What do brand managers, consultants, bankers, ops and supply Chain guys do? Is work life just about turning up everyday to work, doing a bunch of things your boss asks you to do, lunching with colleagues you mildly dislike and surfing your social media rest of the time or is there more to it? How do people take up Challenging projects at work? How does the workplace transform into this hive of high intellectual activity to solve problems? How do people use people and software and network and favors and money to create and solve and build? These are some of the things we will be tackling in the InsideIIM Career Podcast.
We hope you can imagine, evolve and succeed with some help from this podcast. Our first phase takes us to the big daddy of Indian business. We're going to talk to some of the high-flying professionals in the prestigious Tata administrators’ services program who are doing a bunch of exciting projects across the length and breadth of the behemoth that is the Tata group. We are going to talk about the toughest Challenges, their most memorable moments and the biggest learnings.
The Tata Administrative Services programme is the general management programme of the Tata Group which hires students from top campuses in the country as well as laterals from within its many group companies. For decades it has been one of the most coveted programmes to get into for top B-school students.
Our first guest is West Bengal University and IIM Kozhikode alumna, Jukta Basu. She has worked for 5 different Tata companies in a variety of roles. We talk to her about her affinity for the Tata brand, her experiences working on launching a new tea cafe business called Tata Cha, her challenges working for Tata Trust and her award-winning work at Titan.
The biggest learnings from the conversation are as below:
when you take a nostalgic experience and try to transform it into a premium product, it's very important to provide a business as usual plus something more kind of a product so that you can justify the premium.
Even in a mass market business, you have to give individual customizations to make every customer feel special.
When you start something new, you can just focus on your function. You can’t say, I am the marketing guy and I'm going to focus only on marketing. Everybody does everything to put out a great product.
It’s tempting to feel that with the launch, your job is done, but it's not. Constant feedback from early customers is key to business success.
When you choose a company to work for, don't just look at the salary and the career growth. Look at what aligns with your value system.
Can’t listen to the podcast? Read the entire transcript below:
Kunj: Jukta is a West Bengal university engineering grad who went to TCS before going into IIM Kozhikode and then somehow circled back to the Tatas. I think you loved them too much and joined the TAS. We are going to focus on one specific project that you've done, and we believe it's something that’s very close to our heart as well and really excited to be talking to you about it. It is Tata Cha. Jukta to begin with, what's about the Tatas and hospitality, whether it is the Taj hotels or whether it is Vistara, getting the Starbucks brand to India, Tata's just know how to do hospitality. What it is it about them?
Jukta: Yes. I think you know Tata somewhere has this Indianness very ingrained into themselves and hospitality is again very fundamental to what India stands for. Apart from that, the reason why Tata went into Tata Cha was hardcore business reasons and of course there are emotions and stories involved, but largely it was a very strong well-thought-through financially driven business reason because of which we've ventured into Tata Cha. primary motivation was that you know the share of thought of tea as a beverage is going down. It's been a trend for a while. Coffee, juice-based drinks have been on the rise. Therefore, you're known as the key beverage player in the country. Tata has really needed multiple arrows to fire. many startups in this space, I wouldn’t name them, but you know, I'm sure many of us keep frequenting many of these cafes, Tea cafes, which are propping up across the country and you know, creating a lot of category excitement and we realized that why not, why should we not jump into the bandwagon and try, given we are the strongest player anyways in this entire tea space. But what motivated us most was the fact that we were confident we could bring in a complete differentiation into the category, because we are not coming in from Tea, we are coming in from Cha.
Kunj: So, what did you borrow from the cafe culture that you brought into the Tata Cha concept and what was something that had to be brought in from the tupperies for example, because that's where the Chaya till then was being consumed.
