Siddharth Shekhar currently serves as Industry Head at Google and leads the Telecom, Media & Entertainment functions in the organisation. An ISB Alum from PGP Co’13, Siddharth has over a decade of experience across different roles and organisations including Star TV Network and Aditya Birla Group. A seasoned marketeer with a passion for sales, he is also an active member of the ISB community, helping students and aspirants in realising their career goals.
In an exclusive session, Siddharth shared his PGP experience and career journey so far, reflecting on his ISB days, learnings and key takeaways from the programme. Here is a summary of the session.
Life Before ISB:
I did my undergrad at The National Institute of Fashion Technology (Delhi), spending four years studying apparel manufacturing & marketing. Upon graduating, I moved into the consulting world with apparel manufacturing itself, working on projects across various geographies with UNDP including setting up factories in India & Pakistan. However, I realised early in my career that consulting was not something I was enjoying. If you break down consulting, there are two processes. One is selling a project and the second is project execution. I really enjoyed the sales process – understanding clients’ needs, pitching a solution to them, and finalising the deal. Hence, I wanted to be in a sales or business development role.
I was exploring new opportunities and through my professional network early from the consulting days, a suitable opening came up at STAR TV Network. Though it was a very different experience since I had never been in media, the network was looking for a candidate from diverse backgrounds. They wanted some fresh thinking into the organisation and were looking for people who were not from the specified background. That worked in my favour and that’s how my journey in media and sales began. After completing close four years at the network, I started thinking about my next career move. That was also the time when Star TV, which has always been ahead of its time, started recruiting top-tier B-Schools. I saw recruits from ISB and IIMs joining and doing great in the organisation. So I found pursuing MBA as the right fit. I started looking for different B-Schools in India and abroad, understanding their curriculum and what will it add to my life.
Reasons to choose ISB:
During my research, I spoke to ISB alums in my network and outside. I met a few ISB alums at Star TV as well and they spoke very highly of the school. So obviously ISB became one of the top choices I had in mind. I also mulled over gaining international exposure with an MBA from abroad. Apart from that I also looked at IIMs, especially IIM-Bangalore which actually looks at candidates with prior experience. These were the options I had in mind by the time I gave my GMAT and applied for all. Eventually I decided to pursue PGP and that is how my one-year journey at ISB began.
ISB was one of my top choices while applying for an MBA because of multiple factors. A lot of people I spoke to at that time, which I still agree with, believed that the growth in India in the next fifteen to twenty years will be immense. It will be faster than any other market – be it APAC, EMEA, or the US. From cost point of view, it made a lot more sense because my return investments were far better with ISB. The time investment was half of any regular MBA. There were schools with close to one-year timeframe such as NUS but then the cost was coming out too expensive even with the financial aid that I could get. Hence ISB became my first choice.
Life at ISB:
When I joined ISB, a lot of people told me that it would the best year of my life. In the hindsight, it probably was one of the best. As a school, ISB gives you the freedom to make your own choices and supports you all the way from the time when you get in the school to making it as a career leader. It is the school that is known for helping people make careers transitions in desired roles. There are always highly sought-after roles in every period. For example, product management is quite lucrative currently. Back in the day when I was in school, everyone wanted to be in consulting. ISB helps you fulfill those career aspirations as well.
Apart from placements, diversity is a huge differentiator at ISB. There is so much diversity in the people that you meet and people with the same interests that your interactions with them carve out what your experience will be like. On-campus, we were divided into different sections with about eighty people in each section. This becomes your immediate family on campus as you spend a lot of time with them in classrooms & a lot of interactions post-classrooms as well. Whether it is some planned activity, study groups, or sports, there is a high level of engagement & focus on the co-curricular part of PGP as well. For example, I believe the photography club at ISB is one of the best photography clubs in any B-School.
On professional aspects of things, the clubs at ISB help a lot. I wanted to try out my head at digital marketing and understand how to speak the marketing language. So I joined the Marketing and Communications Council, a student-run body that helps marketing activities of the main ISB course & ISB community. ISB has outreach programs for alums and on-campus activities. I started working on that along with the social activities.
In terms of curriculum, the programme provides complete freedom to choose your path. Out of the eights terms at ISB, the first four are compulsory terms that set the foundation for the basic business principles. One may come from different backgrounds, but the core curriculum lays down the foundation upon which you can build your specialisations in the rest of the terms. In electives, one gets enough plenty of options to learn and build specialised skills. I wanted to pursue sales & marketing and went ahead with it. One can also pick up two electives. Apart from the core, I wanted to explore subjects that could help me in my corporate journey. I wanted to explore strategy & finance as I had never studied finance. The batch mates from your group also guide you in the decision-making process. A batchmate of mine advised me by saying, “If you don’t study finance now, when will you do it later in life? And since it is an elective, you can take that risk. Even if you get a ‘C’, it won’t matter. What matters is your learnings from it. What matters is that you are trying to learn.” In hindsight, grades really don’t matter. Learnings are the key takeaway.
Placements at ISB:
The placement at ISB is a fairly straightforward process. It goes by so fast towards the fifth or sixth semester when you start sitting for placements and companies start visiting campuses. It was very clear to me that I didn’t want to apply for consulting and was looking for sales, marketing, corporate strategy roles, or leadership programmes. During placements, there is a fixed process and it goes day-wise and goes by really fast. It is well organized and you have the choices to apply suitably. The companies you apply to provide all the details beforehand for you to make your choice. Once you make that choice, I think it is just a matter of getting your shortlist right, preparing for the interview, and cracking the interview when the day comes.
I got selected to the Aditya Birla group on campus. They have a leadership program where I was class of 2013 as an entry class for the organisation. I along with four batchmates from ISB joined the programme.
Life After ISB:
The Leadership Program at Aditya Birla Group provided great scope to switch between career roles. I was always interested in sales and marketing and the programme helped me explore these roles across various organizations that the group encompasses. Additionally, the different training modules provide a lot of learning. The mentoring you get adds immense value to your life. Some of the learnings from the programme come to use even today. I worked with the group for around four years and then an alum from my network reached out with an opportunity at Google. The organisation was looking for someone from B-School background along with prior experience in media. That’s where my previous experience with Star TV Network came in handy and I was able to land a role in the organisation.
It has been a great opportunity to work with Google. I have grown immensely within the organisation and that has been possible due to the one-degree away alumni network from ISB community. There are a lot of ISB alums here at Google. In fact, there is a joke around the organisation to create a separate batch for ISB. We are across all officers in India and globally. Be it the Bay Area, Dublin, Singapore, or any other part of the world, an ISB alum is just around the corner. That is how widespread the network is. All in all, that has been my journey so far.
– Siddharth Shekhar, Industry Head at Google