21 Jan 2021 19:41 IST

‘I made the most of my MBA by opting for an eclectic bunch of courses’

Ambareesh Murty, Co-Founder, Pepperfry

Engineering is about the judicious use of resources which aligns with the objective of an MBA

A trekking enthusiast who enjoys the hard climb as much as the destination, Ambareesh Murty, Co-Founder of online furniture marketplace Pepperfry, also equally enjoys the slog work he puts in at his enterprise. An engineer from Delhi College of Engineering (1994 batch) and MBA from Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (1996), he tread the conventional corporate path with stints at Cadbury and Britannia, before founding Pepperfry with Ashish Shah in 2012. The entrepreneur says he loved his MBA course and made the most of it. Here’s how:

How has your MBA helped you in your corporate life/ entrepreneurship, if at all?

I believe it helped me put some method to the madness, helped structure decision making in a subjective/uncertain environment. Also, I studied with some of the best minds in the country and we were required to bring our A games to the table in every discussion, this helped me improve my level of thinking on a sustained basis. Lastly, and I am not sure if it can be entirely attributed to the MBA, but I learned that despite one’s best efforts, things can go wrong, and one simply has to move forward and think about what to do next.

What have been the key learnings from your MBA for you?

Like I said, sometimes life throws you a curveball. But you have to look beyond it or fix it or think of what you are going to do next.

If you had to re-visit your MBA what would you have liked to have been part of your course?

Nothing, I loved my course. During the first year of MBA, all the courses were common. However, in our second year, while there were a few courses across the trimesters that were compulsory, we had the liberty to opt for several additional courses from different fields. And I made the most of it by opting for an eclectic bunch of courses — a few from economics, few from finance, few from statistics, and few from marketing. I even picked up courses which were fairly esoteric like the lectures on perspectives on post-modernism, et al which I thought were important from a business philosophy standpoint. Considering all these aspects, I don’t think I would like to change a thing.

What have been the chief ingredients in your success?

Grit is undoubtedly a key factor. The fact that I don’t give up has helped in this climb. Discipline is another one — it helps prioritise, strategise, make tough choices and (hopefully) lead a better life.

What have been your best and worst moments?

I don’t think of moments as best or worst. Even a bad moment can teach you a lot and a few years from then you feel great about how you overcame that moment. For instance, there was this time in early 2015 when we didn’t have much money in the bank (but big ambitions), and the Rajasthan Royals cap sponsorship became available. Despite the little money we had in the bank we committed to the sponsorship, not knowing whether we will survive the next month or not. Now at that time you could have deemed it a bad moment, but now when I think of it, it was a great moment. So, while moments keep coming, our perspective on them keeps changing.

What would be your advice to young MBAs who are joining the corporate sector or starting out on their own?

Get up early, get into office early, work five days a week for the job that you currently do and work weekends for the next job that you want to do or the company you want to create.

Are you happy with the way the MBA is structured / taught today?

I think the structure, curriculum and foundation of MBA is great, it teaches you a lot. There have been a few changes, especially at IIM Calcutta, over the years. For instance, attendance was not compulsory back in time and I think that was great because it allowed us to make decisions like adults at a fairly early stage of our lives. We were taught to make decisions and carry the consequences of those decisions, which is what makes good leaders. And that is perhaps an element that could be retained.

What would you advise young MBAs to read/ watch?

Since they will be reading a lot about management and numbers during the course, I would suggest pick up any book or watch anything that is non-management. For instance, one could learn a great deal from poetry, epic fantasy and humour that applies to life (and corporate life). I have learnt more about leadership from the Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson than from books specifically about leadership.

Do you think engineering graduates doing an MBA have any special advantage vis a vis other graduates? Why do you think so many engineers choose to do an MBA?

There is an advantage. Both courses have a similar format of semesters and examination structure/rhythm, wherein each semester has two minors and a major (at least at my engineering and business school). This drumbeat prepared me for testing under pressure. Further, I believe there are two reasons why engineering students opt for an MBA. At an emotional level, engineering is about building something new; personally, this is what translated into what I finally did as an entrepreneur. Secondly, engineering at some level is about the judicious use of resources which aligns fairly well with the objective of an MBA.