years down the line, I lost interest in HR work. So, I moved to TITAN, where I was working for their Retail Ops division. I moved out of HR into mainstream retail. From there I kept on working for a higher salary and significantly higher portfolio. Some of these companies were Himalaya Drug Company, Levi, Reliance Retail, Reliance TimeOut, etc.
Post Reliance, I started my own company, in the training and consulting space.
Question: How did you arrive at the idea of having your own enterprise?
Answer: At the back of mind I always have that idea. In fact, I had the idea of having my own enterprise before doing an MBA. The reason I studied commerce was because I wanted to do my own business. But in those days when you do an MBA, you had to take part in the rat race of getting into a job. I was sucked into that, at least for some time. Otherwise, I would have started something entrepreneurial much earlier. I don't come from a family that has women entrepreneurs, hence the entire journey was a bit of a learning curve.
Question: Anything else that you would like to say to our readers?
Answer: One of the things that people with an MBA should do is actually work towards things that add value to society and not just their CV. In the search of personal/company growth, we sometimes compromise on ethics.
Don't forgo long-term sustainability because of short-term profits. Many companies just bribe their way through administration and don't take enough care of their employees.
Today's business environment needs to be less profit-oriented and start cultivating a certain kind of thought processes. The whole idea of the greater good should be brought in. Otherwise, we will end up running behind trivial things our whole life.