The 2 Months of Craziness Called Internship – M H Alshaya PPO Holder’s Account
It all began with the two golden words, “Step Out!”
I had made it to an overseas internship in the Retail Business in M H Alshaya, Kuwait. The company has a majorly brick & mortar model of retail and operates in 19 countries in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. It has franchise of 70+ brands under its belt and people from 109 countries work in the company.
3rd of April, Friday! Terminal 3, IGI airport, New Delhi it was and I was stepping out of India, beyond Nepal, for the first time. It was a break journey and more interns joined us from Mumbai. All of us were excited to see the well-lit Kuwait City from the sky. We reached at about 3 AM local time and were taken to the company-arranged accommodation. The hotel (it had a name, but later one of our alumni named it The Interns’ Villa’!) was pretty decent and each one of us were allotted single occupancy rooms in the 3BHK set up. There were a total of 53 interns from IIMs A, B, C, L, XLRI and of course FMS. We had a day’s rest to explore the nearby areas before it would officially begin.
5th of April, Sunday! (Yes, you read it correct. A week in Kuwait starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday.) I woke up at 6 AM to get ready for office and the company buses were there at sharp 7. The drive through the Arabian Gulf Street was refreshing. We went through a formal induction which went on till lunch before we were taken to our respective teams. I had been assigned a brand under the Fashion & Footwear division. My mentor (a Brand Merchandising Manager) introduced me to the entire team including my buddy who was an alumnus of IIMB. During the introduction he also explained to me the team structure along with the role of each member. I learnt that the team comprised of three wings: the Operations Team, the Marketing Team and the Brand Merchandising Team (known as the Brand Team in short). The Marketing Team executed the marketing campaigns as designed by the Brand; the Operations Team looked after the normal functioning of the stores and the warehouse; and the Brand Team monitored the tasks of Visual Merchandising and buying planning. There were a Senior BMM, a Brand Director and a Vice President to oversee the performance of the brand.
|The Project! Next my mentor handed over to me the file containing the project statement I was supposed to work on. It was a merchandising project and I sat with my mentor for around an hour discussing it. I learnt that the key deliverables expected of me were: making recommendations for sales space usage optimization for all the stores; stock level benchmarking of stores for guiding allocations & options planning; and formulation of a Sales Space Master Sheet by division by store. So there I was with no prior experience of retail (apart from the small medical shop owned by my Dad in which I used to assist him during my vacations) trying to figure out how important is space for a brick & mortar retail business and how to go about devising a methodology to crack the project. Thereafter my mentor took me with him to a meeting. In the beginning I was completely terrified at my inability to understand what was going on in the meeting, but then I thought it would be a good idea to take down notes of the terminologies being discussed so as to be able to preserve my questions for the end. The day ended with the meeting. I felt pretty relieved to board the bus going back to the hotel. The bus was bustling with people talking aloud about their respective teams, mentors and projects. It became a source of new friends as everyday one would get to sit beside a new set of people. The First Week! The next few days were marked by a myriad of meetings and another stint routine in brick & mortar retail known as ‘store visits’ which were to continue till the end.
The biggest mall of Kuwait this way became my second office! Frequent store visits helped me figure out not only the relevance of space and density analysis for retail business but also a methodology to go about my project. A little alteration in the store arrangement in terms of share of space allocated to various divisions could cause a huge variation in the sales and profit. This was the point where I realised how crucial role could my project play in solving some of the live issues the business had been facing. Firstly, a density analysis of performance across divisions could guide the sales space distribution. Secondly, it would help avoid under/over buying and under/over allocation to stores which in turn would save a lot of time and resources. Thirdly, any variation in the number and types of fixtures in any division would give the exact change in capacity in terms of quantity and options. I then decided to base my model on the flagship store owned by the brand and to formulate it for the rest of the stores, for it was practically impossible for me to visit all the stores owned by the brand across 3 countries. Now it was execution time. This was followed by another set of store visits, Conversations with my buddy and other team mates, scheduling meetings with Heads of Visual Merchandising and Operations Team. But, this is only half the story.
The chilled waves of Marina Beach! By 6 PM we would reach the hotel and the usual activities included a (15 minutes) walk to Marina beach, visiting nearby malls and restaurants, cooking dinner and of course gathering with friends. Gradually the beach obsession took over and we would even go there at odd hours like 11 PM and 5 AM.
The Kuwaiti Weekends! Cometh our first Friday and there was in place a Kuwait tour arranged by Alshaya. The whole contingent loaded in two buses was taken over to see the attractions of the city. We went to a beach, a dock and a beautiful mall. It was refreshing.
On another weekend was arranged a get together with all the alumni of Indian B-Schools working in Alshaya. Though parties in Kuwait miss out on an important ingredient of Indian parties it was really nice interacting with the alumni.
The Mid-Review! As weeks progressed the work also progressed and the daily and weekly reports culminated into the mid-review. The mid-review apart from the feedback on my work gave me an idea to completely revamp the unit of sales space and density measurement in use to a more accurate unit. I discussed the idea with my mentor and he told me that this could be a turnaround in my final review, but could turn things around any way. The message was clear: if I was able to sell the idea I would win. I moved on with the idea and kept on accumulating points in my support. I was fortunate to work with an extremely cooperative team. My buddy helped me with whatever data access and time to time doubt clearance I required. My mentor assured that I attended all the activities like meetings, presentations, store and warehouse visits relevant to my project and to learning in general.
The Places Around! Fun outside office had no boundaries. I went on seeing new places
famous in Kuwait, like the Kuwait Aquarium and the House of Mirrors. But, what will remain etched in memory for quite long would be our visit to the Adventure City, Doha Port.
Final Presentation! Finally did arrive the event it was all meant for. It was actually a pre-poned event for me. Fortunately I was almost done with the findings & recommendations by then. But it took a herculean effort to complete the presentation in 2 days. Fortunately I had full support of my buddy, mentor and other team mates. The meeting room that day witnessed a packed audience comprising of the Vice President, Brand Director and all other stake holders from the brand team. I presented my findings and recommendations to the team and at the end of it was a small Q&A session. I managed to get excellent feedback and this further converted into a pre-placement offer!
To summarize, my key learnings from the stint called internship were:
- Understanding the nuances of the retail industry including the small and big factors that determine the performance of the same.
- Implementation of cross-cultural management learned as a part of OB course in the first year.
- Breaking down a given problem statement into tangible deliverables and devising feasible models and methodologies to materialise the same.
Finally a few suggestions I would like to leave for the juniors reading these:
- Understand the project statement as deeply as possible and consult your buddy or mentor in case of even minor ambiguities, if any. Further, get your understanding of the deliverables approved by your mentor in the initial stage itself.
- Try to mix with the team members as much as possible and if possible with members of other teams as well. This will form part your network and will make it easier getting help form team members when required. This may as well play a role in deciding your PPO in case a feedback is sought from the team.
- Last but not least, do not miss out on the fun during the tenure. Make friends, party and tour around.