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Professional reflections – My first year of consulting at the Firm

April 22, 2013 1 comment

On May 8, I would have clocked in a full 365 days as a member of the Firm (what is internally referred to as 1+0 in the firm). And it has got me thinking of how my journey has been thus far… so over the next couple of weeks, I will share my reflections from within.

What started out as a dream job has turned into finding my true passion… a calling which combines
(1) working with the best minds to solve some of the complex organizational problems,
(2) pushing for professional excellence with independence respected by others,
(3) realizing the profound ability to connect deeply with clients, and
(4) adding a sense of meaning to my life and those of others around me.

As consultants, there is definitely a strong sense of responsibility to the organizations we serve and also the stakeholders within (employees from the front line to the C-suite, shareholders, customers, suppliers, and regulators included). Few lessons I have learned in the course of solving some challenging topics has been:
1. Do not lose sight of the “human element” in consulting work. This human element approach gets me to a fundamental principle: We should not view a human as an economic unit and then endeavor to find the most economically viable solution viewing all problems from the angle of the economic effect and cost. And the basic premise of “unlimited wants, limited resources” has to be corrected since most of the informed people in the world have realized by now that the resources are ample enough to completely satisfy the basic needs of all.
2. Respect for clients and colleagues. We often take this for granted but it is important to time and again acknowledge the roles each one brings to solving a problem, and their contributions. It is not to discount the fact that some people are difficult to work with but the positive side of that experience is the opportunity you get to master your people skills. Needless to say, there are more people who have been great colleagues/ clients than not so it absolutely is essential to be able to acknowledge their good support/ work and say a simple “Thank you!” every so often.
3. Be aware of your long-term goals and continuously calibrate to stay on track. This is one place where everyone can easily chart their own path independently and with much ease. When I reconnect with peers who joined the firm at the same time, I am yet to find someone who’s had exactly the same path as I did and yet everyone’s reasonably comfortable with the way their path has turned out to be. Speaking for myself, I was fortunate to have found the right mentors and managers that allowed me to decide where I placed my next step on this career ladder.
4. More tenure means more problem solving. Some people have a notion of consulting that as one gets tenured, the farther away one moves from the actual problem solving. That definitely doesn’t seem to be the case at McKinsey. Every client study I have been on, the leadership (Partners and Directors) have been as actively engaged and have provided immense value to problem solving with their continuous insights. Often times, the Director on the study would have had more knowledge about the client organization than the client leaders themselves given their long relationship in serving a particular client.
5. Know your strengths and also your development needs. In the past I would have been hesitant at sharing my “development needs” (aka weaknesses) but at the firm, I have found it so easy to be vocal about that so that people around me can provide me opportunities to better myself on those dimensions. At the same time, it has helped highlighting my strengths (I admit, it’s hard to talk about your strengths while controlling the brag buttons) to be able to help bring those to life in client engagements.
6. Prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize. There is so much you can do at the firm that is beyond the humanly possible limits. As I initially learned the hard way in business school, the firm experience thus far has given me lessons in ‘Prioritization 201’ through which I have found it easy to prioritize what I do at the firm based on two broad dimensions – alignment with my passion, and contribution to my career goals.
7. Manage your time and have control over it. Might sound odd but given my habit of trying to stay punctual (in my world, it means always before time) and the multitasking I end up doing (sometimes of my own choosing), I find it very important to not only manage my time well but also control my time. This is something I observed in a few partners at the firm who come out as being in total control of their time and priorities. One tactical implementation of this principle (sounds silly) is to always schedule one-on-one meetings with colleagues/ clients/ friends as you calling them since you don’t end up waiting for them to call you otherwise.

World-changing men don’t change diapers??

April 21, 2012 2 comments

I just happened to come across a Forbes article with the same title (article link).

While it is such a shame that influential men who made it to Time 100 didn’t talk about their “other” role or didn’t feel important, this article also brought to my mind a more important issue… How should working dads balance their professional and personal roles better?

I am a proud father of a 15-month old and am embarking on a consulting career. The onus is on me to create my own professional life which provides me a good work-life balance. There is no cookie-cutter approach whereby I could talk to a few colleagues and then pin down on one colleague’s approach as mine. Circumstances are very case-based. And with changing circumstances comes changing priorities. I have realized that it is important to prioritize and then set appropriate expectations both at work and at home. This way, you keep both parties happy!