Jukta: So actually, it's very interesting you asked this because my role in that project was largely to handle the marketing piece, design the product, the space and the concept and the brand of course. So, you're right, you know, Cha is not Tea. Cha is not cookies. Cha has to come with samosa and chaklies and cream rolls. Absolutely bang on. That for you know, bring that concept of Tapri alive and everything that we did was important without literally becoming a Tapri was also very important. For example, let's start with the space design. When we designed the space, we realized that Chai is so involved with nostalgia with travel. So, if you would step into one of our Cafes you see that most of the seats are like train seats. that's the sitting arrangement over there. The main bar joint of the tea bar that is actually designed around the Tapri, which can you know pop out and close back towards the night. As you said that there were so many different considerations that we had to clear with, that we had to discuss with tour architects, discuss with the RBD team, our projects team, what is executionable, what is practical, what is financially viable, and something which actually adds into the brand of tapri but in a very sophisticated in a cafe environment. So, what would the lighting be? What's going to be the slant of the Chair? Is it going to be waste slanting? No, that's like a coffee lounge. Is it going to be straight back up like that actual Tapri, possibly no, because at the end you would want the people to come in and be very comfortable? so where do you strike the balance? it was a very interesting journey. Not that you know, everything we got it first time right. But the search was an amazing space for example. Then you go to food, out of 300 customers, some of the best of the items that honestly to be shot down because of business reasons. For example, Thandai was a cracking hit, but the reason why we couldn't do it was because okay, you will need actual dairy for it, which is very difficult to standardize across the country. because milk taste varies across the country. The quality varies. So how do you standardize or experience in a quick service restaurant format? You create a McDonald's kind of absolutely standardized formula of serving to your customers. But keeping the warmth of every cup alive is the Challenge that we attempt to solve in everything that we did. We had Starbucks as our mentor. Therefore, a lot of things came along with that. Starbucks philosophy is, one cup at a time, one person at a time, and they live the brand so very much that their operations is also aligned exactly to that. For example, every cup that you order actually needs to be made with one shot of coffee, two shots of milk and one shot of sugar. So even if you are in a group of 20 and you order it together, they would actually have to make one cup at a time irrespective of how many you order. So, I think it's great to experience to have worked with a brand which lives its philosophy so strong that its operations is engrained in its brand.
Kunj: It’s like its bringing back that classroom concept also that we hear that, you know, customization to the target audience of one. And being able to do that again and again and again and doing it. Delivering value for each of the people is what...
Jukta: You know, when a brand starts living what it believes and what it stands for, I think everything just falls in place.
Kunj: So, is that something that the Tata Cha also follows?
Jukta: Absolutely. For example, when we were doing our food, guess what were items that we had on our food menu, while it's actually a Cha space. But the food is essential part of any tapri as you know, all your cookies and rusks are essentially, you know at times more attractive than the Chai itself. So, we needed to create this rusk. We needed to create these cookies without taking away anything from the actual tapri. Essentially, if we were to serve the same Rusk, then tell me why would you walk into Tata Cha instead of an actual Tapri? So how do you innovate on that front? For example, we started having mint rusks. instead of having a samosa, we decided to have a chakli samosa. instead of having just a cream roll, we decided to have a chocolate cream roll, so you know to take a product which is extremely nostalgic, innovate on it and create something new is what Tata Cha stood for. It has brought in a lot of innovation, a lot of newness and a lot of millennial-ness into the Tapri Chai.
Kunj: So Jukta what is the kind of groundwork that goes into launching a completely new product that never existed? Like did you know about Chai enough or did you have to do something, go out of your way and find out more stuff?
Jukta: Absolutely. Yeah. I think there was no end to the research, so literally for the first two weeks of my project I had to go travel across the country to find out what are the different kinds of Chai and why is it made very, very differently. In some cases, it's a concoction. In some cases, it's cooked with the Tea. In some cases, milk is added later. In some cases, they pull the Chai and you know, it's not just for the drama of it. It actually Changes the taste. When you're pulling the milk, you caramelize it, hence the taste and the flavor of the tea becomes different. So, it was a journey across the country with literally highway on my plate to understand what Chai means to India and how much of that we could actually capture in our little Tata Chai.
Kunj: Jukta, I want you to take me right to the point where you were two months away from your first tea house launch, the first Tata Cha that was getting launched. What was the situation like? What other team, like what was the energy like? What were some of the concerns? I'm sure you guys were a little nervous. So, tell me, take all of us right there in that moment.
Jukta: Oh, I would say that one word which can really sum up what we were feeling is a lot of excitement. because good or bad, we knew that we are in for a huge ride. And some of the things which were really keeping us awake at night, so to say, well for example, the tea itself, if Tata Cha is the brand, then the tea better be kick ass. And so how exactly do we create a standardized tea drinking experience? Bring QSR to tea is something that we were struggling with. There were three different agencies working for us to create that tea, which can be replicated across the country. Exactly a month before we went live. Suddenly one of our experimentations went for a toss. We realized that it's been a wrong tree that we were backing up. We had to Change direction completely. Think of new ways of making tea in the store. Imagine if you are the prime product itself, suddenly you're having to think a new about it a month before the lunch, how exactly the situation would be and what kind of tensions would be running and then one. What really helped was again Tatas' heritage and Tea. because Tata Cha was being housed and mentored within that of global beverage, which is a universe by itself in terms of the strength and the standing and knowledge they have of Tea. I think the team of experts in TGBI immediately pulled off a secondary alternate solution when the initial experimentation failed, and we were able to go live on the date promised. That led to some huge sleepless nights, but this taught me, for example, what does actually a startup go through.
