Thursday, February 16, 2012

Remembering The PGSEM Interview

With the PGSEM Test just over and the interview invites being sent out anytime to prospective candidates for the next batch, I can’t help but remember my own interview experience from last year! It was the second step of the PGSEM admission process and after a few weeks of trying to catch up with what was happening in the world of business or otherwise and forming opinions on it, it had all boiled down to that morning. The interview itself was over in less than 20 minutes…life-changing, looking back on it.

The interviews were to be conducted over two days of the weekend and my slot was the first one, the 10 am slot on the first day. I had aimed to reach earlier to avoid confusion about rooms etc and was on campus at about 9:30 am dressed in regular office formals. I was carrying a stack of certificates, documents and what not but none of that was asked for in the interview. Only the mark-sheets were verified after the interview. 

On the lines of the last year’s format I am told, we had an essay writing session before the personal interviews. Fair enough in my opinion. Why should the applicants coming from one exam have to write the essay (as part of the PGSEM exam that is) and the others be allowed to come purely on the basis of their exam scores? So we all settled down in a classroom to start writing out essays at 10 AM.

The topic given to us was ‘India is losing its low cost advantage to countries like Phillipines’ and we had half an hour to complete the essay. My essay was written on the lines of the fact that India had more factors contributing to its success in the arena than just low cost – like a legacy of being a colony and hence having an English speaking population, having the right mix of submissive and assertive attitudes enabling Indians to get into advisory roles when required, a culture of innovation from many centuries ago etc. I talked about the fact that India had got the early mover advantage in the field and had now moved on to being seen as a partner for customers than just a provider of cheap resources. India also has the advantage of a stable political and economic environment that many countries in South East Asia cannot stake claim to. Owing to all these factors, I do not feel that India is losing its advantage but is moving to a higher place in the chain.

I had the third slot in the face-to-face interviews and had to wait for just a little over half an hour for my turn. I couldn’t figure out until later but the panel consisted of one professor and one alumnus, not both professors as I had assumed.

I was welcomed with a warm smile by the Professor and they seemed to be holding copies of my extra curricular/work experience information sheet, not my SOP. But this is purely an assumption.

In the below interview, P refers to Professor, A, Alumnus, and Me to well…me.

P: You are <someone else’s name?
Me: No Sir, Anupama Kondayya.
P: Ah, yes. Here it is. So you’re still with Oracle Anupama?
Me: Yes Sir.
P: Which office?
Me: The Marathahalli office.
P: And where do you live?
Me: I live in JP Nagar 6th Phase.
P: Oh that must be a long commute, although its closer to here.
Me: It certainly is Sir, and coupled with the traffic it can be quite strenuous. 
P: Yes yes.

A: So Anupama, can you describe your role and responsibilities to us?
Me: Sure. I am a Demand Resource Analyst (and explanation about handling business for a region, co-ordinating between internal and external stakeholders, forecasting trends periodically to help teams make decisions etc).
A: So you don’t exactly interact with external clients. You get requests for filling resources in already won opportunities, is that right?
Me: Yes it is. It’s the internal market that I deal with.
A: Do you enjoy the role?
Me: Very much. I moved to this role from a technical profile because it involves communicating with people and is more business oriented, which is where I want to be, on the business side.
P: But from what you are describing, it sounds like a postman’s job to me. Just passing on requests to your teams and then sending CVs to customers.
Me: If you look at the defined scope of the role it certainly is an administrative job and can get monotonous if you just stick to what is strictly expected of you. I don’t get to make any strategic decisions at the moment but I see this role as a great opportunity to get a ring side view of the business and learn from CEMs or Client Engagement Managers. My CEMs involve me in many decision making processes and I get to learn a lot from that. It is also a great place to experiment since it is a controlled market. Hopefully with the learning from this role and business education, I will be able to get to a place that allows me to make strategic decisions in the future.
A: So you said you prepare contracts. What kind of contracts are these? Do they have legal clauses also?
Me: No Sir, the contracts I make are for internal entities and lay down the commercials and some conditions for the resourcing. They don’t have legal clauses.
A: Have you ever seen a legal contract?
Me: No Sir, I have not had the chance to go through one.
A: But if you had to guess what kind of clauses go into a legal contract, what would your guess be?
Me: I would think there would be clauses related to the agreed delivery method. I once had the opportunity to be on a mail trail that was a discussion about a clause on our legal contract with the end client about how many hours of work the consultant needed to put in. Now unofficially all consultants put in more than 8 hours and that’s perfectly fine by us but the client wanted that to be put down on paper. We did not agree since that meant a binding condition and was causing commercial issues. Neither of the parties was ready to budge.
So yes, delivery clauses. I would also think there would be penalty clauses relating to what happens if the deliverables do not come on time. There could be clauses relating to early termination of resourcing if the services are no longer required before the contract term expires. And yes, expense clauses too.
A: Ok.

