The InsideIIM Entrepreneurship Series – Interview with Rajesh Kumar B, founder – Focus Academy for Career Enhancement

Everyone dreams of risking it all and winning, but few actually try. Many of us keenly admire risk-takers from a safe distance – from the (imagined) safety that a salaried job begets. A country that has invented so much in the past can definitely do with a few more risk takers in the future. And among the population, MBA grads from blue chip B schools are a privileged lot – they have something to fall back on when their venture fails.

To laud the spirit of entrepreneurship and inspire a few more, we have the  InsideIIM Entrepreneurship Series – a series of interviews with notable entrepreneurs from leading B schools.  Today we have Rajesh Kumar, the co- founder of FACE (Focus Academy for Career Enhancement). Rajesh is an alumnus of IIM K – batch of 2007.  He co-founded FACE along with his batch mate Venkata Raghulan in December 2008. He has worked with Citibank and ICICI Bank in the past, and quit his job to start FACE. His company was featured in The Economic Times Starship Enterprise Section on 10th Sep, 2010. FACE is a trusted training partner of most of the premier educational institutions across South India and IT majors like Cognizant, and Wipro.

1. Could you walk us through your venture? Who is your target audience and what services do you provide for them?

FACE is one of India’s fastest growing employability skills development company, catering to students pursuing higher education in colleges/universities as well as entry level recruits in organisations across various industry sectors. FACE has evolved a scalable business model which is one of its kind and has been able to create phenomenal success stories for its clients through the same. In a span of 3.5 years since inception FACE has trained more than 2,50,000 candidates across 250+ educational institutions and corporate organisations. Today we employ in excess of 150 full time associates, which would be the largest for an organisation of our nature catering largely to the higher education segment.

Target Audience
• Students through Educational Institutions
• Entry Level Recruits through Organisations
• Vocational Labour through Govt Projects
Services provided for the above target audience include,
• Assessment
• Training – Problem Solving Skills, Communication Skills, Technical & Domain Skills, Vocational Skills
• Employment

2. What is your perspective on the employability of graduates in India? Is it as NASSCOM suggested? (only 25% are employable)

I believe employability is a relative term, relative to the demand and supply as per the convenience of the consumer ( IT industry in this case). When the number of colleges was limited and the through put in terms of the number of students was also limited, since the IT industry didn’t burst into an aggressive growth mode they didn’t have anything to crib about students being low on employability etc. As against now when the IT industry boomed and subsequently the number of jobs increased and witnessing the job increase so many engineering colleges got set up to churn out larger number of engineers, the industry cribs about lack of employability skills. To my mind the number quoted by NASSCOM or any other body are largely a figment of their imagination. The view stated above is a function of listening to these industry bodies rant about the same things over the past 4 years and do absolutely nothing about it, as a matter of fact these industry bodies use it more as a stick to try and tame the educational institutions and in the process churn out a huge demand for the training industry (of course we are a beneficiary of this phenomenon, but the truth has got to be said right 🙂 )

3. Which area do you think graduates need to focus on- soft skills or technical expertise? How does your company help them achieve this?

An engineer by basic definition needs to be able to solve problems, and a manager should be able to handle responsibilities and get things done. The curricula across universities in some way or the other are designed to achieve exactly this. Of course there has been dilution in teaching quality owing to lack of qualified(not just for the record) teaching faculty. As long as the candidate is sufficiently proficient in his area of study, he/she shouldn’t have an issue is securing an employment opportunity. The trouble usually comes in because of the illusion the industry in some ways and the colleges in many ways have created about soft skills being more important to secure a job and that the subject matter expertise isn’t as important as the soft skills itself.
We start by making candidates understand this simple truth as mentioned above and subsequently build programs to enable them to acquire both tech skills as well as soft skills.

4. What is the best testimonial you have received (either from professors or students)? Something that made you feel that all the effort has already been vindicated….

In this business the ultimate beneficiaries are the students, every time each of us in the team receives a thank you email from any student who would have secured a job subsequent to our training program, it’s a consummate sense of satisfaction that each of us experience.

5. What are your plans for the future?

We tread the entire employability spectrum starting from assessment to skills development to employment; and we are currently operating across the four southern states. We are expanding our suite of services with a few more targeted offerings catering to specific needs of various customers like technology/domain certifications, dedicated platforms for employment management etc. Apart from this we are also drawing up our pan India expansion plans.

6. Which areas of the economy do you think will offer the best employment opportunities – and therefore the best scope for career development?

It’s a function of what basic education the candidate has undertaken, if he/she has taken to engineering, undoubtedly IT industry is the place to be at least for the next half a decade, I am basing my argument on the NSDC’s sector skills councils’ reports on the number of jobs that will be churned out in the coming decade across sectors. For a graduate(B.Com, B.Sc, BA) from any other specialisation, retail sector is quite the place to be, thanks to the increasing consumerism that India is experiencing.

7. Do you think the education system needs to be fixed, as it doesn’t really impart real-world skills?

I believe its very clichéd to keep blaming the education system. It’s so much more of a societal problem than an education system’s problem itself. Let’s look at it this way, when will any particular industry or system thrive/succeed?, I guess when smarter lot of people take on to jobs and ventures in the same. Let’s take the case of premier tech and management institutions, where the top talent of the country is available, the education sector by no way is amongst the preferred employer(in terms of slots they get for placements), its invariably consulting or financial services right. So if more capable lot of people take to this sector as a career this sector would improve and we would be greatly poised to capitalise on the demographic dividend that as a country we posses.

8. What was your Eureka moment? What prompted you to take the plunge into entrepreneurship and launch this venture?

Both my partner and I had attended Prof. Sunil Handa’s LEM workshop which happened in IIM K sometime around Sep 2008 that was the life changing experience. The very next day morning we decided to call it quits with our day jobs and purse entrepreneurship. The choice of this venture was very incidental, we were so aggressively looking for some/any opportunity to get started and incidentally ended up meeting up one of my school teachers’ who was at that point running an early stage engineering college. Her requirement of imparting communication skills and aptitude skills to her first batch of second year students seemed more like a doable idea to us, and hence we took the plunge

9. What has been your main learning as an entrepreneur? What was the biggest hurdle you have overcome?

The biggest learning is that, if you are sufficiently qualified and capable and have a die-hard attitude/passion to purse your aspirations mindlessly, you can succeed in pretty much anything (may take a while longer had you been methodical about it though)

10. How has the B school experience and degree helped you?

As individuals hailing from non business background, our only qualifying mark was the B School degree, for our customers to accept us initially. The B School rigour which pushed us to explore the limits of our capabilities on various fronts did us a world of good during the tough times we had to sailed through during this journey over the past 4 years.

– As told to Shyam Sunder Ramakrishnan

 

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