The Conversation was conducted by the Corporate Relations and Placement Committee, IIFT Delhi for ABGLP Woo ME Competition Season 2's Second Round.
We at IIFT Delhi got a chance to interview the dynamic and spirited Head of Customer Centricity, Van Heusen Inner Wear of Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd, Ms. Somya Barpanda and we couldn’t resist grabbing the opportunity to know more about her, her career and the organization as a whole. Ms. Barpanda was an amazing person to interact with and was very proactive and cooperative throughout our interaction.
IIFT Delhi: Please tell us about yourself and your role at ABG so far.
Ms. Barpanda: With native roots in Odisha and schooling spanning Delhi, Chandigarh and Kolkata, I am an Economics graduate from St. Stephen's College, Delhi and an MBA from IIM Kozhikode.
My association with the Aditya Birla Group goes back to 2013 when I was fortunate enough to secure the coveted Aditya Birla Scholarship. PPO followed a summer internship stint and I joined ABG as a Leadership Associate in 2015.
In these four years, my work at ABG has taken me across geographies, functions & businesses. In my first role with the Consumer Insights and Brand Development Team at Corporate Office, I instituted customer-centric initiatives in Grasim Birla Cellulose, Aditya Birla Capital and UltraTech Cement. Presently, I drive Customer Centricity and Digital Marketing for Van Heusen Inner Wear division of Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail (ABFRL) business.
IIFT Delhi: What was your experience during a year of LEAP?
Ms. Barpanda: I think ABG encourages one to be adaptable. Owing to its sheer diversity of businesses, geographic presence and its people, ABG challenges you to constantly unlearn. I had to let go of many tried and tested methods on different projects. It was imperative to always start afresh, stint after stint. As they say, it is a world of opportunities. I would like to extend that and say ABG presents a world of multiple experiences.
IIFT Delhi: What were your key takeaways from the program?
Ms. Barpanda: My stints in the 1st year at ABG gave me many cherished memories. My 1st stint in the Operations division of Birla Sun Life Insurance helped me understand the nitty-gritty of various processes in the insurance industry. After that, I got the opportunity to be a part of the brand architecture and identity building exercise for Aditya Birla Capital.
My favourite stint was with Corporate Strategy in Sao Paulo, Brazil. My project was in collaboration with the then Indian Ambassador to Brazil. I was to identify innovations in the areas of Brazilian aviation, agriculture and urbanization that could be replicated back in India. Thanks to the assignment, I could explore a new country and culture and also learn a new language. And to my delight, Honorable Ambassador Sir also issued me a letter of appreciation upon the completion of the project.
IIFT Delhi: Tell us about your professional growth at ABG so far and the challenges you had to face. How did you overcome them?
Ms. Barpanda: Meaty roles have been the best bit about my professional journey thus far with ABG. I started out with no prior work experience. However, after my stint year at ABG, I was entrusted with the responsibilities of a Project Manager in the Corporate Consumer Insights and Brand Development Team. The role required direct strategic interactions with various business heads and CEOs as well as ground-level execution.
Two years later, I was called upon to independently lead customer centricity for a newly set up Innerwear division of our Apparel business. Presently, Digital Marketing, a fresh addition to my portfolio, is pretty new and exciting for me. So the learning has been continuous.
There were times when I felt that maybe, there's something else out there that is better. But each time I have sought change or a new experience, ABG helped me get that exposure while still being a part of the Group. The diversity and size of this organization enable that.
IIFT Delhi: India is an amalgamation of various cultures and beliefs. How does culture play a pivotal role at ABG in shaping the leaders of tomorrow? What are the challenges associated with it?
Ms. Barpanda: The LEAP program often requires us to be posted in multiple functions, businesses and geographies. And when you straddle so many working environments, the country's cultural diversity is palpable. A colleague of mine from Tamil Nadu had a Sales stint in Varanasi and he knew very limited Hindi. He faced many tough situations but today he agrees that those three months helped expand his worldview.
It surely gets frustrating at times because we value our own comfort zones. But in hindsight, these very experiences help us grow personally. Plurality is the only way forward especially in a time when the world today is fraught with polarized tendencies.
IIFT Delhi: Any interesting anecdotes you would like to share with us during your LEAP program? Any closing thoughts for aspiring MBA students on life and career?
Ms. Barpanda: I met my husband in ABG and that will always remain my favourite ABG story.
As far as tips for future MBA aspirants and professionals go, I think as students in our educational institutions, we tend to become a little too cautious about each and every assignment we work on. We want it to look perfect and get graded as the best. At least I had been like that when I was a student. Once we work for organizations, I have realized that there is no merit in waiting for that perfect state or perfect time. The right moment is 'now'. If you've got even a germ of an idea, voice it now. Find a project interesting but feel you aren't ready? Go for it now and you will learn along the way.
Secondly, I feel the ability to collaborate becomes very important in professional setups. We often forget that we can't create things of scale and significance on our own. It requires the coming together of the strengths of multiple colleagues. It is important to be having a good time collaborating.
We would like to thank Ms. Somya Barpanda for enlightening the students of our Institute on the culture of Aditya Birla Group, LEAP and sharing invaluable career advice with budding aspirants at a very critical juncture of their careers.