P: So Anupama, I see you write a lot.
Me: I love writing!
P: What is this Chicken Soup that you have mentioned?
Me: Chicken Soup is a series of books mainly published in the USA. They contain personal stories of people that are intended to evoke emotions in the readers. They have had only two country specific editions, one in Singapore and the other in India. That’s the one I write for.
P: But why is it called Chicken Soup?
Me: Because when someone has a cold, I believe Chicken Soup makes him or her feel instantly better. The stories in these books are meant to make the readers feel better, like a remedy for their soul.
P: But what about vegetarians? Like in India?
Me: (wondering if he is just trying to lighten the mood I also gave a light answer) yes I think they should have named it Tomato Soup or something.
P: Do you see a difference in the content of these two editions? The American and the Indian?
Me: Definitely Sir. In America the culture or cultural references are largely the same across the country (professor’s forehead creases and he considers it for a second before nodding his head as if to say ok, let’s assume that and see where she is going). But in the Indian stories, the cultural references change based on which part of the country the writer is from. Someone from Gujarat may not be able to relate to a story written by someone from Bengal because the cultural terminology would be different even though the underlying emotions are the same.
P: Why do you think there are such cultural differences in India? We all celebrate the same festivals right?
Me: Sir I think the language being different in each state makes a big difference. Assume someone from the North comes to the South to work. Most of us tend to interact in vernaculars outside of work and the person from North may not be able to understand what is being said at all, or relate to certain local references. So naturally people tend to end up in groups that speak the same language.
P: But if you see in Europe, all the countries have a different language but the culture is almost the same whether you go to Germany, France etc.
Me: I had the opportunity to be in Eastern Europe once and I did notice some cultural differences but from a language perspective we did learn some Slovak phrases but when we went to Vienna, we wanted to tell people around us how much we loved their city and how we were loving the food but we couldn’t even begin to express ourselves. I think language, spoken language is our first point of contact with people, our primary expression with others and not being able to make that contact can some in the way.  I think even if we all celebrate the same festivals, our expression of that celebration is different and in different languages. Not everyone can relate to the expressions in other parts and I think that is a problem for India.

P: Do you still sing?
Me: Yes I sing. I was part of the office band until last year, a little before that actually, and then we disbanded. But I sing even now when I get the opportunity/
P: Why did you disband?
Me: All the members left. Even when we had a band we did not have a drummer and we used to have to make our bass guitarist play the drums. We have been looking for people but haven’t had too much success. Once we find people who can play all the instruments we certainly want to firm a band again.

A: So Anupama, you handle different countries in Europe in your role. Do you see cultural differences in your interaction with them?
Me: Yes I do although my communication is primarily on mail and sometimes on the phone. The UK and its people are quite structured and formal in their culture. If they have a request visible 3 months away, they will share the request in advance and follow it up to closure in a structured fashion. But in Italy for instance, I have noticed and also read that people are more laid back and that shows in the way they follow up for resources too. The request may be shared in advance but the follow up might happen weeks later. I can’t comment so much on Israel since our transactions with them are not very high but I have noticed they are quite stern and interact in a very focussed fashion stating the request and expecting a yes or a no and that’s the end of the matter.
A: So if you had to increase business in a region like Israel, what would your recommendation to your VP be?
Me: I would firstly recommend a visit to the region. Recently he visited one of my other regions and met the leaders there in person, understanding their gap areas and expectation from our company and building confidence in our partnership and delivery capabilities. And on his return, we saw an immediate surge in business. So I would recommend a personal visit to build confidence in the fact that we want to support the region and are enabled for it.
A: When would you recommend he visit Israel?
Me: I haven’t read up too much on travel and can’t comment on a good season to visit Israel but from a business perspective I would recommend sometime in the next one month since it is the year close for us and planning for the new year is on the all business units. So now would be a good time.
A: Don’t you think he should visit in co-ordination with Israel’s year close?
Me: No the planning for us is based on our own calendar and I don’t think alignment with the Israeli calendar year would be required.
A: Do you know when the Israeli year closes?
Me: No Sir, I don’t know that.
A: And you don’t see any problems because of a mismatch in the calendars?
Me: We do have problems because of calendar mismatch sometimes but they are of a daily nature from an execution perspective, like the week running differently in the Middle East and our consultants having to work a different week. But I haven’t seen problems because of a difference in financial calendars so far.