As for a working dad’s role at home, if the mom is also working, parenting has to be shared “equally”. Even if the mother is not working, I see huge joy of parenting in parenting teaming up and spending time with the kid(s). For example, I could see one parent cooking while the other helping with feeding the kid. Or one parent giving the kid a bath while the other preparing the clothes and other stuff for the kid. And it is important for both parents to jointly spend significant time with the kid and help with learning/ playing. At the end of the day, kids draw on their life lessons from parents’ actions.

Talking about parents’ actions… it was just yesterday when on our drive back to the hotel after visiting a friend’s parents, me and my wife were talking about how gracious and courteous my friend’s parents were and that their nature/ character very clearly showed up in their son. And in the same vein, my wife mentioned being at the airport in Riyadh and seeing a Saudi family with 4 children… who were so well-mannered that when my kid went towards those kids, they were so gentle and caring. Just goes on to show, how the parents behave with them at home and how they act with others. And just to drive home the point, I personally learnt a lot from seeing my dad help mom with household chores every weekend he was home… and in a way, I have tried to emulate that with my wife.

At least I wanna be one world-changing man who is proud to have changed the diapers also!

Putting the ET article on “Double MBA” into perspective…

March 23, 2012 3 comments

Ever since this article was published in the Economic Times today morning featuring my story… I was surprised to see so many compliments coming my way and not to mention, some brickbats in the general media.

In all this unnecessary attention, I think the whole message was lost and hence I found it important to put things into perspective.

Pursuing a second MBA is not prescriptive for everyone but is very circumstantial – dependent on what career aspirations one has, their journey thus far, and its timing. If someone has graduated from IIM and have got into a career that he/she is satisfied with and see no reason to accelerate or change anything about it, there is no question of even considering another education stint. However, if someone feels the recalibrate their careers and update their management toolkit (this is often the most important reason for people in the current times), then MBA or maybe another specialized masters might be the way to address that.

Also, it is no way to question the caliber of IIMs. As I have professed time and again, IIMs do a great job at what they are designed to do. And in no way is it an apples-to-apples comparison to peg them against the ivy league schools. Each system serves a different purpose based on different fundamentals. IIMs are there to take in fresh undergraduates and equip them with a broader management toolkit that is more general in nature and softens their technical skills from undergrad. And sometimes, that isn’t sufficient enough to propel one all through their careers thereby meriting a second stint to build an advanced toolkit. In contrast, international business schools assume that incoming students have that general management toolkit through their pre-MBA careers (often 4-5 years of work experience on average) and that they need to bridge that gap required to get into a specialized management role. You can refer to my other article dedicated to this conversation: IIMs vs. Ivy League MBA Programs

A constructive inference from this news article (which I would have expected from the article author) should be that:
(a) MBA aspirants who haven’t embarked on this journey should understand the differences and make the right judgment – get to IIMs right after undergrad or work for a few years and then explore international schools;
(b) Professionals who already have an MBA can see this as an option ahead of them to recalibrate their careers, only if necessary.

Finally, this isn’t a new trend at all… there are a number of IIM graduates who have been going the “Double MBA” route. One such instance has been Pepsi’ Indra Nooyi going to Yale after her first MBA at IIM Calcutta.

In response to the Economic Times article titled Road to successful global careers: ‘Double MBA’ is becoming the next big tag

What Millennials Want

March 14, 2012 4 comments

Adapted and summarized from a Forbes article by Susannah Breslin

1. They want to be happy.

Over and over, I heard from millennials that they want careers that make them happy. Sound obvious? Not really. It used to be that doing one’s job meant sacrificing one’s happiness in life. That’s what made you happy: doing your job. Not anymore. The new doing it all is having a career that brings you joy.

They want balance.
“I want a healthy work/life balance that allows me to work hard, but still have time for a social life, working out, travel, etc.”

What makes them happy? Doing what they love.
“I want to get paid for doing what I love, so that my personal AND career life will be enjoyable.”

They privilege joy over a paycheck.
“…quality of life and enough money to support a family. I’d rather be happy than rich.”

2. They want to have a purpose.

At the same time, they want authenticity. They want work that makes them feel like they matter, like their contribution does more for the world than move a mound of virtual paperwork from one virtual desk to another. It’s not enough to crunch numbers, do their 40 hours, or have a 401k. Millennials want to work to make the world a better place.

