We follow the journey of Roshan Desai (XLRI BM 2017-19) as he talks about what drove him towards Marketing and how XLRI helped him on the way:
As a naïve middle-school student, I took movies, especially Bollywood very seriously. Predictably, they shaped my thoughts, beliefs and to a great extent, even my decisions.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”, my relatives, family friends and the neighbourhood maushi would pitch this quintessential ice-breaker question from Adult-to-Child Communication 101. Having just watched the Anil Kapoor-starrer Nayak and inspired beyond imagination, I would answer with unshakeable confidence.
And so, it remained, until I realized politics was, to put it mildly, not as deterministic as other careers. By then, however, my thoughts and decisions had begun to be influenced by more than just movies. Two new variables in the form of parental input and societal trends started to figure in the function that was career decisions. Students who were good at math and science inevitably became engineers. My elder cousin was one. The studious senior at school was preparing to be one. Heck, even the then President of the country was one. It was cool to be an engineer.
Without giving it too much thought and propelled by a good academic record, I dedicated myself to a two-year grind to get into the hallowed portals of the IITs. The grind didn’t pay off but I managed to get into a decent engineering institute and started my journey towards a career of playing with circuits, microprocessors and microcontrollers. My diligence helped me be good at what I was expected to do but suddenly, realizing that all streams of engineering more often than not ended up at the confluence of an IT job, I started thinking about what I really wanted to do.
What followed was a churn inside my head. I started asking myself, what was it that I was passionate about? What distinguished me from my peers? What made work fun for me? What was I born to do? What was the destiny that I had to now fulfil?
Sadly, unlike movies, where the protagonist gains striking visions of his answer, probably hidden deep within his mind, the reality wasn’t so straightforward for me, it wouldn’t be so for most of us. Between thoughts of giving it all up for the life of an ascetic and the thoughts of preparing for the Civil Services Exam to become a bureaucrat (who would fight for justice, give up his job to voice against corruption, turn an author to pen down his experiences, become popular, so much so that people get me elected into the Parliament as an Independent candidate and the nation, in an uncharacteristic wave of sympathy makes me the Prime Minister of India), I chose the relatively safer option of pursuing an MBA.
Having made that decision, I worked hard for the entrance examinations and landed up at XLRI Jamshedpur, the oldest, and possibly the most difficult one to reach, the business school of the country. But while I was happy to be here, I was still haunted by the lack of clarity regarding choosing a profession, now the industry and function where I wanted to work.
There was Operations, the stable, elder brother of engineering, who was characterized by his systematic, numbers-driven approach towards optimizing everything there was to optimize. Then there was Finance, characterized by his ease with complexity, dealing with multiple, dynamic numbers and a fair amount of uncertainty, sometimes in the form of a serious geek who has settled himself up in the library and at other times, in the form of the back-bencher prodigy who loves his currencies and deals as much as he loves women and fast cars. While they appealed to me, I dared to reflect upon myself and realized that while I had been a good engineer, I found Operations downright dreary. Finance was attractive and interested my curious mind but I had to admit that the numerical proficiency required was beyond me.
And then Marketing walked by. He seemed jovial, witty and yet, attentive and warm. He knew how things worked and what eventually led to customers trying out the product or services the operations guy toiled hard to prepare and the finance guy broke a sweat for funding. He knew his numbers but it was his words that really appealed to me. It was a new language he spoke. Honestly, I was floored.
At XLRI, Marketing is usually taught in the form of two courses in the first two terms, Marketing Management 1 and 2. The third term has a course on Business Research Methods that delves into experimental setups and the techniques of hypothesis testing, relevant in the world of statistical trials among consumers. The second year then offers you numerous electives, the fundamental ones being Sales and Distribution, Consumer Behavior and the newer, exciting ones being Sports and Tourism Marketing and Digital Marketing.
What is it about marketing that made it so appealing for me? Honestly, nothing. The elements of the subject itself are not unique. Marketing makes use of models and theories derived from multiple other subjects such as psychology and sociology. Then there’s a bit of economics thrown into the picture. Sales systems around the world have traditionally been improvised over generations. So that brings history into the fold. Sales numbers imply that basic mathematics is ever-present.
Beyond just the elements however, it is the amalgamation as a whole that makes Marketing interesting. The inherent ambiguity present, on account of being a more social management function vis-à-vis operations management of finance, is what makes it stimulating.
The strongest reason, though, is the fact that stories form an integral aspect of marketing or more specifically, branding. Making brands characters in a story that involves so many stakeholders is an interesting perspective in itself. And this fact is drilled into the heads of every XLer through ingenious means.
‘Brands Have Needs’, so goes the tagline of one of the first events students are exposed to, as they enter the campus. From devising new products to publicizing them and garnering favourable reactions on social media to tweaking popular fictional characters as brand ambassadors, XLRI ensures that innate love for creativity is instilled right at the very beginning.
Thereafter, as academic courses take us back to saner ideas and a more distilled, structured way of understanding the subject, group projects allow us to collaborate as a team and formulate marketing strategies that give us a taste of various aspects of marketing.
Moreover, as the campus gears itself up for the various popular marketing case competitions organized by prominent names from the corporate world such as HUL LIME (Lessons In Marketing Excellence), ITC Interrobang, Colgate Transcend and many others, students suddenly turn themselves into master strategists, exuding the air of a master-mind as they form teams with strategic strengths and arm themselves up with resources in the form of contacts in related industries and access to reports and databases. What really differentiates the teams that go on to win these competitions is not the data they gather or the breadth of their ideas, but the insights they provide and the depth of their analyses. In this aspect, XLRI has been at the forefront of nearly every major competition at the national level. Perhaps, it’s the culture of shared resources that permeates every aspect of life here that makes it possible even for first-year teams to emerge as winners. From sharing presentation decks to literally guiding teams with their ideas, the senior-junior interaction at XLRI is more a platform for knowledge sharing than anything else.
As a first-year student, I had the distinction of winning a case competition by Bajaj Auto. The primary round included conceptualizing a short plot for a television commercial for one of Bajaj’s many bike models. The second round had us actually capture and create the TVC we wrote about. While the competition and the win itself are memories I shall always cherish, what I can never forget is the support I received from every quarter of the campus. I needed an actual bike to film the TVC, an actual person who knew how to ride the said bike and a place where I could film the sequence I had in mind. A certain senior from a committee I was a part of had a friend who had the bike I was looking for. A friend of this friend had a helmet I would require. Another friend from my batch agreed to act in the sequence. Another friend agreed to help in actually shooting with the camera in her hand. A third senior got us the jacket we would need the rider to wear. Finally, we found ourselves a quaint spot beside a lake in Jamshedpur where we successfully shot the sequence. Ultimately, it was a senior who taught us the limited video-editing skills we possess. And voila! What we created was a prize-winning TVC that won us the competition.
Having won other competitions and after a year full of marketing courses, I can safely vouch for the fact that my love for the subject has only increased. While I cannot rule out the possibility of leaving all this to set myself a small hut in the Himalayas, for now, at least, I think I have an answer to ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’
For the greatest asset a marketer can claim to possess is, but the curiosity of a child that leads him to observe, understand and absorb the cultures around him and weave stories from those observations, tying in the brand like the thread that passes through all the beads, holding them together.