P: That’s about what we had Anupama. You have any questions for us?
Me: No Sir, I had attended the Open House and also have seniors studying in the course so I got all my doubts clarified. I don’t have any questions at the moment.
P: Alright then, all the best to you. Thank you.

I came out of the interview thinking it was almost a conversation. I was smiling a lot and so were they (not the alumnus though, who maintained a poker face throughout). The professor almost made it seem like a nice conversation and they did not ask me anything at all, about my other hobbies, about world events, Egypt, nothing. So I was a little apprehensive about how I should say it went. Nevertheless, I came home with only one feeling: That I did my best from the exam to the interview and really enjoyed the process not worrying about the result. The rest, I left to them to decide. Fortunately for me, it worked out well and I am now a proud member of the PGSEM 2011 batch of IIM Bangalore!

Here’s wishing all the best to the prospective candidates for their interviews…

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Art and Craft of Management Consulting

"Elements of Management Consulting" by Professor Vasudev Murthy (GM at Wipro, Consulting Operations) has been one of those delightful courses that has at once educated, entertained and demystified the enigmatic role of Business Consultant. And today, the class was witness to a truly wonderful and thought provoking lecture by Mr. Sanjay Purohit, Senior VP at Infosys. I could but hardly stop myself from thinking of writing this blog as I sat listening. And though a blog can seldom do justice to such wise thoughts, it is all that this 'practicing' student consultant can do!

How does a young consultant come up with a framework to judge if each Tata Group company is worthy enough to sport that hallowed 'T' logo and brand? How does a consultant (young or not) help in a standoff between the management of a massive enterprise and its union, when the factories have been locked-out? How does a consultant respond when the CEO of a hundred year old enterprise accepts his recommendation to 'fundamentally change' the company in minutes and asks him to start execution?

Its difficult to comprehend the dizzy world of top-notch consultants commanding rates of hundreds of dollars per hour.. who spend more time in an year in airplanes than at their homes. It becomes even more difficult to comprehend when its said that 80% of all consulting work is the same. And its difficult to believe that spending hours and hours just learning about a client, applying thought and writing reports in simple English can solve some of the most vexed problems that huge company's face.

But here I should touch upon some of the ideas that got discussed in the class. They included - how/why a client hires a consultant and not the consulting firm. Why organisation simplification is catching on as one of the hot areas of consulting. The idea that management consulting is fast evolving into a job of co-creation with the client. That proposals and deliverable discussions at the start of the engagement could be passé. How could one a build a team where every member feels that the rest of the team is behind him. Open minded consulting. Freelance consulting market being bigger than organized consulting and so on..

The session included humorous anecdotes on how Indians are fast becoming the fastest English speakers on the planet - speed of talking that most in the world cannot comprehend! And how after all the world of consulting existed before the arrival of powerpoint presentations and people could still exchange thoughts..

Its a pleasure to sign off the day with such wonderful thoughts and learning's..

Friday, February 03, 2012

PGSEMer speaks at Mobile World India 2012

Mobile World India 2012 is an event covering all aspects of mobile content development and brings together thought leaders and experts from different aspects of the mobile ecosystem. Our own PGSEMer from 2009 batch Krishna Kumar Balaraman was one of the speakers in the event which was held on Jan 21, 2012.

Congratulations Krishna! Wishing you many more successes..

Krishna Balaraman
Technical Manager, Alcatel-Lucent

Krishna is currently involved in developing network management solutions for optical networks which is used by major telcos around the world. He has Nineteen years of experience in key leadership roles of product development and management in the domains of Wireless, Telecom, Datacom, Mobile Handset, Optical Networks, and Data Center IT Infrastructure. He has extensive cross-functional experience with P&L responsibilities for independent business unit and new product introduction. He has experience in the complete product development value chain from the program inception to customer delivery. He has played leadership roles as a senior member of management and country leadership councils for organisational development, scaling and transformation. Krishna holds a Engineering degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Madras , a Post Graduate Diploma in Intellectual Property Rights from National Law School of India University, Bangalore, and an MBA (PGSEM 2012) from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.


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