Tell us a little about your current role. How did ISB help you in preparing for this role?
I am currently part of the CEO’s office at PayTM. It is strategy and operations for the entire organisation. It is a general management role and it requires a flavour of various aspects of business education. And I am able to leverage all of my learnings from ISB as that is what ISB prepares us for – a holistic view of the business. My role consists of large parts of investor relations that I manage, there is a lot of operations and performance improvement activities that I take care of – the IT-oriented courses at ISB probably helped me in designing the digital strategy for the organisation – for example, which tools should one choose amongst the myriad ones available in the market. Even in my previous organisations, my time at ISB has helped. And this is not only in terms of education, or academic insights or academic learning but also in terms of people management and leadership skills.
What made you choose ISB over other programmes in the market?
I fit into the most common profile of an ‘Engineer, Male’, and so MBA was more of a choice that was sort of in continuation of the standard career trajectory, a decision I made in my third year to pursue. I was also clear that I wanted to get into analytics and consulting and in those days, an MBA was looked at as an essential to do well in those areas.
I prepared for CAT and I did reasonably well enough and got into 2 of the IIMs. I also got into ISB. At that time YLP was a very niche programme, not as well advertised and not many people used to apply to YLP and to ISB at that point in time. So it was something new I was experimenting with and I was not very sure if I want to go for PGP even if I get through. And once the offers came in, the dilemma of choice kicked in: I had an option of doing an MBA at one of the IIMs immediately, and the other was that I work for 2 years and join the PGP course at ISB. I chose the latter obviously, and I think the decision was influenced heavily by the fact that I wanted to work. After studying for 4 years, one tends to want to break the monotony, earn money fresh out of college, especially since I had landed a fairly decent job with EXL out of campus.
Of course, I spoke to a lot of college seniors and ISB alumni and the consensus was that it makes more sense to work for a couple of years before doing an MBA. Also, a one year MBA made more sense from an ROI perspective as well. Of course the peer learning or the kind of faculty I would get at ISB compared to other schools also skewed my decision. It was all in all a comprehensive decision – with a lot of factors, including tactical ones such as shifting cities and what kind of jobs come to campus.
Please share your YLP experience with us. The process, the challenges…
Now that there is a lot of legacies associated with the YLP program, there is a lot of content available. People can go up and read so much, but back in the days, that was not the case. And while I knew about how prestigious PGP was, not many people joined through the YLP route. ISB was looked at like a B-school where people went for an MBA post 4-5 years of experience. I started digging for information, including from the admissions office who was very helpful as well as from my college seniors who constituted the 1st batch of YLP, which had been selected but not yet started the course.
Applying to ISB is different from applying to any other B-school. It is not just a competitive exam that you need to beat. It is a well-rounded application – we had a video resume- a 90-second video we had to make about our careers. Then there were 3 essays, 2 letters of recommendation, so it was more on the holistic aspect of your personality and not just one thing. And I was fascinated by that. Other B-schools are like: You need to score this much, and that determines 70-80% of the weightage of your application! Before that, all exams I had taken till now were all to get straight into a course. I started enjoying the journey. A lot of those essays, such as- Tell us about yourself, even helped me in my college placements! Getting a job on campus became a cakewalk because I had thought of all these things during my application essays.
I received an interview call for September, and I had college exams, so I made a request for rescheduling and ISB were gracious enough to accommodate my request. The entire experience was extremely warm. The case study was followed by an interview, and the interview was great because unlike the other B-schools, ISB didn’t grill me on current affairs. Rather they asked me about stuff I had written in my essays and what I want to do. I could see that they had researched my profile before I came into the room, which was not the case elsewhere. The ISB admission committee takes much pain in trying to understand the candidate and that makes one feel special. Versus a one size fits all questionnaires that other B-schools ask you.
How did you zero on this particular role? What other industries/ opportunities at the campus or out of campus were you considering?
The first term at the campus is spent in clearing one’s head as to what is your plan A. I did fairly well at academics, and my plan A was to get into a consulting role. One of my primary reasons to apply to ISB was also because I wanted to go into consulting and I knew that a lot of consulting firms come to campus to recruit. That was my calling, and I realised it early on. Application-wise, I didn’t find it difficult to fit a particular industry or area, because of my profile. I was a fit for 70% of jobs that came to campus, mainly because I had a lesser experience, and also because I had experience in analytics. With decent academics and with lesser years of experience I got shortlisted by most companies I applied to. I had 11-12 shortlists and I could not even sit for all the interviews! That way, YLPs have an advantage over long experienced ones.
Finally, I had 3 offers on Day 1: One was from Amazon, which was an analytics profile- mostly a general management role targeted at operations; the second was from Aditya Birla, it was a leadership programme, again a general management role and the third was from GEP consulting so I picked up the third because consulting was the closest to my heart.
What was one subject you studied in PGP that is most relevant to you in your work?
My current role at the CEO’s office is an extension of the CEO of the company, and you are required to take decisions about different verticals in different points in time. So I use my knowledge gained in finance, marketing, with operations being the one that I use the most. The coursework at ISB gives you a flavour of all the different management functions within the one year. So whether I am handling mergers and acquisitions, or I am handling operations improvement programmes, looking at market research reports or understanding consumer behaviour, I think without the coursework at ISB, I would have had a really hard time. Subconsciously, it gives you a lot of intuition and that is what is required. Everything else you can just Google!
What are some skills or learnings you received from PGP that makes you “recession-proof”?
From a management education perspective, a lot of learning can be applied across the board. So, some industries don’t do well at certain points in time but others do well. But if I am a mechanical engineer working in the core automobile industry, it is very difficult for me to switch jobs because I have a skill set in engineering, and if cars are not selling then it is a hard time for me. But from a management role perspective, I think the skill set you have can be applied across the board, especially from a general management experience. And since, at ISB, we get to learn about all functions, that skill set is transferable.
Another thing that ISB taught me was to continuously upgrade yourself. ISB had enough opportunities to skill yourself in areas you wanted to, and that is now ingrained as a habit.
Tell us about some challenges you faced as before joining PGP, and how PGP helped you overcome these challenges.
There were challenges on the people handling side, the way you carry yourself, the way you project yourself to management. Of course, the way people view you before and MBA and after an MBA also changes drastically. I also had a micro vision of things before PGP. Post PGP, I realised that I could have approached these problems better and stepped into the shoes of other stakeholders while assessing the problems. For example, if I was keen on a project, or a certain way to execute it, and my ideas were shot down, I would get upset. Post PGP, I was able to look at and understand the conflicting priorities that the management had, as well as if it fits into the management’s need at that time. So I started looking at the macro picture and the entire vision for the organisation.
Since we all know this is a year unlike others… and some of the candidates are unsure if this is the right time to do an MBA. Can you share some tips or advice for the candidates of PGP who would be joining this year?
Education is a differentiating factor, so the sooner you get it, the better it is for your future. Also, when there is a storm in the sea, the fishermen sit back and repair their nets, so that is what one should do. Instead of hunting for a job, if they did have an intention of doing an MBA, then this is a well suited time. By next year, there would be a lot of jobs back into the market and then with the ISB brand, the ISB knowledge, and the ISB network, it would be much easier for people to land a job!
– Ankit Madaan, Senior Manager, CEO’s office, PayTM; PGP Class of 2016