They want to matter.
“I want recognition, a sense of accomplishment and purpose. I want to make a difference and never stop learning.”

Purpose is their currency.
“To be paid to do something I enjoy so much that I’d keep doing it even if I had a billion in the bank.”

It doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t make a difference.
“Ideally, I want to get paid while utilizing my personal skill set and contributing to the betterment of others.”

They find passion in changing the world.
“I want to be able to give back to my community and incite change, all the while doing work that I’m passionate about.”

Same old 9-to-5? Forget about it.
“Any job or career path that effects change is worth getting into. There is no point clocking 9-5′s without influence.”

They want to fly high.
“I want to contribute to society and my company, and be justly compensated for it.”

3. They want freedom.

Just as important is the feeling of freedom. Hire a millennial and chain them to a desk? They will bolt. They don’t want a conventional career. They want work that changes them and impacts the world. They want flexible schedules, creative freedom, and the right to decide what their future holds, not let their path be decided for them.

They’re not fans of authority.
“The freedom to trust my own creativity and not have ideas quashed by sr. authority…I guess that’s why I’m a freelance writer.”

They want to career hop.
“I’m not even sure I want a career. The thought of staying in one field or industry sounds incredibly dull. But can I swing it?”

They want to play.
“Freedom to create, learn + explore. Flexibility.To be able to think + play like a child, w/ trust that I won’t behave like one.”

They want to be awesome.
“I want to do awesome things with awesome people in awesome places and on my own terms.”

They want to work from home, at least some of the time.
“I want to sit in my undies on the couch, drinking a smoothie, tapping out brilliant words on my Mac AND getting paid for it.”

IIMs vs. Ivy League MBA programs

February 26, 2012 11 comments

Following up on my earlier posts about my MBA experience… I have often been asked about what the distinction is between the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and Ivy League business schools here in the U.S.

Before you get into the differences, it is important to understand that IIMs and Ivy Leagues are great schools in their own respect. I have definitely gained from both these schools, and perhaps would have not been where I am today if I hadn’t been to either of these schools. That being said, these schools serve different set of objectives which results in significant differences, some of which are outlined below (again my IIM experience is from more than 5 years ago so might not reflect current circumstances):

1. Student academic profile: IIM is designed to educate students coming with minimal work experiences, often right out of their undergrad schools. An Ivy League school (will use Columbia just for contextual relevance) typically attracts students who have on average 5 years of experience after undergrad.

2. Student professional profile: IIM tends to be filled with engineers and commerce grads (not by design but by expected standards) while Columbia has huge diversity in terms of student professional backgrounds, from the standard bankers, consultants to writers, musicians, teachers, social workers… in great numbers.

3. Curriculum: By virtue of the above two points, IIMs tend to focus on providing a good breadth of management skills to students thereby focusing on basic fundamentals across several areas of business operations. This means there is minimal coursework focused on specific industries. At Columbia, knowing that students come with significant background in specific industries and might want to build advanced skills to go back to the same industry, the curriculum is super-diverse in terms of offering a good depth and breadth across all areas of business. What would be discussed as a session in an IIM elective (e.g., options pricing) would be a full-term elective at Columbia.

4. Faculty expertise: Academia in India culturally have evolved to be purely academic alienating themselves from industry. And this also becomes a huge difference… Back in IIMs, the senior faculty members (often the most revered ones) have moved out of industry to start teaching a decade or more ago and stupid HRD ministry rules not allowing simultaneous work in the industry results in a very theoretical pedagogy. Often the cases and anecdotes you hear are from ages ago. However, in Columbia, what you see is that a majority of the faculty members (easily around 80-90%) are still active in the industry and are able to bring their experiences to class in real-time. This makes a big difference to our learning esp. as we endeavor to go into the very roles they have been through in their professional, non-teaching careers.

5. Recruiting: This is one point where IIMs have made rapid strides to bridge the gap with Ivy League schools. However, still how you see the gap between IIM-A and other IIMs is the kind of gap you see between Ivy Leagues and IIM-A (and other IIMs). I have always felt that recruiting is like a capitalist system… IIM-A being the oldest school in India had the privilege of having its alumni reach top positions in the Indian industry and being its alumni, they have been biased towards hiring more from their alma mater. So, other IIMs coming later on, had to play second fiddle in getting their graduates into these organizations. Now, when it comes to IIMs vs. Ivy Leagues, the same mechanism is played out at a far-bigger, global scale. And what you see is Columbia commands immense power with employers. A leading strategy consulting firm (you can fill in any name you want) hires only a handful from IIMs yet comes to Columbia and hires easily 10x of that number.

