My NUS MBA

Srikanth from the class of 2008, talks about how his MBA helps him in his every day work as a consultant.

First up, let me welcome you all to one of the most exciting MBA programs around the world. You have indeed made a wise choice and I wish you all the very best as you begin your roller-coaster ride in this truly dynamic environment – Singapore.

To introduce myself, I hold an under-graduate degree in engineering and I used to work for Infosys before I came in for my Full-time MBA in August 2006. Subsequently, I landed an internship at IBM Singapore in Summer 2007. I converted this opportunity into a full-time offer later. Since graduating in May 2008, I have been working as a Senior Consultant in the Strategy & Change team at IBM Global Business Services.

If someone asks me “What role does a student closely imitate most of the time during his MBA?” my answer would be quick and straight – Consultant. That I am actually performing this role now is just one of the reasons. There are many more that I hope to elaborate by the end of this article.

1. I know that! >> Right from the day I began my MBA, I had to work on things that I did not have any idea about. For our Corporate Strategy class, we had to analyse the business strategy of Starbucks and subsequently had to use Porter’s Five Forces analysis to substantiate our opinions. If that sounds manageable, think about analyzing the logging industry supply chain and coming up with a pricing strategy for a legal-logging certification service provider – we did that as our Channels and Pricing project. These are industries that none of us had any practical experience in. That did not matter – work had to be done. As a consultant, you would have to work with clients from varying industries. Within the short time available, you need to put in all the effort to understand the client’s business and their operating context. This needs to happen in the background. Needless to say, you need to interact, communicate and understand the client’s specific needs. For that to happen effectively, what happens behind the scenes is critical. If you can see the similarity, you need to know the difference as well. In the industry, stakes are high and real. What you perceive, perform and propose to the client will impact the client’s business. You need to be aware of it all the time.

2. Face the heat >> You might have experienced this already. In our case, we had an accounting workshop and a follow-up test within two weeks of joining the program. With no background in accounting whatsoever, it was a struggle for me (and many others) to get to grips with what was happening around. During the second semester, the course overload was taking its toll on one side. There were presentations and case studies to be completed all the time. On top of that, we participated in three business plan competitions and those came in with their own deadlines. It was pressure situation with high levels of stress constantly. A consultant’s life is no different from that. There could be cases when you are involved in multiple client engagements. Your quantum of work would usually kick off many other offshoot initiatives and projects. Due to that reason, you will always work with tight and short deadlines. You might not even realize when you wrap up with one engagement and the next one is waiting with the wings. And don’t have any doubts about that – it would be red hot as you step in.

3. You gotta convince me >> It happened in every class. The debates and discussions were never ending and the class participation aspect only made it more prominent. I still remember our Corporate Strategy project on Walmart. Our team got so involved in the preparation and the presentation that all of us were defending Walmart’s strategy when we did not have any reason (or incentive) to do that. All because, we wanted to prove to the audience that our opinion and analysis was right and why we think Walmart would only go in a certain way in the future. I’m not sure if we did achieve our objective but we tried – to convince everyone. It happened in business plan competitions as well. We had a sound business idea and we backed it up with a concrete value proposition. But judges in these competitions came in with loads of experience. Some of them were venture capitalists and others were stalwarts from the industry (which we were trying to penetrate). No matter what their question was – we had an answer to it. We at least tried to have one. As a consultant, you will mostly be working on short assignments that have specific objectives. However, due to the timelines and the availability of information (or the lack of it), your findings will be context-dependent. When you bring those in front of the client, usually the C-suite occupants and senior executives, you can be rest assured that you’ll be bombarded with questions and clarifications. Here is where you will need to use your skills from the MBA again. You will have to prepare for all such questions and give convincing responses to your client. Once again, this is real – your preparations and clarifications need to be factual and dependable.

4. People (means) power >> When we joined the program, we had nearly 20 different nationalities. In terms of distribution, we were highly skewed towards India and China – not a surprise. However, we did have representation all the way from the US till Japan. Our instructors used various tactics to get us to form teams for the coursework. Many a times, we were let free to choose our teammates. Over time, I ended up in teams of varying compositions and had a chance to work with people from different nationalities. This made me aware of the cultural and behavioral nuances of people from different parts of the world. This, to me, is a key trait – not just for a consultant, but to any aspiring global leader. Being able to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds is a very important skill. During my first professional assignment, I had team members from Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, China and Malaysia in my team. Since then, each one of my teams has had at least four nationalities. When we go in front of the client, this combination gets more colourful. My last client team had people from South Africa, Germany and Australia. That I had an understanding and experience with people from many of these countries earlier during my MBA certainly helped. I believe this could be the nature of many professional teams – especially if you are looking for a career in Singapore. This is simply due to the multi-cultural nature of the society. Make all the effort to get to know people from as many cultures and backgrounds as possible. On the lighter side, it might even help you in choosing a fine Irish bar or a spicy Mexican restaurant in Singapore.

There could be many more aspects from your MBA that come in handy in your career as a Consultant. However, as I perform my role every day, I get reminded of these things very often and how my MBA is helping me in my profession. Keep these in mind all the time as you make your way through this maze. All said, don’t forget to practise for those case interviews – after all, you need to get your feet in to experience all these yourself. Wish you all the very best!!

Srikanth Sridharan
Class of 2008