Monthly Archives: July 2017

Tête-à-tête with Mr. Saurabh Mahajan: A PR Cell exclusive

 
IIM Kozhikode had the pleasure of hosting Mr. Saurabh Mahajan , Director of product Management at Ola and an alumnus from the PGP Batch of 2012,who had come down to the campus after almost 5 years to deliver a guest talk on managing IT products and services with a bird’s eye view on the cab aggregation industry.
The Public Relations Cell, IIM Kozhikode, took a trip down memory lane with Mr. Mahajan, in an edifying session to discuss the Indian IT scenario, product management, hands-on demos on interactive platforms, and the ride-sharing revolution, complete with generous sprinklings of the vicissitudes of Kampus Life!
A few excerpts:

PR: Most of our alumni are of the opinion that our campus has changed. Do you concur?

SM: Surprisingly, no! Since my graduation in 2012, I honestly don’t feel coming across any major changes in the campus, except perhaps for the increase in the number of stairways, adding to the ease of access to the academic blocks. What is heartening to note is that the classrooms have been technologically upgraded to qualify as “Smart classrooms”! Speaking of diversity and inclusion, ours was the first batch to record a whopping 33% of women in management without quota which garnered a lot of media attention and it is encouraging to know that the numbers remain similar 5 years down the line as well.

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PR: From having majored in Finance-based courses, you now handle Product management. Has the transition been smooth?

SM: Frankly speaking, Product management is more General management than an IT profile, encompassing courses on Economics, Finance, Marketing et al. Of course, my two years at Zynga as an associate product manager molded me in the intricacies of this role better than any Indian Start-up ,in those times,could ever had. Zynga was essentially data-driven and 6 months into the company, I was already looking after a $50mn business as Revenue PM for Mafia Wars. 16 months and a couple of promotions later, I decided to scout for new avenues and jumped on Adobe’s bandwagon to develop Cloud-based services in India from scratch. Having served as the worldwide PM for the Adobe InDesign application, my work revolved around managing IT products and services. So, in a nutshell, I have been fortunate enough to dabble in myriad courses under the PM umbrella!

PR: With such lucrative options at Adobe, what made you take the plunge for Ola, a domain hitherto unchartered with regards to your profile trajectory?

 SM: Adobe’s stock options, albeit tempting, were nothing more than the proverbial golden handcuffs for me. I was still on the lookout for newer and bolder challenges and Ola made all the right moves. Ride-sharing in the Indian startup universe was an appealing enterprise for me. Ever since then Ola have been investing heavily in marrying technology with customer experience, case in point-Ola Play. My team handles personalization of the application to improve our CVP and increase the customer base. Our modus operandi involves a robust feedback mechanism, where we conduct dip-stick interviews with customers for effective need analysis and partnership with content providers.

PR: We often hear of divides between technical and managerial teams. How should one approach such technical-driven roles with an MBA from a premier B-school?

 SM: Interestingly enough, this is indeed a reality. Most MBAs tend to be left-brained and designers tend to be right-brained! However, these are two a different functions. Once you are through with the campus placements, the results you yield and the ideas you bring to the boardroom matter than the college you come from. The biggest challenge one faces coming from a premier B-school is the propensity of misplaced authority, making one come off as arrogant. What really matters is how you leverage your learnings and keep the team together. Humility is an art that needs to become a habit.

PR: From gaming to designing to car aggregation, this has been quite a diverse trajectory for you. How easy is it to switch profiles?

SM: Situational factors, more often than not, play a major role in job-hops. My decisions were heavily influenced by the circumstances of the times. Having said that, I would still recommend prudence and patience in deciding career shifts, simply because it comes with its own set of challenges of learning and re-learning complex and highly esoteric products and processes. In the end, problem-solving acumen coupled with relationship building and quick thinking abilities are vital skill-sets for almost all profiles, especially PM roles.

 PR: Your take on innovation in India?

SM: For any company to survive in India’s highly competitive markets, they need to constantly innovate. Many companies have tried and failed, yet there are still many, Ola being one amongst them, that are constantly striving to make services affordable and accessible to almost all strata in society. Ola has the potential to turn profitable as we speak, however this would only reduce our consumer base by almost half. Hyperlocal presence increases penetration rates and assists in creating demand. Companies like Swiggy is even experimenting in food aggregation!