Kunj: What was it like when one night the whole tea house was ready and tomorrow morning, I'm going to open it to the public. Can you take us to that moment? What was that like? Also, tell us a little bit about your team. What was the construct of the team that you were working with?
Jukta: Sure. I was working with the head of innovations in TGBL, she was leading that entire business. one of my mentors was from Tata Starbucks. He had also helped us, help set up Starbucks when it had first come to India. He had come with a lot of experience in operations. One more team member had joined in from McDonald's. He was working with us in putting together many of the branding collateral elements. That's about it. That was what was the team that was four of us and we were rocking. Very little differentiation between finance and marketing when everything overlaps and it suddenly becomes like a blown-up college project, except that we were playing with actual money. We were playing with the brand called Tata and we were going live with an actual tea coffee.
Kunj: Right. Now take us to that moment where you were just, your store is ready and you're going to open it to the public the next morning.
Jukta: I would have very little recollection of how it went because it just seems like a flash and then the day was over. We were still worried about the rugged corners. We were worried whether that is dust on the sofa. We were worried about if the paint has completely dried and the worry is one piece. But the biggest excitement came from the fact that we opened it for a preview to a select set of Tata consumers just a day before. And this was actually a live cafe without a cash counter for one day before it actually went live. So that has an experience I would love to go to as a customer, but not again as the one who's actually putting together that. It was hell of a lot of fun. Yes.
Kunj: So how do you capture user feedback? So, for example, in an online business it's very simple, right? So, you got patrons walking into your tea house every day. How do you start capturing their feedback? How do we start capturing, okay, what is it that they're liking? What is it that is not working? How do you do that on a day to day basis? Once it's launched.
Jukta: Initially after the launch, it was literally like a live market research going on every single day because we were literally in the stores all through the day to understand how is the feedback coming in on food. And menu, on food design. In fact, how is the menu actually put up? Is the menu card extremely confusing? Have we gone overboard in terms of, you know, being very fancy, very fancy names like Dadi ka resmalai and then it was essentially just you know, cream milkshakes? So, have we over brained in terms of the terminology and confusing the customer. So, everything was on a live research.
Kunj: Okay. Jukta you are a person of many words, you're very articulate. So, I want you to describe to me the quintessential Tata Cha experience. Okay. I am a 33-year-old Gujarati guy. I'm in Bangalore, it's raining outside, and I walk into it a Tata Cha at Indra Nagar. What is the quintessential Tata Cha experience that I should be having?
Jukta: When you were going to walk in, you're already going to hear, you know, somebody's strumming the guitar. Because we have live music almost every weekend over there. But the rain out there, I think it's just really adding to the music. We have like two different spaces in most of our coffees. That's how it is designed, a little bit of indoors and a lot of it outdoors. So, you would see a good gathering around a small little tree with the single strumming his guitar and everybody's singing along. Please join in first. after that, when you really feel thirsty for your Cha, do walk into the cue, grab hold of our masala Chai, but correct masala Chai. I tell you it's not, you won't find a better version in India again, please pick up one of our pepper rusks and that's a fusion, you would love to have and join in with the music again.
Kunj: Alright, so Jukta we're going to go back in time to your summer internship. You came from TCS, you went to IIM K, and then you went for a summer internship to TAS again. So, what's with this thing with Tata that you have?
Jukta: Yeah, all my life. I think currently I'm working with the sixth Tata company in a row. All my life essentially, I worked with the Tata and no one else. I don't know what exactly is that point at which I resonate, but somewhere I think that 66% of whatever that Tata's earn goes back to Tata Trust, which is a completely philanthropic organization and you know, it's a very happy feeling to go to bed every night thinking that every penny I earned or every penny I help save has gone to wipe some tears somewhere. from a very, very career motivational point. I was a marketing enthusiast right through and through and I'm very grateful to TAS for having given me that platform exactly the way I would have wanted it. I did not want to do only FMCG marketing and be at it. I wanted to understand marketing from a B2B angles from a B2C angle across industries, across geographies, and I think I couldn't have asked for a better platform than TAS to allow me that.
