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Archive for the ‘Career Choices’ Category

Shantanu Prakash

Shantanu Prakash, Chairman and Managing Director, Educomp Solutions Limited

Shantanu Prakash has an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad 1988 and is a 2012 Advanced Leadership fellow of Harvard University. He founded Educomp Solutions Limited in 1994, a few years after acquiring an MBA degree. His vision has been to transform the teaching-learning process through the use of technology and best practices. The company employs over 14,000 people across 27 offices worldwide. Educomp is the leader in education content, professional development, online learning and the first company to set up high quality schools across the country Under Shantanu’s leadership, many awards and accolades have come Educomp’s way. Educomp was ranked number one in Education & Training in the study, “India’s Best Companies to Work for-2009”. Educomp is a publicly traded company on National Stock Exchange (NSE) in India.
Mr. Prakash is also the founder and Managing Trustee of the Learning Leadership Foundation (LLF), an organization dedicated to bringing best practices in education to under-resourced schools. He is also on the board trustees of over 30 educational institutions including, Modern School Delhi, Sri Sri University and the Great Lakes Institute of Management. He is on the international advisory board of Fundacao Dom Cabral, Brazil. As an investor, Mr. Prakash has made several investments in innovative early stage and mid-stage companies focusing on the internet, education, media, gaming, finance and infrastructure. He is a charter member of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) an organization that connects entrepreneurs. He is a frequent speaker in education and business conferences worldwide.

Reflecting on your decision on plunging into entrepreneurship right after business school, what exactly was your thought process?

Well, actually the decision was pretty easy. I had already made up my mind even before I got into IIMA that I wanted to be an entrepreneur! When I graduated in 1994, India was at this very unique standpoint in its history of economic liberalization. The environment all around me was undergoing major changes. There were large opportunities to be tapped. And that’s when I thought of taking advantage of the opportunity at hand.

I grew up in a middle class family and did not have deep pockets backing me. I was therefore interested in starting something that involved a lot of intellectual capital rather than financial capital. Looking back, I did not compare entrepreneurship with job options in MNCs, banks and consulting firms since I never saw myself in those roles. There was therefore no comparison from that quarter. And that’s when I took the plunge! So far it has been a very interesting and satisfying journey. And given the dynamics in the education space in India, I feel like the more you go into it, the more problems you solve around! Education is always an unfinished agenda in India!

What made you choose the education space?

For me it was a blank slate – I did not have any family business or any professional to define my industry! I could have chosen to do virtually anything under the sun! However, education was an industry in which I had the first hand experience of the challenges involved as well as some ideas on how to address them. I started, like most entrepreneurs do, with a vision but not a large expectation of the financial returns. So there was a little bit of both the opportunities that arose as well as some level of intelligence that led to my decision of entering the education space.
We started our journey – the very first business by setting up computer labs in business schools. That’s when we realized that the opportunity was somewhere else. We observed that the parents had very high expectations of their kids schooling while the schools just did not have the ability to fulfill these expectations and the existence of private tutors was a testimony of that observation. We then took to creating content for school education. Initially, while the content was under development we faced several challenges but after 3-4 years when it was fully ready, it caught the eye of everyone in the industry and that’s when we became an industry wide success. We then diversified into teacher and vocational training and today we are present in pretty much every aspect of the education value chain!

What are the key trends or themes you observe, particularly when it comes to the use of technology in education?

India is a grossly underserved market when it comes to education. Our gross enrollment figures are the lowest in the ASEAN region. The numbers have to move to a more respectable state for it to sustain the growing economy and general economic development. There has to be a lot more primary education along with the training of teachers and the first step has to be to create high quality delivery mechanisms to achieve these. I see technology as the game changer that can allow India to accomplish these objectives. However, in addition to technology, the key is for all the players to come together- the government, the private sector as well as the non-profit sector to work together towards these goals.

What are the new opportunities that the Indian education industry provides today?

There are several opportunities today for entrepreneurs to tap into – including teacher training for the over half a million teachers as well as the whole area of vocational training in which 400,000 skilled people need to be trained to work. Then there are areas such as career counseling, teacher and student interaction as well as tuition (E.g. WizIQ) etc.

