There are many ways to skin a cat- Amar Deshpande PGPX Class of 2011, IIM Ahmedabad


Amar Deshpande

PGPX Class of 2011, IIM Ahmedabad

Current Organization and Designation: Senior program Manager at Confidential ; and Author of the Amol Dixit Book Series

  What were you doing before your 1 year MBA and what triggered the decision to apply for a MBA?

 Before my MBA, till early 2010, I used to work in construction. After completing my Master’s in Construction Management from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 2002, I worked for a general contractor called Novak Construction, who used to build retail stores for the major U.S retail chains. I moved back to India in 2008, and worked in consulting for construction projects during a stint with Jones Lang Lasalle. There were two main reasons for getting a MBA. First of all, I needed to improve my skillsets and develop a wider view of things. For the long term career growth, I thought it was critical. Secondly, I realized that in construction, career plateaus around the age of 45. This was something that bothered me a lot and I needed to change that.

I applied for the PGPX Class of 2011 in early August 2009, and I am both glad and fortunate that the acceptance email came a couple of months later, following a very memorable interview. So memorable, that I included it in my debut novel NRI:Now, Returned to India.

How was the MBA experience, both as a student and a professional?

 The one year that my wife and I spent on the IIM Ahmedabad campus is indeed memorable on several fronts. The late nights in the syndicate rooms discussing cases, the rigor of the program, the surprise quizzes… all added several “wow” moments to the experience. On a personal level, my wife and I got married three weeks before the program began, so it was a new environment, new experience, new friends, and we literally spent the first year of our marriage in that environment. May I also add that Mrunal was the breadwinner, I was the student, so that was a different experience too.

What I liked most about the program was the bond that developed among the peers and also the grade non-disclosure. Do not get me wrong, I am not implying that one should take the academics lightly, but since schooldays, numbers determine our fortune in a way. In our society, one’s intelligence is also evaluated on the basis of marks they score in exams. Even in the work environment, numbers determine our performance, appraisals, and so on. PGPX was the one year (and possibly the only year) during which all of this did not matter. Nobody judged me based on the numbers I received. There was pressure to perform and deliver of course, but it was not a perform or perish kind of situation.

What was the key learning during your MBA and how did you apply it to your work front?

 One way I would like to summarize my key learning is to borrow a phrase my first boss used to quote often. He used to tell me,” There are many ways to skin a cat.” What it means is that there are multiple ways to view and eventually solve a problem. This learning was reinforced during my MBA, and I have been able to put it to use several times. For example, my first job post MBA was in energy consulting. There was this idea that we were trying to pitch to our customers, but the pitch was not working the way it should have. The problem was, that it was designed in a one size fits all fashion. I changed that. A customer from hospitality sector views cost of energy differently compared to a customer in the retail sector, for example. Both would like to reduce their costs. But it is important to understand their business and their business cycles in order to be successful in the pitch. For example, one cannot go to a retail store during Diwali season and tell them that we will retrofit the lighting and airconditioning system, and by the way, you may have to shut down your store for two days because of a system upgrade. The example I am giving is extreme, but I hope you get the point.

  How does MBA stand in the wake of new opportunities?

 Many of my classmates (and several PGPX alumni, for that matter) have turned entrepreneurs, many have been able to change their careers. Startups are hot in the media now, but let me tell you, startups have been hot in PGPX for several years now. In my own case, I moved from construction to energy consulting to non-profit and now back in real estate development – all within a span of four years. Changing careers every time is not easy, and often one has to start a notch lower than where they should have been, but MBA does open the doors to a whole new world.

Two of the benefits of a MBA that is discussed often, but not discussed enough, are the alumni network and the perspective one develops towards all walks of life. As I mentioned earlier, I am also a writer. And the concepts and skills learnt during MBA came in very handy in the process. At the IIM alumni meet in Gurgaon for example, I met several alumni who were also authors of books. Some published, others yet to do so. We would discuss writing habits, approaching publishers, bookwriting experiences, etc. That helped in forming a bond with many alumni. Speaking of perspective, I could immediately recognize that each book is like a product. Just like the right raw material, manufacturing process, packaging, price, availability, delivery, customer service are important for a successful product launch, for a book, the content, editing, cover design, formatting, medium of delivery (print or ebook or audio) are very important. But most of all, it is the customer service- the reader is your customer. Developing perspective may or may not require a MBA, but for me the realization came early in the process because of the MBA.

Can you share your views on recruitment for MBA? What are the skills you find? What are the gaps?

 One of the biggest misconceptions that I have encountered from the MBA candidates and the people in general is that they see MBA as a ticket to a high paying job and careers take off right away. It may be true for some but not for all- certainly in the short term. Once we take that bias out of the equation, I must say that MBA can be a gateway to the opportunities that one may not even know exist.

Employers need to understand that a PGPX type of cohort, for example, is very different from a typical campus recruitment from MBA programs. I was surprised to see recruiters who were under 25 with hardly two or three years of experience interviewing those who had more than a decade of work experience. The recruiters were at a loss to even understand what the candidates had to offer. Speaking of skills, one of the alums had mentioned that soft skills is an area for improvement for MBAs, something that I concur now that I am on the other side of the table.

How has been your experience of interacting with MBAs? What is the broad view in the organization?

I believe that my previous organization was not really geared internally to put the MBA force into use effectively. It was a product company, and a sales driven organization, and I think MBAs were put into roles that didn’t do much to add value either to the organization or the employees. In my current organization, there are structured programs for the candidates from the 2 year and the 1 year MBA programs. Folks I interact with on a daily basis are alums of one fine institution or the other, whether in India or abroad. I found it to be a welcome change.

Having seen two extreme cases, I think it totally depends on the organization how they want to groom, grow and tap the potential that MBAs bring with them.

In your opinion, does having work experience before MBA help?

 Of course, having work experience before MBA would be helpful to both the MBA candidate and their potential employers. The candidates would have some taste of organizational structures, HR processes, customer interface (if they are in similar roles), etc. I say this not because of my own experience, but because I have seen a marked difference in the maturity level of candidates who have prior work experience and those who do not. Of course, there are exception, and lets’ leave it at that.

Your advice to future MBA aspirants?

 My first suggestion, not necessarily advice, is- focus on the what the MBA program has to offer other than academics.. A MBA program is tough, but the life ahead is tougher. The one or two years that you will spend in B-School (depending on the program you will be in) will be one of the most memorable time of your life, so look into the fun elements that the MBA program has to offer. Secondly, network, network, network, You must investing in building and more importantly maintaining the relationships with your network. Talk to alums before you apply, do inform them whatever is the outcome of your application process. An occasional email or a text message- personalized, of course, will go a long way. And lastly, take your application essays seriously. When you are at crossroads in the future, wondering what to do next, reading the essays will help you rediscover a thing or two about yourself.

How can one reach out to you for having themselves mentored?

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