Kunj: I want you to touch upon something that is very cool to the Tata business, which is actually doing a lot of philanthropy work. Tata Trust is one of the biggest foundations in the country today. And you worked there also, you had a stint there. So, can you take us to, what was it like working in a social setup in a business organization like Tata?
Jukta: Essentially, I think that Tata Trust is one of the pioneers in bringing managerial skill set to the philanthropic environment in the country today. And I was very lucky to work with them for three months. The duration seems short, but possibly that's the most enriching phase of my life. I was based out of a small village called Kuti, which is a hundred kilometers away from Ranchi. I lived with a tribal girl, because hotels exist over there. I cooked with her and ate. because again, no stores exist over there. I mean even cookies you can’t buy, you need to go to Nachi to buy that. There were no cars which could take me to the places I needed to go to because there were no roads and I essentially traveled on bikes seated behind the Tata trust volunteers, you know, my project was in creating a tribal scholarship for, rather a scholarship for meritorious tribal kids. Essentially when we went for our market research to understand how to make it relevant to the crowd, how to make it relevant to the actual recipients, we realize that education itself is not very relevant to them because the only thing that they dream about in their lives is two square meals a day.
Kunj: Which is going to require skills and not necessarily...
Jukta: Absolutely. And in the schools when we would go and ask them, what's your motivation, what do you want to become? The first boy in the class would say, I want to become a plumber. Because that's their height of achievement in life. It’s kind of made me aware of how privileged a life we lead and maybe far more grateful and far more respectful of all that they have. In terms of work, what we did was try to understand that how to make the project more relevant to them. I'm very happy to say that a top hundred meritorious tribal scholarship is one project which has actually seen the light of day. And I'm very grateful to the Tata trust board to have given it the green light. And happy that I could work somewhere in making that happen. Creating a difference for at least hundred people who really deserve it in this world to get support.
Kunj: Something we heard again and again from a TAS officers that, you know, the project that I've worked on saw light of day and that is very significant, right? Because there are so many projects which are, you know, just academic sometimes. Sometimes they are just about, you know, this prospecting thing that languishes as a PPT on somebody's hard drive and it never reaches anywhere and somehow TASOs the project that they do, they very regularly, very often see light of day and hence you see the impact of what work you've done.
Jukta: Absolutely. I think that's one of the reasons which brought me to TAS in the first place. because your projects are not meant to be learning exercises. It's hardcore business requirements. And I think that feeling of me being important enough that people felt that I could add value to a live project and create actual impact. I think that itself is a very empowering feeling and that makes us far more responsible, even more effective I would say.
Kunj: Jukta you were recently the recipient of the international customer experience award, which you went to Amsterdam and collected. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What is that award like? Because customer experience something which is very hot these days. Anybody who is doing marketing wants to get into customer experience. I don't think many Indian brands have too many awards in that area.
Jukta: We were the first one.
Kunj: Wow, so can you tell us a little bit about that?
Jukta: It was essentially a journey of two years, which culminated in that award. Titan, as you know, has been at the forefront of being customer centric, not just in India but globally for a very long time. They are known for the brands we create. We are known for how well we preempt consumer's needs and create our experiences, our products around it. I was working with customer experience and marketing. We worked on making customer feedback very granular and actionable in the universe where we are gone at the days when the customer would come write something on the visitor book, scribble and go and there would be no traceability of what happens after that. We were able to bring in a clear traceability of what the customer had to say and what the business did because of that. And that is what won an award, an international customer experience forum. You know, what really amazes me about that bit is not the word, but what, how Titan management took it and how they give me a platform through that. For example, when we had gone to present, there was a jury of 64 to which we had to present all entire senior leadership was there with me, but they asked me to show up and present the case study to have that kind of responsibility or one shoulder, I think it matures you elates you beyond words and a pulls that, thankfully we won. And when we did, that again it was me who had walked up to the stage to collect the award. It's not just new to Titan. I would say it's a culture which Tata's live by. every project that we are exposed to. Most of us interaction work with CXOs and all our mentors, our bosses, super bosses enable that. They take a lot of pride in grooming absolute fresh novice talents to you know, walk up to a boardroom and present rather than taking that presentation and presenting themselves.
Kunj: Thanks a lot, Jukta. Really appreciate you doing this for us.
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