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Been There.. Done That

31 August 2008 3 Comments

Hi All,

This was a mail shared a professor by name RNS. This was composed by one of his students. (IIMB alumni)

Dear Class of 2010,

“The unfortunate part about the rat race is that at the end of the race, even the winner is a rat.”

I read this statement in my second year when I was flying down from Mumbai post my summers. And I wished that I had read it earlier. When I look back at my first year at IIMB, it really seems I could have done without the unnecessary pressure and the tension that defined my existence for that one year. All of you are immensely talented and that is why you have been able to make it to this great institution. You might have been amongst the toppers of your university, a star performer in your organization but if you pause at your lunch table and look around you, every single one of your batch mates are the same. You are the crème de la crème (as clichéd as it may sound) of India. But the question I want you to ask yourself, “Do I have the guts, to follow my own heart even if it means swimming against the crowd?”

I know I didn’t in my first year.

When I landed in IIMB I never for once thought it would be a piece of cakewalk but frankly I wasn’t prepared for what I faced. We were taken to a team building exercise outside campus and it was evident from there that no one is ready to even spare an inch of space to another. The first day of class was a horror story in itself. Every single occupant of L 22 was as taut as a fully stretched string of a bow ready to pounce and claim supremacy in what should have been a discussion amongst an equally talented peer group. To be frank, I did not think of it that objectively as I can do today. That night in my room I could only sense one thing. “In order to beat them, join them.” And so I did; rather tried to do. Funny as it may seem, today when my batch mates and I sit and talk we often end up realizing how foolish we had been thinking that it was the need of the hour.

So began a year of CP, arbit CP, some more arbit CP, ‘RG giri’ and being miserable. I never could appreciate what Modigliani and Miller were trying to tell me but Aaker made perfect sense. Identifying Kapferar Prism was more interesting than financial modeling. Yet, in order to ensure that I was running in the race, I kept on cramming things I did not like. And soon I began to hate them. But then, in the race you had to keep on running. Often I realized that somewhere it was not me. I had never lived my life in this way. For the first time I was worrying if I was being left behind. My reading took a huge hit. Photography became a forgotten passion. The only thing that kept me going was perhaps my interactions with Media as part of SMC. And of course Arbit and Bracket. Summers was an eye opener. It helped me realize that in order to be successful and happy in a profession, you need to have a motivation. For some the motivation will be money, for some it will be the liking for their job. Anything else like the ecstasy of beating everyone else to a ‘hot’ firm as its only recruit from campus is extremely short lived.

I know it’s easy to give gyaan once you are out of the system, but it also means that there are certain pitfalls I’ve learnt that which you can swerve across as you ride your dream for the next two years. I was speaking to Aalap, my batch mate and now my colleague and here’s what we call the 5 Routes in your Pursuit of Happiness.

1. If you can’t who can? – You might be the only one in the batch wanting to specialize in HR but you see everyday that there are no HR consults coming in, the companies that come do not recruit here for their HR functions. It becomes easy to forgo your dream and apply for other consults saying, “I am sure to have HR process reengineering assignments.” Yes, it will be frustrating to go against the flow; the money will not be the same but as I said if you can’t be bold enough to follow your dreams who can? I remember a senior of mine who went into interviews, cracked them and then popped the bomb, “but I want to join only HR function of your organization.” She’s one of the happiest professionals I know.

2. Rediscover the Joy of Learning – When you were in kindergarten, you didn’t learn a new word to impress the teacher there. You did it because you loved doing it. You challenged your teacher every time. Why should it be any different now? Challenge. For this will help your ideas become question-proof. Every single subject is there because it can teach you something new. If you study for CP, and put CP for the sake of CP, you will not only irritate the class and the professor, you will start losing out on the learning. On the other hand, if you’re looking at the case based on the past readings (professors have a reason for keeping the readings and cases in a specific order), you might come up with the most brilliant insight that could get you to the top of the bunch. Remember, the biggest talker doesn’t get the highest CP.

3. Prepare the base and then fire full throttle – The first two terms are when you must discover which aspects of your curriculum you like. Treat them well for you never know when they will come in handy. In the last one week I have received 5 calls from consult batch mates with questions on FMCG, retailing and distribution. My day is spent often working out Capex requirements and Gross Margin Calculations as that’s an integral part of managing a Brand. But once you have done the basic courses, go gung ho on choosing your electives in the field that you aspire to be in. I know on account of being in the Academic Council how illogically the best brains in the country choose their electives – heavy workload, tough professor, sounds good on the resume. If you want to be a generalist, by all means do that but then don’t be so only if you do not get MBFI or FSA allotted to you. It’s like reading a newspaper. If you feel like you would like to know what happens next in this story tomorrow, you are most likely to follow it today. Don’t hedge. There will always be a good market for people who like what they do.

4. Put in the Rigour – Don’t bluff in your assignments, don’t plagiarize, don’t put global frameworks and motherhood statements. If anyone wanted to hire someone who knows Porter’s 5 forces framework, they’ll get them dime a dozen. An employer wants someone who can apply that framework and can work with rigour fitting in the missing pieces. That’s what you will be assessed on both in your courses and later in life.

5. Stop to look at the trees in full bloom – Unwind at times. Visit L^2. Professors are often kind enough not to pop a quiz on the morning after an L^2. Make friends because when you are posted in Bihar, Boston or Bangkok and need a shoulder to rest your head on, you might never find one. Don’t network, if you are not the type. It’s no use crowding around a senior after a PPT and asking ‘doubts’ if you don’t have any genuine ones. But don’t go running for the pizzas and show how unprofessional you are. One of my placeus threatened me at gun point to go and ask questions to a partner in a consulting firm since no one seemed interested. Being called the “Globe God” had its disadvantages.

So, as they say in Bengalooru, chill maadi, follow your heart and do what you want to do. The ultimate decision of your life must be taken based on you and you alone.

Yours truly,




  • AM said:

    1. Yeah, it’s always easy to curse after it’s all over,

    2. But even then, gyan is gyan. I needed some of it, thanks.

  • Prashant said:

    Good article Sundar. Thanks for sharing it.,. The rat race ensures that the individualistic fire in each one of the person, gets extinguished.,.

    yet easier said than done.,. its a part of learning process ! 🙂

  • Shruti said:

    Banjoda. God level. Banjo rocks.