Dreaming about a career in operations? fair warning! You will have to be the Jack of all trades. You need to possess the right skills and knowledge of a company's multiple departments, its functions and ensure seamless flow of work. In short, you need to be the oil of a big machine (company). You can acquire the skills from a top-notch operations b-school, but you will only get the knowledge and understanding of the inner working of departments through by interacting with as many people as possible. At least, that was the case for, Lokesh Natoo, Director of Operations, 21North Europ Assistance, MBA- Operations graduate and SCMHRD alum (batch of 2011-13). Interested in knowing his story, experience and learnings? Then read this article now.
This article is a part of a working project with SCMHRD and brought to you by InsideIIM.
Question: What were your major interests and dispositions during undergrads?
Answer: I did my engineering in IT and my final year project was with L&T Infotech, where I had to develop software on the supply chain. While doing so I had to interact with the entire network of the supply chain which is typically manufacturer, distributor and retailers. From an engineering point of view, the entire "operations" process piqued my interests. After engineering, I was pretty clear that I wanted to work for 2-3 years. So, I worked for 2.3 years with an IT company called Mastek.
While I was working I wasn't sure if I wanted to do an MBA. But was interested in teaching engineering and MBA related concepts. So, I started teaching Quant and Data Interpretation at TIME. The whole teaching experience was rewarding because -
- It is a noble profession
- It helped me in making my mind about doing an MBA
- I was also learning while teaching
I finally got into SCMHRD and decided to do specialisation in Operations. Being an engineer, I had an inclination towards numbers and logic. To me, marketing and HR are inherent skills that I didn't possess. Finance never really fascinated me. Operations was the only thing that I liked.
Question: Why did you take 2.3 years before starting your MBA journey?
Answer: 4 years of engineering is costly. And there were study loans that needed to be paid back.
Other than that, the only reason I waited 2.3 years before starting my MBA journey, was to gain experience. Basically, apply and make sense of whatever I learnt. What you learn in college and what you do in companies are totally different. When you are working in a company, you learn other new things like - how a deployment happens, frequency, etc. I didn't want to be just another copy-paste engineer. Even though I am now a man of operations, I still do macro coding and keep my knowledge of IT relevant, because that is indispensable.
Question: What kind of activities were you associated with, during your B-school?
Answer: My two years at SCMHRD was phenomenal. I was doing my specialisation in Operations and learned six-sigma. So, I wanted to do something new. Hence, I decided to join the marketing club, rather than joining other operations and six-sigma clubs. I was also interested in the SCMHRD admissions process, I wanted to make it process relevant. So, I volunteered there during my first year.
I also took part in a lot of b-school and company based competitions. My team was in the final round of Augustus (Competition), and campus winners of Mahindra War Room.
I also represented my college in the chess tournament, organised by IIM L. People do MBA for different reasons. Some do it for certifications, academics, competitions, others do it for sports, committees, time pass, and even dating. And, I can proudly say I did all of that.
During my engineering days, I would just stick to my own group and interact with others. I realized that was my biggest mistake. So, during my MBA, I made it a point to know my junior batch, my batch, and my senior batch.
I got my first job from my summer internship, and currently, this is my second job after MBA. And you know what, even this second job I have got, is through SCMHRD. Thanks to the exceptional alumni network.
At the end of the day, when you are a part of a connected network, you don't need to go through the typical grind, because your image is already established.
Question: Can you describe your summer project experience?
Answer: Luckily, I got a live project, not a research project where I've to sit and read a lot of stuff, google things or make PPTs. The moment I got to know that it was a live project, I changed my mindset from an intern to an employee. I started connecting with people. By that I mean, not only with my mentor but with people in my function, which was a commercial supply chain, procurement function. My internship got extended by half a month. It made me happy because I got more time to understand the company as a whole. It was not a project where an intern comes and goes and nobody realizes.
The key to doing a summer internship is to show your presence. You and your work should be so good, that the moment you leave your absence is felt in the company. I also used to go for team lunches, I was very active in whatever was happening in the company. So, it creates a bond. That's how you bag a PPI and a PPO. Approach as many people as possible in your summers, get connected and try to understand all the departments in the company.
Question: Before joining your first job, did you have any dream roles/organizations in mind which you aspired to work for?
Answer: Nothing specifically, because I was in love with Idea Cellular Ltd., where I did my summer internship. I loved the time I spent in that company. The day before my PPO confirmation, I was in the final round of Mahindra War Room, and Mahindra at that point in time was offering PPI and PPOs and a few more lacs. But I didn't know Mahindra as a company. Hence, when I got a PPO from Idea, I was very happy and thrilled.
Question: Please describe your career trajectory (Designations and responsibilities).
Answer: After MBA, I joined Idea as a Management trainee. I spent the first five months in Cochin where I did all the cross-functional training like - sales marketing, supply chain, finance, etc. In Idea, I spent around 5.5 years and worked in 4 roles. Each different from another. In the first 1.5 years, I was in procurement. By procurement, I mean anything and everything, right from towers, to a call centre, customer support, wall paintings, hoardings boarding, etc.
Then next 1.5 years, I was into operational excellence where I used to manage all KPI's for supply chain and procurement. This role transformed me from an individual contributor role to a team leader role. There were 14 people in the team who was reporting to the supply chain head, I was also reporting to him but my job involved interacting with 3 other departments.
My first 3 years were in Maharashtra circle, from there I move to head office as the National Vertical Head. The role also changed from a circle city team to a pan India team. So, the audience was different. I learnt a lot during my time there.
In the fourth role, I had the opportunity to be part of the integration team for Vodafone and Idea entire supply chain landscape. I had to merge processes Vodafone and Idea's automated modules with two completely different ERP's i.e. SAP and Oracle. Deloitte was our project partner and Bain was our strategic partner. For me, this was an extremely good exposure because as I got to work with top talents from Deloitte and Bain team.
Like every product has a shelf life, I even my 5.5 years at Idea had to come to an end. I learned a lot from the company and even got the chairman's award in return. However, I always dreamt of being a COO. So, when I saw a JD, with a director roller for India and Singapore, I decided to go for it. The company was a startup and I had to travel a lot. That was something, that I never factored in when I was thinking about my dream role. But, one year down the line I think it was the right decision and I am happy with it. We're growing at a crazy rate and the learning is also phenomenal. That's the beauty of a startup.
Question: Anything else that you might want to tell an MBA aspirant/student?
Answer: We all have lofty ideas about doing an MBA and climb up the management tree. But as you grow, you will realise that to be a good business leader, you need something more than IQ, CV and credentials. You need EQ - Emotional Quotient. Management is not just about skills but knowing how to handle humans.