“Are you ready to work in Kuwait?”
I would like to trace back to the summers process when I was asked this question in the final interview. My reply was an instant yes. But I would be lying if I deny the flutter of anxiety I felt along with the excitement of exploring a new country. Why Kuwait, of all places? What’s there in store for me? How will a pure vegetarian survive in the land of shawarmas? (No offense to meat-lovers!) With tons of possibilities, I landed in this oil country- known for its richest currency and extravagant Sheikh Lifestyle.
On my first sight of Kuwait from the airplane, I saw a town indulged in spectacular lights and realized this is what a country with unlimited electricity looks like. At the stroke of midnight, we reached the “Orange” Building, which was to be the home of 31 interns for the next 8 weeks. We got the most beautifully furnished houses, with much-needed kitchen appliances and fully-stocked fridge which helped us through the first two weeks.
The induction day at Alshaya went smoothly; apart from knowing 70+ brands associated with Alshaya, we got familiarized with the Starbucks coffee vending machine (Mental note: Free Starbucks every day!) and Kuwait Dinar notes. What I was looking forward to was meeting my project mentor, who left a lasting first impression with his so-well-balanced friendliness and professionalism. He introduced me to everyone in the division saying, “She’s from Indian Institute of Management. She will be working for a project designed by the Director.” I don’t know which sentence impacted them more, but over the weeks, I realized the sense of respect Alshaya employees have for IIM students.
On the first day itself, I fell in love with my division: Premium Cosmetics. A blend of Lebanese, Britishers, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Indians and Kuwaitis working under one roof. I received a super-detailed project brief on Premium Cosmetics Brand Profitability. I had to analyze sales and profit by brand across stores and propose optimum space allocation by profit density. First deliverable of the project was to design Space density matrix. This matrix helps to analyze the brand sales and profit with respect to space allocation.
The first store-visit included a day-trip to the biggest mall in Kuwait, owned by Alshaya. It was fascinating to see all the Alshaya brands in one mall, one after the other-The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, Pinkberry, Victoria’s Secret, H&M, Potbelly, Starbucks, MAC, JO Malone and many more!
I was bombarded with a pile of new terms, keeping pace, scribbling frantically, and taking pictures of important display patterns in store. By the next visit, I took charge of the meeting, going all by myself and getting into deeper technicalities, understanding problems at store level. By the end of my queries, the manager thanked me for the benefits my analysis would bring to the store, handing me a bag of unbelievable goodies I would not have afforded to buy. Fragrances and make-up range of the best brands in the world- Chanel, Dior, Clinique, Isadora. Every girl’s fantasy!
What made my project special is that it was Director’s brain-child project. This analysis had never been done in my division earlier. On the plus side, I had the freedom to formulate all my approaches. On the flip side, any challenge I faced was also a first, and I had to make my own assumptions as they wanted “a fresh mind”. The most challenging aspect of the internship was the myriad of complexities in premium cosmetics business, which simply multiplied as the project unfolded. By close of internship, I ended up designing lot more than what was mentioned in my project outline. The best moment came after final presentation when the Director asked me to sit with the Operations team to get my recommendations implemented!
Some perks of the job were having a “Blue eyes, golden hair” witty mentor ordering Mocha Frappuccino before meetings, freedom to try any of the premium perfumes from display shelf- any day, flat office structure with a food-sharing culture. Being a hardcore Gujju, I shared the Gujarati missiles in office: “khakhra”, “shakkar-para”, “farsi puri” and soya sticks. Evidently, people across the globe love Gujarati delicacies!
Alshaya treats the interns royally! Be it arranging a Kuwait day trip, hosting an IIM Alum-Intern gala dinner or the Internship Graduation dinner at Veranda: held exclusively for the interns & Directors and Vice Presidents of several divisions. At dinner, I was amazed how easily they discussed their most personal life stories across the table with few interns they just got introduced to.
The next 7 points will help you sail through your internship experience:
Mail before you “walk-in”- Even if there’s a walk-in policy, it’s always good to be professional in the initial weeks by sending formal meeting requests. It would be okay to walk-in once the rapport is built and you have left a dedicated image on their minds
Keep them updated- If your mentor works across countries and isn’t in office most of the time, keep him regularly updated with your progress, even if it means just a store visit or a meeting brief
Get on the same page- Post discussion, send a minutes of meeting to your mentor. It 1) shows your attentiveness in meetings and thoroughness 2) makes sure you both are on the same page in terms of understanding the deliverables
Persevere patiently- Waiting to get important work files from a colleague, when that’s the only bottleneck, can turn out really frustrating. Patience and polite reminders is the key!
Know your audience- After the final presentation, I received my biggest compliment: “You had answered some questions even before they were asked!” It’s a great exercise to analyze all possible questions your viewers may raise and be prepared with back-up files to support your PPT.
Uphold the IIM brand- wherever you go. In Alshaya, IIM alumni have set a trend of wearing business formals every day. I don’t know how it started, but we proudly maintained the legacy.
Learn the country, but Bleed Blue- It’s essential to blend in any place you go. We had to remember the Arabic numbers to bargain with taxi drivers. But when “Hummus” simply won’t cut it, we resorted to cooking (Read: Learning to cook). How can the pineapple upside down cheesecake beat the swaad of chhole-chaawal topped with Desi ghee?
I shall always be thankful to the alums who made our homesick days bearable- beach barbecues, midnight desert trip, unlimited parties and stunt mania in the silver dodge charger. I cannot forget to mention the Pizza hut treat sponsored by a sheikh who was immensely happy by seeing the interns having fun!
So, going back as a family of 31 interns, with tonnes of memories, I recollected my Summers question, “Are you ready to work in Kuwait?”
Shivangi Nagar, IIM Lucknow