Q: You didn't have prior work experience before joining b-school. Then, how did you decide your specialization in Marketing?
A: I was interested in marketing during my undergrad days - I always found marketing to be a core business strategy function that is consumer facing and was excited about solving consumer problems. I became sure about my choice when I specialized in marketing and finance during my undergrad final year. It is also a function that holds immense social responsibility because it impacts the consumers and is at the helm of critical business decisions - product launches and advertising are just the tip of it.
Q: Where did you do your summer internship at? Please tell us about your summer internship project.
A: I did my summer internship at Idea cellular. My project mentor was DGM, sales based out of Indore. My project was to create a marketing strategy to increase the penetration of 3G devices and improve data consumption. During that time, many telecom companies were trying to increase their market share by launching bundled offerings of data and devices in order to increase 3G adoption and drive data usage. Idea tied up with ZTE and Huwawei to drive this. Chinese branded devices in that time were restricted to mid to low income groups predominantly in tier-2 tier-3 towns. The challenge was to break the imagery and drive this as a high value product. I had to find out the barriers and opportunities in the market through market research, consumer immersions and in-depth interviews of promoters and store managers.
Q: What were your 2/3 major takeaways from those 2 months at your internship?
A: The biggest takeaway was people management. Initially, it was a bit overwhelming to work with really experienced people around me. But as I got into the details of my project, working with different departments across business intelligence, sales, marketing and customer care started turning out to be fun and with immense learning opportunities. I was lucky to have been assigned a real-life problem. Coming straight out of B-school, bringing together learnings from across different teams helped me build a critical knowledge base to work effectively on my project.
Another important takeaway was to effectively communicate a shared goal and be clear about the project objectives you are approaching. It is also important to know that 2 months is not a lot of time - so not to bite more than you can chew. It can sound difficult, but it is critical that you outline the project, speak to as many stakeholders, get it proof-read and finalize the overall project framework in the first 2 weeks and get the sign-off before you proceed. Lastly, a good and successful project always ends in recommendations that are broken down into clear implementable steps and have been signed off by most of the stakeholders.
Q: By the end of the 2 years at B-school, had you figured out a career path for yourself, in terms of any dream roles/organizations that you wanted to work for?
A: To be honest, I never had a dream role or organization for that matter. After my post-grad, I landed in the food industry at Cargill. I ended up loving the energy of being in the business of consumer goods. My next natural move was at ITC, as I wanted to work at larger consumer brands and be involved with NPD as well. After a while, I developed greater interest in digital marketing and started looking for more challenges in my role. I wanted to be in the middle of all the action that was going on in the digital and e-commerce world that is changing the face of businesses and our everyday life as we know it. I wanted a role that was more than implementing small add-on digital marketing of consumer brands through microsites, influencers, and social media, so I built my knowledge base through online resources, and successfully moved to Amazon.
I worked there for a few months in Amazon Fashion and prepared myself for larger responsibilities. I used my Amazon Fashion days to learn the nuances of e-commerce and then moved to Seattle where I took the responsibility of driving Amazon Prime marketing for North America. It is a role that is at the junction of Tech and Product, aimed at driving usage of Prime benefits for members and improving retention through growth loops through on-site initiatives and closely analysing consumer behavior through big-data. Things are pretty exciting for the time being, as I am working with product teams, and cutting edge technology and machine learning.
Q: What are some key takeaways from each organization that you've worked with.
A: Let me break it down according to the organisations I worked with:
- In Cargill, people management was the key takeaway. As a category development manager, I was leading a group of associates and ASM's who were much more experienced than me. I had to work really hard to win their trust and gain credibility not just with the team but with the heavily relationship-based primary market of distributors and dealers. I went to market visits with them as often as I could to understand the challenges they face and also to help them get the support they needed such as retail activation, brand visibility, sorting out supply issues etc.
- At ITC, I learned project management - I was responsible for the super-premium category of premium cookies and cakes under one of the most loved and high value brands, Dark Fantasy. The role involved end-to-end product management, strategic planning and brand strategy. Cross functional leadership was at the core of my job as I helped drive sales profitably, working with teams across sales, supply chain, procurement, R&D, market research and external agencies, launching 360 marketing campaigns, working with teams to ensure high fill rates i.e. product availability in the market and reducing time to market new products.
- At Amazon Fashion, I started looking at the technology side of what goes behind these awesome e-comm websites. That was my first face-off with technology and digital marketing in a true sense. I understood what it really means to work on high-tech tools, in a fast paced environment, using real-time consumer data and driving revenues through analyses of consumer behavior that is not just clicks and conversions but an overall shopping behavior and using segmented marketing most effectively. At Prime, the biggest learning was how to give your ideas a shape of a strategic project with clear steps and potential impact and selling it to the multiple stakeholders through doc reviews and thus, mobilise resources in your favor, because there was always a shortage of tech resources. I learnt how to create a shared vision and influence people you do not directly manage or even work with everyday - a key leadership skill.
Q: Can you describe how work culture in the US is different than how it is in India?
A: This is a question that can frankly not be answered without bringing some element of subjectivity in it. I found work culture and work relationships in the US to be more professional than in India, with more importance given to proper planning, adhering to timelines, and respect for people’s time and personal lives. Using a calendar for planning meetings, for instance, is one small example. As in India, building relationships is important, and honesty, clarity and professionalism takes you a long way. Lastly, one of the biggest differences in the two cultures is the communication style. While there are individual differences among people in the US but as a common theme. I noticed an assertive style of communication which is not too direct. I found that criticism as well as advice are subtle and indirect.
More than anything, rather than getting judgmental or critical about these differences, I think in a multicultural environment, it is important to be aware of these cultural as well as individual differences. Knowing people and their styles can help you effectively manage people and teams and get the job done. I also personally felt that in India, employees do not have much negotiation power, and recruiters want to know your CTC, fixed-variable etc. without which they can not go ahead with job applications. That is not the case in most of the American companies as far as my experience goes. In fact, sharing salary history is banned in many large cities and exercising such rights is not a huge barrier in your career growth. This right is important for creating an equitable growth in society and establishing justified wages according to labor and skill.
Q: Which factors did you take into account while making a career decision?
A: Do only what you are passionate about. If you don't do what you like, you will not be able to make yourself a long lasting career or remain happy in your professional and personal life. An MBA might land you big-cheque jobs but what’s more important is to love what you do. An MBA education should help you acquire critical problem solving skills and the ability to think like an entrepreneur that can help you grow personally as well as in your career and help achieve your goals in the long term.
Lastly, India is a booming economy with its own unique problems, that probably Indian entrepreneurs can understand better than foreign companies, and also have the agility to create compelling products or services to serve the Indian market in a unique way. That is your opportunity and strategic advantage coming together. While a salary may seem compelling, but for the ones with entrepreneurial interests, this is a great time to start a business where people are adopting change faster than ever and millennials and Gen Z like you are the largest earning group.