Perspectives from ISB

We caught up with Harshit Kumar, who very recently graduated from ISB’s PGP in April 2020 and has joined Nykaa as a brand manager, to get to know more about his ISB experience, and the difference this last one year made to his life. Here are a few excerpts from his talk:

Harshit, tell us a little bit about your background and what motivated you to do an MBA.

Post my bachelor’s in fashion technology and apparel production from National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), I worked around 5 years with Aditya Birla Group, prior to joining ISB. At ABG, in these 5 years I handled 3 diverse roles: I was a product manager for the brand Louis Philippe Jeans where I acted as the custodian of the entire brand; I handled positioning, marketing strategy, and sourcing of raw materials, to name a few tasks. From there I moved to sales where I handled channels sales at large retail stores, I was the category manager responsible for making decisions on buying, merchandising, discounts, operations, logistics, as well as external stakeholder management. My last role with ABG involved an end to end handling of a new brand, Simon Carter, which is a British luxury brand.

After getting a fair understanding of the industry, I felt I need to expand my repertoire of skills to develop a well-rounded perspective that would enable me to pivot to leadership roles. Here is where the MBA thought came in!

Congratulations on landing the role in Brand Management at Nykaa! It’s one of the most popular and fast-growing e-Commerce companies, almost everyone I know purchases their cosmetics from Nykaa. How did ISB prepare you for this role?

Thank you! As a brand manager at Nykaa, I’m actively involved in shaping categories, for example, I make decisions regarding the brands that need to be included, the price points, and other marketing activities. The role involves considerable cross-collaboration with the internal teams and external partners, along with holding P&L accountability and stakeholder management. While I was hands-on in offline retail, my knowledge of e-commerce was quite raw and primitive. This is where my ISB journey proved transformational.

ISB offers immense flexibility in choosing electives and I picked up the likes of ‘leveraging web 2.0’, ‘digital and social media marketing’, and ‘strategic customer analytics’- basically the ones that could enhance my understanding of the online space and equip me with the nuances of online retail. Apart from this, ISB provided multiple opportunities on campus for interacting with alums, experts, and leaders from the industry which helped me develop a holistic understanding of the sector, as well as evaluate the homework I needed to do, and the skills I needed to polish to land a role like this.

What were your goals or expectations from an MBA program before starting PGP at ISB? Were these expectations met?

Academically, I desired a stronger foundation of different business management subjects to make a meaningful sense of global financial and economic events. What I was also looking for is a deeper understanding of other sectors and roles, and gain insights from cross-function or cross-industry best-practices. ISB was quite instrumental in making sure I meet my MBA objectives, and I can claim unequivocally that there has been humungous growth in me as a professional in this last one year! In fact, you will be surprised if I tell you that I still go back to my notes of core terms such as marketing, finance, and economics while making business decisions at work – that is how contemporary and industry-oriented the curriculum is, and it stays relevant beyond the classroom too!

You came from a very niche background. How did you manage the rigour of the one-year course and how did you contribute to the cohort’s learning?

Frankly, the initial few terms were reasonably daunting, and it became quite overwhelming at times, as I had never been exposed to most subjects taught in core terms. Fortunately, there were multiple resources to guide us through. One of the ISB advantages is that the cohort is extremely diverse, and friends and study group members are always there to help us sail through unchartered territories. The ISB system is created in a way that encourages peer learning, so while the cohort held my hand through some of the new subjects, I contributed with my in-depth knowledge of the fashion and retail industry, which was my area of expertise.

What made you choose ISB over other programs in the market?

I was quite particular I wanted to go to a place that ensured an exponential growth to my learning curve. I had spoken to quite a few alumni who went gaga over the quality of education as well as the peer learning from the top-notch talent that ISB attracts. The faculty, both residential and visiting, was truly world-class and expert in their respective subjects. This was complemented by multiple out-of-classroom learning opportunities. I had also researched the companies and roles that on-campus opportunities presented and it made me feel secure about my future.

How did you zero on this particular role? What other industries/ opportunities at the campus or out of campus were you considering?

Well, I had three major factors in my mind for my next role: One, as I have worked primarily in offline retail, I wanted to graduate to the world of online retail. Two, I was looking for a much younger, fast-paced, and dynamic firm that gave me more room to explore my creative freedom. However, I was clear that I wanted to stay close to the fashion industry as it is an area of passion – don’t we all want to work on something that doesn’t feel like work? That is the fashion industry to me! While I was considering similar roles at other e-Commerce organizations, when Nykaa came along, it miraculously ticked all three boxes without making my past experience or skills redundant. Rather it offered me a wider platform to build on my foundational expertise.

Finally, how has ISB helped polish your personality? Can you describe certain learnings from your year at ISB that changed you as a person?

ISB spoils you for choice when it comes to the sheer number of things you can do at campus! The entire year is set up like a pressure cooker, and all students face this dilemma of choosing which activities to pursue. I prioritized activities that I had never done before or may not have the chance to do in the future either. The safety net of the campus, the fact that I could try something new and fail without causing flutters, made me less risk-averse. So towards the latter part of the year, I took part in a play, even though I had never acted in my life before, and even ended up winning the best actor’s award for it! There is a certain confidence that comes along with trying something new and succeeding at it in the first attempt, and in receiving encouraging response from your cohort! Post placements, we have 4 relatively lighter months, so I took advantage of the fabulous tennis court and daily coach available at the campus, and experimented with playing tennis. I would practice for 2-3 hours every day and it not only contributed to my fitness but I eventually discovered that it was a great pep-me-up stress buster. I got quite good at the game, and I miss it to bits now that I am unable to practice owing to the Covid19 situation. But a lot of so-called “optional” activities or “extracurriculars” built me up to take risks, increased my confidence, my peace of mind, and became an essential part of my routine. I can’t wait to go back to them once things normalize.

– Harshit Kumar, PGP Class of 2020