Interview: Ponni M Concesso (Archi-1987)

Please state your current profile and explain your profile.
After Architecture at NIT Trichy, I did my masters at Cornell University. I also did an advanced professional program for mid-career professionals at Harvard University. I then worked with the Washington DC historic preservation trust. I did an internship with the Yonkers planning bureau, which is in upstate New York. I also worked with Edward Barnes, John Lee in NYC. Then, I came back to India and set up my company 22 years ago. We are a multi-disciplinary architecture firm and we do crores and crores of square feet every year. I practice along with my husband, Oscar Concesso, who is also an alumnus of NITT.
I would describe my career trajectory as being an interesting and high profile. In the process, I’ve learned a lot. I’m also involved in academia. I do a lot of mentoring for thesis students all over the country. I also lecture and our firm incidentally has just won the 91st award. I was also the first woman DA awardee from NITT. I was also very lucky to get it from Abdul Kalam in 2014.

How was the experience of setting up your own company?
Both my siblings have settled abroad and I’ve got a lot of relatives who live there. When I said I wanted to come back to India, they thought I was nuts. Coming from a very systematic culture to a very asymmetric culture was very difficult. Clients here are very unprofessional as well. The other issue I faced was sexism. Oscar being with me was a great help because people said if she screws up, she’s got a husband behind her.
So in terms of logistics and being a woman architect, I had to face huge hurdles. No one even took me seriously. But over the years, we built a very good client base. We work with corporates, multinationals, politicians and individual professionals. It’s a varied portfolio. The beginning was difficult. It took 5 years to settle in. It was very challenging but the minute you establish a name and people realize you have talent then it is easier to get accepted.
You have to be brand conscious if you want to be successful. You can have a low profile brand that is probably better than the high profile one but a brand is a brand. And you can sell things with a brand name. I consciously chose the colleges I studied In based on their brand and same goes for the firms that I worked with. When I came to India, I wrote down a list of 20 individuals and corporations that I wanted to work with and that was my starting point.

What is the extent one should go to find a balance between work satisfaction and monetary satisfaction?
I feel, if you pick up a field you’re “good” at, you automatically get the satisfaction of working and earning money. If you pick a field you’re good at, you’ll enjoy it and make money.
You have to consciously identify a field you’re good in. Don’t just pick it because someone else is doing it.

What are the soft skills to be acquired in work culture?
Communication and body language. Speaking good English is extremely critical. Etiquette, courtesy, understanding the culture of a nation are important too. For example, when I go West, I have to be aggressive. But when I do business in India, I have to not be terribly aggressive because it puts clients off.

What are some things that NITT taught you?
If you’re enrolled in NITT, it automatically means you’re gifted with a certain level of IQ, which is rather high. Prior to NITT, I studied at an extremely elite school. So I came in with quite a few insecurities and negative qualities. But the environment here encourages you so much. Today my classmates in Church Park can barely recognize me.
Another thing NITT taught me was that, don’t focus on your negative skills. Focus on your positive skills. There are certain things that you can’t change about yourself. So it’s important to work around things. The good thing about NITT is that it pushes you to be ambitious.

Why do people get bored (occasionally, even if not always) with the jobs they wanted in the first place?
Because they’re doing something that’s not good for them or something that they like. Let’s say you’re an artist and you’re working in an IT field, you’re going to get bored because the creative side of you doesn’t like monotony. It’s a question of identifying what you like and what you like may not be what the situation you’re in right now. So you have to engineer the situation for you to go into a field that you like.
You also need to be frank with yourself. What you like may not bemoney generating so you need to figure out a way for yourself to pursue that. There’s a course called decision making science and risk management. Indian men are not taught that. We are not taught how to make informed decisions but Americans are taught this in their UG level.

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