2007: It was 4.00 p.m. and I was standing in a supermarket in Chennai, observing customers making brand choices and purchase decisions.
2009: It was 4.00 a.m. and I was preparing to head to Koyambedu market (wholesale vegetable market in Chennai) for an assignment to observe and talk to truck drivers to understand their preferences and usage patterns.
In 2007, I was a student submitting a marketing assignment and in 2009, I was part of Daimler’s marketing team, designing a unique brand of trucks for the Indian market. Today, when I reflect on my B school learnings, I believe that it prepared me to encounter my own realities at a time that it came. When I went through my year at business school, it seemed mundane with projects and deadlines, but now I realise how environments are similar and how it all comes down to what you want to make of the experience.
Running an arts organisation today, I experience management challenges almost on a day-to-day basis and as an Arts Manager, my management instincts coupled with my real world understanding helps me deliver unique impactful projects.
Reality is about the people you meet and the relationships you build: People often tell me that the friends you make at B school are friends for life, given that we see the best and worst of them. We need to build powerful relationships even in the corporate world. As much as there may be functional hierarchies, we need to understand people, where they come from and find ways to build these connections. We need to invest time and energy in understanding their stories. Reality is not about report cards, but about who people believe you are as an individual.
Reality is knowing your customer inside out: When I started out in brand management, I remember making a presentation where I kept saying “I think we should.. I think we should..” on various communication ideas for the launch of our dealerships. The marketing head listened to me and politely asked “So you think this.. What does the customer think? What does the market think?” and I realised I had forgotten that very basic premise. In B-school case studies, you are imagining the customer’s needs and wants, based on the case data but now the customer is real and ready for you to go talk to and find out about.
Reality is more about simple tasks than everyday strategy: At the entry level, post B-school, we’re not making high impact strategic decisions every day. When I entered the corporate world, one of my first assignments was to scan 50 pages of a book. I was frustrated and thought: “Well, I didn’t do a Master’s to come scan a book! Or to make sure tea/coffee was available during meetings or the print-outs were ready for the CEO to read at the board meeting.” But those are everyday decisions that we will have to make, time and again. And that’s how you learn, that there are special permissions and protocols to scan a book and that there is a separate form that you have to fill out for coffee/tea and that your print is on queue, given that you are sharing resources with an entire department.
However, through time, as you cement trust through your delivery, challenging and strategic projects certainly come your way. In my second year at Daimler, I was made the project lead to drive brand design and communication, and continued to make sure coffee was available during meetings!
Reality is about getting things done, execution all the way: In B-school, exams are about handing in answers, but reality asks you to convert that thinking to action. If your ideas don’t translate into actionable doings, they make no business sense. Until the customer responds positively to your efforts, the job is not done. One can design a brilliant production and rehearse it to the tee, but until the audience leaves the hall, one is still managing every aspect of the experience to ensure execution perfection.
Reality is about patience and perseverance: Everyone has their own list of things to do and deliver. You’re not the one on everybody’s priority list. People will say, “I’ll send you an e-mail right away,” and it won’t come. Follow up till it’s done. That’s what one can do. Everyone in the corporate world is working to another person’s timeline and deadline. So how you can get your job done is up to your own smartness and people skills. From writing an e-mail to making that phone call, every bit is about how you make things happen.
Reality is about making the best out of the moment: All this said and done, if we are able to understand that our contributions are significant in the overall scheme of things, we’ll be far more successful and happy about what we do. In my first ever debut on stage, one of my first tasks was to iron the protagonist’s costume. I ensured it was done to perfection and felt wonderful when the actor went on stage wearing my effort. Embrace the everyday tasks and live in the joy of the being part of the bigger picture.