What would be your advice for students and alumni here at Kellogg who are thinking of returning back to India?

You have gone and had the best education in the world, now you should come back to utilize it in one of the best markets in the world today – India!

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India@Kellogg had a conversation with Rashmi Bansal, shortly before the 2012 India Business Conference, to hear her candid thoughts on how students can shape their career after completing their MBA.

Rashmi Bansal is a best-selling author – her 3 books on the subject of entrepreneurship in India – ’Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’, ‘Connect the Dots’ and ‘I Have a Dream’ have sold over half a million copies. ‘I Have a Dream’ was the #1 non-fiction title in India in the year 2011 as per A C Nielsen Bookscan. Her fourth book on the spirit of enterprise in Dharavi slums releases in May 2012. Ms. Bansal is also co-founder and editor of JAM, a youth magazine she set up at the age of 24 and successfully ran for 15 years. In addition, Ms. Bansal is a motivational speaker and mentor to students and young entrepreneurs. She writes the popular blog Youthcurry on issues around entrepreneurship and education. She is an economics graduate of Sophia College, Mumbai and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad.

For several business school students, the post-MBA career choice is one of the hardest decisions to make. From your personal experience and interactions with others, how would you encourage us to think about it?

Take the decision not just with your head, but your heart. What ‘makes sense in the short term, from a return on investment point of view, may not be the path that unlocks your true potential.

Does the world need another hedge fund manager? Probably not.
Is a BMW really going to make you happy? Only for a while.
Search deep within for where your true passion lies and create a career in that direction – no matter how offbeat it may seem. Your decision will pay off, in the long run.

Being an entrepreneur and building a business seems like an attractive option to several business school students. But is it for everyone? What are some of the realistic questions one should ask before deciding to pursue this path?

Potential entrepreneurs need to ask themselves:
• How badly do I want this, and how long am I willing to hold out?
• Can I see it, feel it and believe it – even if nobody else in the world does?
• Am I okay with the idea of failure?

A business plan is just a piece of paper – it is the conviction and can-do spirit of the entrepreneur that makes it a reality.

In your journey towards becoming a bestselling author, what have been some of your most challenging experiences and how did you navigate through them?

To listen to critics and yet not succumb to them, because you just can’t please all the people all the time. To keep pushing my own boundaries and to learn something new from every person I meet. To stay grounded and humble, no matter how many books sell!

In your opinion, how can we use the business school experience effectively to prepare us for entrepreneurial ventures later in life?

I think if you know you want to be an entrepreneur as you come into the program, you can certainly use the two years to prepare and fine-tune your business plan and even launch your company while still a student. That would give you a head start and also resources, which are otherwise hard to access e.g. mentorship of professors.

If you are not that clear about starting right away, you can still use your business school experience effectively by taking a wider range of courses and developing personal rapport with as many professors and batch mates as possible. Relationships are the assets you carry with you when you
graduate and are especially important for a young entrepreneur, when looking for a break.

In your interactions with several of India’s most successful entrepreneurs, what do you think are their most common attributes responsible for their success?

A deep sense of purpose, passion and perseverance is what makes entrepreneurs successful. There are no short cuts to success.

We are tremendously excited to hear about your next book “Poor Little Rich Slum”! Could you briefly tell us what the book is about and what your motivation for writing it was?

My 4th book ‘Poor Little Rich Slum’ co-authored with Deepak Gandhi is on the spirit of enterprise in Dharavi. The people of Dharavi are a shining example of how human beings can make the best of their circumstances, no matter how difficult they are. Despite lack of infrastructure and even basic amenities, Dharavi has created a vibrant economy powered by hundreds of micro entrepreneurs.

The book took us nine months to research and write and was a very enriching and moving experience. At the end of it I can only say that there is much that we – who have everything and more – can learn from these ‘little Indians’.

