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Follow the leader

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 - 6:15am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Students of Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad got to spend a working day with CEOs of India Inc under the 'Shadow a CEO' programme. Ritesh Chopra and Jeeten Desai, were among the lucky 13 who won online bids to follow their favorite corporate head honcho

Before I signed up with ISB, earning my MBA degree meant a good job and a salary hike. However, 'Shadow A CEO' added a new dimension to my business study experience. Since I plan to be an entrepreneur, I was estatic to have won the bid to follow Deep Kalra, CEO, MakeMyTrip (MMT) and get first hand experience on his journey from a founder to a CEO of his company.

I met Kalra in the morning at his office, and I found him as a very warm and a humble person. He welcomed me and introduced me to his subordinates in the office. In the beginning, I was a bit nervous, especially since I was the only one dressed in a suit, plus I was not sure on how the day would unfold. However, Kalra made me feel comfortable, he started by asking me about what I wanted to take away from the day. We then discussed about my MBA journey so far and my own startup plans. He mentioned that he spends a lot of time mentoring as well, especially on weekends, and would be open to helping me out in how to structure, raise funding and connecting to other people.

The day ahead was studded with back-to-back meetings. The first one was with investment bankers, which was ideally a confidential meeting, but Kalra was gracious enough to let me sit in. Next on the schedule was a work lunch meeting for the planning of TIE – Internet Day (www.iday.in). Later we had meetings with market research firm and an internal meeting for employee initiatives.

In essence, the day was packed with meetings for finance, operations, marketing and human resources and covered all aspects of running an organisation. I was in awe of Kalra on how he managed to stay on top of everything and be patient throughout the day. In the evening, I spent time asking him about his entrepreneurial journey, the challenges of it, how they went about finding their first customers, his journey before MMT etc. Seeing my interest in technology and product management, he also setup meetings for me with his vice president for products and mobile innovation and with other ISB alums at MMT, which were very fruitful as well. Before leaving for the day, he setup a follow-up lunch meeting with me to spend dedicated one-on-one time to answer my questions.

Overall it was a very insightful day and one of the best experiences as a student. Thanks to Kalra and his team, I was inspired to start my own venture and be the commander-in-chief.

Jeeten Desai
I started my day at 10 am with a quick chat with Aparajita Agarwal, executive assistant to the chairman. They had to make some changes in my schedule for the day due to changes in the availability of two people. When I met Chairman Godrej he asked me about my life, where I grew up and how my career spanned out. He on the other hand told be how he used to be on the board of a student organisation called AIESEC, which was now being handled by his elder daughter. He showed keen interest in what I had to say and seemed genuinely interested in the conversation. He then explained the history of the organisation right from when his grandfather started Godrej. We had a detailed discussion around the current plans of the organisation and their vision for 2020. ABG as he is fondly referred to, is a very articulate individual. Our meeting lasted for over an hour and then I was to meet him again after lunch to sit on one of his R&D meetings.

Next, I met with Nitin Nabar, president and executive director for Godrej Chemicals. I had shown interest in meeting someone from the chemicals business and was surprised to meet the president himself. It was great meeting. Like everyone else I met at Godrej, Nabar was a humble man. He started his career at the very roots of the factory, on the shop floor and made his way up. It was amazing to see how so many people I met had started decades ago.

My next meeting was with Arivinder Singh, vice president, marketing and imports, Godrej Chemicals, and Clement Pinto, vice president, finance, Godrej Chemicals. They made a customised presentation for me and explained to me in detail how they ran the chemicals business, what their current issues were and what their major targets were for the coming few years to meet the vision 2020 goals.

After my meeting with the chemicals team, I meet Shireesh Joshi, head, strategic marketing. I was surprised to learn how he used some of the concepts of conjoint and surveys being used in making the decisions for spending money in advertisements and changing consumer behaviour. Joshi was a delightful person to chat with, I had a working lunch with him and he showed interest in meeting up with students. Next up was the meeting with Tina Trikha, vice president, strategy and planning. She explained to me how the consumer products business was growing and shared examples of how they are innovating even at their simple products like pest repellents, hair dyes etc.

My next meeting was with the chairman and his R&D team. They were talking about the launch of awareness campaigns and new research done in the field of mosquito repellents. I was honoured to be part of the meeting and gained insights on such a simple but necessary product. After the meeting, we carried our discussion about what I learnt during the day and if I had any questions for him.

My last meeting for the day was with Nisaba Godrej who heads innovation at Godrej Consumer Products and is also involved with the cultural change in the organisation with a people management function. She did her MBA from Harvard and it was great to talk to her about her learning and how she still picks up the phone to speak with her professors from Harvard when she is unsure of a certain or strategy or when she just wants someone to challenge her point of view. I saw a stark difference in the personalities of the father and daughter. Overall it was a brilliant day and given a chance, I would do this all over again. It will remain as one of the high points of being a management student and I will cherish it for a long long time to come.

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