6. School resources: This is often not discussed or considered important but it is amongst the top 3 important differences for me… IIMs being at a small scale with campuses spread far and wide have resulted in resources also being split. So, hosting just around 600-700 students implies having fewer resources (just the game of per capita numbers… if 1000 students have access to $1Mn worth resources, 10,000 students have access to $10Min worth of resources). The libraries are very basic and so are other resources (although IIMs do a great job of managing these resources). In contrast, Columbia being part of a larger Ivy League university setup can offer a much more wider array of resources… which extends into the curriculum (you could do coursework specific to your industry interest in specialized graduate schools) and into the faculty (you could learn from teaching events / discussions with faculty from other schools) also.

7. Alumni network coverage: Playing the scale and age effect (like in recruiting and school resources), Columbia commands a more diverse and well-established alumni base globally while IIMs can boast of the same kind of network only within India. As more and more IIM alumni are exploring overseas career opportunities, this is turning out to be a big hurdle (in fact, ISB is also going through the same problem) as often recruiting decision makers outside India are not aware of the caliber of IIMs and often club IIM graduates with other regular business schools.

8. Location: With a very few exceptions, IIMs are located in such random places that there is no access to any resource of importance outside the campus (I was @ IIM Lucknow and can say with certainty that there was nothing of professional importance to students outside the campus boundary). In contrast, if you look at Columbia, being in New York provides immense advantages professionally and personally. Professionally, one can engage in term internships while studying, network with companies they wish to recruit for, attend professional events (conferences, seminars, etc.), and also undertake community service by engaging with non-profits in and around New York. Personally, if you have a significant other (spouse), it is far easier for them to find professional opportunities here than what would be the case with IIM campus locations.

In summary, while IIMs are serving a different purpose resulting in some structural differences, they are not yet ready to give a stiff challenge to Ivy League business schools. And not to forget, the political intrusion in IIMs have only made me less hopeful about any constructive change towards bridging this intellectual divide.

Should you want to read some of my other MBA experience-crelated articles from my blog, here are the links:
Going for a second MBA
First year at Columbia Business School… the highs and the lows
New York reporting…

FT: Life after Wall Street

February 18, 2012 4 comments

A very interesting article adapted from the Financial Times
By William D. Cohan

Some 40,000 high-level bankers lost their jobs in the financial crisis. But questions on what the former Masters of the Universe did next are met with impenetrable silence

When it comes to publicity, investment bankers are a notoriously fickle bunch. When it suits them – for instance, to boast about a game-changing M&A deal or to pump up a hot IPO – bankers are more than happy to be quoted by name, rank and serial number. But when it comes to addressing more difficult topics – the role bankers and traders played in the current financial crisis, why the world needed synthetic collateralised debt obligations in the first place or why they get paid so much – they scurry away faster than a cockroach when the light goes on in a darkened room.

Part of this behaviour is genetic. One of the supposed Wall Street truisms is that the great firms stay out of the limelight and shun press inquiries. They would prefer that their clients get the publicity, not them. This is, of course, a fabulous myth. The mass that has been written about Wall Street over the past decades confirms that the opposite is clearly the case. Still, Wall Street banks do all they can to drum into their employees the importance of not talking to the press – at least if they want to keep their jobs. The dictum of omertà is so powerfully reinforced that even after bankers and traders are no longer employed on Wall Street, many still stick to the party line (often sealed by contractual obligations not to discuss publicly their former employer).

Read more…

Ten must-knows before a venture capital pitch presentation

December 4, 2011 1 comment

10. Only the CEO can give the money pitch.
9. Check equipment or use your own projector and laptop.
8. Pace the presentation smoothly and evenly.
7. Don’t stroll or fidget around on the stage.
6. Don’t tell jokes. Ever.
5. Hand-outs are not your presentation.
4. Always use a remote control.
3. Don’t do a live demo of your product or service offering.
2. Don’t read your speech.
1. Never, ever look at the projector screen.