PR: With disruptions becoming the order of the day, how do you foresee Ola changing the fate of urban mobility?

 SM: Accessibility and rampant unionization remains an issue. But Ola, as a company, is looking to solve the transportation problem. There has been a noticeable change with drivers shifting from the heavy vehicle to the light vehicle and passenger transportation segments, with better opportunities and standards of living.   If given a chance, we may even venture into boats!

 PR: Any message for the upcoming batches?

SM: I think it’s important to make the most of the two years at IIMK; observe people, learn from them, build a view on things. Keep yourselves updated on what’s hot and happening .In the end, grades and assignments don’t really matter. What truly matters is being a part of cognitive and affective associations, being a better problem solver. There is no secret to doing well in life, but it’s important not to fool oneself, not to have an illusion of learning.

 

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Konversations with Sandeep Chatterjee

Discussion started where I introduced myself as coordinator from PR Cell and how back in the days of PGP05 there was no other committee except from Student council and Placement Committee. We went on to discuss the range of topics from college campus looked like back in the days of  PGP05 to relevance of IT as domain for MBA students. Find the excerpts below:

PR Cell: At your time this campus barely came into existence so for someone from say PGP05, 02 it would be difficult to connect to IIMK (in terms of what it is now)

Sandeep: Yeah I know, we were here for 3 months so for us it is still relevant, the campus

PR Cell: So for someone like us, do you think something can be done to bring earlier batches PGP01-05 in sync with this campus?

Sandeep: So what happened three four years back PGP03 people came down and that was a good initiative. So if you can catch some of those guys, maybe they can bring in their batch mates. This would be a good way to start. I know they cannot connect but still would love to see the campus. PGP03 managed to get 43 of their batch mates to Nostalgia.The one with Mr Sandeep Chatterjee

PR Cell: This is something we can put across to Alumni Committee and see how it works

Sandeep: Absolutely. Make them feel important can body will come

PR Cell: And for you especially how does it feel to come back?

Sandeep: For me it is really really close, I fell ill and this Institute gave me a chance to complete my studies. So that is why I have very strong feeling about IIMK. Whenever IIMK asks I do come.

PR Cell: I noticed that you are pursuing your PHD, how did this shift to learning happen ?

Sandeep : So what happened is , I do some courses here I take EPGP courses here , Mathew Sir then suggested me why don’t you do a PHD then. It was his push that this will be helpful. What happens is that in industry we tend to loose connect with the academia. Why do I come here? It’s a Darwin’s theory that you guys are better evolved thus the kind of questions you ask, we get ideas from that.

PR Cell: Moving on a different question now, most of us come from IT/tech background and kind of work that you do would require a lot of tech know how. So do you think that MBA prepares you for such roles?

Sandeep: if you go to hard core technical field there are people with strong technical aptitude who will offer resistance. So same thing happened with me. What I did I put extra efforts learning it. It may not be coding that I am expected to do but still I need to have a basic sense of it. Of course in an MBA program we are not looking to make them technocrats, even the courses that we have in here give you a basic idea of it. At least if you get the logic right you can survive.

PR Cell : It is said MBA is going to evolve in next few years, is this technical integration that is being talked about ?

Sandeep : Yes, There is a lot that is coming in technology, Cloud, Machine learning etc . So we need to appreciate technology. You need not write code but you need to know how IOT is going to solve your problem, generate sales for you then you are ok to go. These latest trends should be incorporated in the course curriculum.

PR Cell: How was brand IIM K evolved over the years?

Sandeep : IIMK as a brand has done really well for itself. Only problem is now it has stagnated. Reason could be that we are publicising ourselves in a fashion that we should. We have the business museum. No other B-school has that. We should it our advantage. Now MBA is a foreign concept but globalising Indian Thought. Who would have thought we could bring in Indian perspective to it.

PR Cell: Well Sir it was a great discussion that we had, any message for newer batch that has joined the institute ?

Sandeep : Have high hopes but don’t expect something as high as strategy roles. It takes time for that. Utilise your time well here and make the best of it.

The Public Relations Cell Team with the Alumnis

This interview was part of a series conducted by Public Relations Committee, IIM Kozhikode ( Interviews arranged by Alumni Committee of IIM Kozhikode ) as a part of Alumni Interaction done in the month of July, 2017