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Shikha Sharma, MD CEO Axis Bank

Shikha Sharma, MD CEO Axis Bank

Shikha Sharma is the Managing Director & CEO of Axis Bank since 2009. Axis Bank is amongst the three major private sector banks which commenced business in 1994 as a consequence of the liberalization and reform of the financial sector. Previously, she was the Managing Director & founder CEO of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company. She has done her B.A. (Hons.) in Economics, and completed her Masters of Business Administration from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in 1980. She has a Post Graduate Diploma in Software Technology, from the National Centre for Software Technology, Mumbai.

India@Kellogg spoke to Ms.Sharma about her views on the Indian banking sector and the strategic priorities for Axis bank.

Q. Ms. Sharma, thank you so much for agreeing to speak to us. Since you took over as CEO, what have been your key priorities?

In the three years I have been here, I have found Axis Bank to be a strong and vibrant organisation with some great strengths, particularly in retail liabilities and corporate banking. The Bank also has a culture which fosters and encourages dignity and respect for all individuals and is very welcoming of outsiders. The key priorities for me have been to build and diversify the Bank’s product portfolio, enhance the capabilities in risk management and HR and overall build an institutional, scalable platform commensurate with the scale that the Bank has gained in the recent years.

Q. Looking ahead, which business lines do you see aggressive growth in the banking sector in?

We are really excited about the India story, notwithstanding all the headwinds and challenges we are reading about these days. We remain positive on the structural growth story of India in the medium-to-long term, and hence all aspects of banking will continue to see growth. Given the evolution of banking, clearly mortgages, auto finance and consumer loans, which are underpenetrated will see rapid growth. We also believe that mobile banking will enable India to leapfrog the typical evolution of payments infrastructure from cash to cheques to cards. This arena is conducive to some innovative, path-breaking banking models going forward. On the other hand, corporate India will continue to seek opportunities for growth both in India and overseas, be it in infrastructure or other sectors.

Q. Increasing urbanization and rising spending power continue to drive intense competition in the retail banking space. How do you see Axis Bank successfully competing and differentiating itself in this arena?

The Bank has a sweet spot in the mass/mass affluent segment and is known for high levels of customer engagement and loyalty in its branches. We believe that this is a sustainable differentiator for us going forward. Of course, we will have to ensure that we have competitive products, innovative delivery models, responsive turnaround times, etc.

Q. How do you view the role of technology and innovation in banking? Are there any specific investments that Axis Bank is making in this direction?

Technology has typically been in the background as far as banking is concerned, but that is fast-changing. Today’s consumer is embracing technology very quickly, with significant repercussions on customer segmentation, product design and delivery and indeed the analytical backbone on which banks can design their offerings. We believe that a lot of innovation will happen around these areas. We are investing in building our analytical capabilities and of course in continuing to scale up our technology architecture so as to make it more robust and flexible at the same time.

Q. Could you share a bit about the opportunity and challenges you see in Rural Banking?

The rural opportunity needs a nuanced understanding – today agriculture accounts for less than half of the rural GDP. The rural ecosystem is therefore a lot about services and small industries in addition to the agricultural ecosystem. The current opportunity is centred around consumption and micro-credit, which has not been the domain of traditional banking models. We are in the process of designing and running some pilots to test the waters in this space and will be guided by the results of these pilots before we take the next steps.

Q. In the past couple of years, there have been a number of new banks and NBFC’s. Could you share your thoughts on the room for more banks in India and their challenges?

At the end of the day, banking is a business of trust and unless new entrants already enjoy the confidence of customers in their existing businesses, they will need to build the trust over several years. This is likely to be their greatest challenge. Having said that, some of the players who may be present in other lines of business (e.g. NBFCs), could certainly bring their own business models to the banking space, and to that extent, they will challenge existing players, and the customer will benefit from this.

Q. Finally, what is your vision for where you want to take Axis Bank in the years to come?

A couple of years ago, the entire senior management team developed a vision for the Bank which essentially says that over the next 3-5 years, we would like to deliver consistent, profitable growth at a premium to the industry, with a diversified business model. We would like to ensure maximum share of wallet of our customers, but want this to be driven by customer insight and consistently superior customer service.

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