Interview: Abhinav Ravikumar (EEE – 2008)
A brief description of your current job profile and previous ones.
I did my MBA from IIM Kozhikode and I got an internship at Hindustan Unilever Limited and I also got a PPO there. I’ve been with Hindustan Unilever Limited for 6 years now. I’ve had three roles here after a year of training: I was in Sales for 2 years, then I was the Trade Category Manager for another 2 years and now I’m the Brand Manager for Rin and Sunlight.
Did NITT equip you with the skills that you needed to reach where you are?
During my third year, I realised that engineering in EEE was probably not what I wanted to make a career out of. During my third year, I had gotten an internship at Lehman Brothers. This was back in 2008 and they were one of the most coveted companies that used to come to campus for internships. They used to pay around a lakh per month.
I thought I had landed my dream role and about two weeks later the company crashed. That was one of the biggest lessons for me – to not just be happy with what you have.
At college, I made sure I managed my academics and was ranked second in the department. At the same time, I also involved myself in a lot of extracurricular activities. I was a part of Rotaract, Pragyan and Currents. Anything that had to do with managing and organizing, I was a part of it. I’d actually recommend students to participate and be a part of teams to learn as much as possible because NITT gives you the chance to do that. There are very few colleges that have a representation from almost every single state in the country. You can learn a lot if you just get involved. I learnt a lot leading Pragyan as the Chairman, making sure the vision was not compromised at any stage. In a company there is a sense of hierarchy but in fests and such committees you’re working with your batchmates and people don’t have any obligation to do the work; you’ve got to make it happen. It gave me a sense of responsibility at a very young age. However, it’s very crucial to not neglect your acads as it shows commitment on your side.
Did you do any online courses during B.Tech and do you think they’re useful?
I was very interested in Finance during my college days and there was this course by the National Stock Exchange (NSE) which was quite interesting. It helped me understand the world of finance and stock markets. In hindsight, you never know when and where the knowledge you gain will help you. Though I’m not doing anything finance related, it helps me make my investment decisions now. You have a lot of time during your bachelors to pursue your interests and you should definitely try learning as much as possible through any medium.
Do you think certifications like CFA help you in your career?
Certifications like CFA help you gain knowledge. For someone looking to pursue a career in Finance, CFA has become a norm. But you need to keep in mind that ultimately people don’t hire you because you have a CFA certification but because of what you are and what you’ve done in your life. They don’t recruit you for only what’s there on your CV but also for what you add to the dynamics of the team. It’s not always that the people with the best CV’s get the best jobs. You can do CFA to add an extra dimension.
What should students know before taking up management studies?
In my case, I was very clear about the fact that I didn’t want to take up a career in engineering. I saw management as being a jack of all trades. In management, you need to know something about everything.
I’d say if you want to pursue management, you need to have an unquenchable thirst for learning and inquisitiveness. The thirst to understand everything that’s happening around you is crucial.
People management is the second important aspect. You alone cannot do the work of your team. A great manager is not defined by his work but by the work of his team. Each person is different and has different triggers. As a leader, it becomes your job to understand what motivates them and you should also learn to give them their space to perform. This is something you get to learn in college by working in teams. You have to handle your juniors and your peers. Managing peers is very crucial as here the hierarchy doesn’t come into play. You have to understand what they require from you and see their version of things.
How useful is work experience before pursuing an MBA?
For an MBA, it only helps if you have relevant work experience. Don’t just do a job for the sake of work experience. For example, IT experience when you want to pursue finance doesn’t really make sense. If you’re clear about doing an MBA later, I would suggest working in a startup or in a role that aligns with your future interests. Even if it pays less, it’s better to stick with it rather than doing something completely unrelated to what you want to do in the future.
How would you compare doing an MBA in India to doing it abroad?
When I was in college I was really fascinated with the idea of doing my MBA abroad. It opens doors for you globally and gives you the option of working with companies around the world. The advantage of an MBA from abroad is that your peer group will be from different countries. It gives you a global perspective. Doing an MBA in India is much cheaper. Also, the decision depends on the industry you want to work in. If you want to work in an FMCG company or in a General Management role, India is a good option. On the other hand, if you want to work in the Tech or IT industry, it makes sense to go abroad. In the end, it’s a matter of personal choice depending on which industry you want to work in or where you see yourself settling down.
What is your work life like at HUL?
I look at my life right now as an extension of college. There’s a lot that I learn every single day HUL hires the best students and naturally, the conversations that I have on an everyday basis with my peer group is very intellectually stimulating and it pushes me a lot. The people that I work with are very responsible and accountable for their work and there’s never a need to enforce timings or such things. HUL gives a lot of responsibility at a young age which helps you learn a lot. Currently, I’m 28 and I’m handling a 2500 crore brand in the country. I make all the decisions for the brand I’m handling. If it grows or it doesn’t, it’s on me. At the same time, it’s a very competitive environment. A lot of CEO’s of other companies have had HUL background and that says something! HUL is the place to be if you want to work in an FMCG or work in a general management role.
Did your learning at NITT help you?
My EEE knowledge isn’t of much use but other things that I’ve learnt through involving myself in extracurricular activities are immensely helpful in terms of managing people and handling uncertainty. Even today, I find myself giving examples to my team based on certain situations I handled during Pragyan or Currents. At IIM, this one prof wanted us to talk about our work experience. Needless to say, freshers didn’t have much to say. However, I spoke for about half an hour about my experience as Chairman of Pragyan – managing the crowd, the work, the outreaches, the actual fest and tackling the challenge of Trichy as a location.
How do you decide if a particular job is for you?
To be honest, I didn’t put much thought into it. HUL was one of the first companies that came for internships and I got a PPO there. Fortunately, I like what I’m doing. My advice would be to talk to seniors working at the company. Get an idea of what a day on the job is like. Get an idea of the level of freedom you have in expanding your profile. Try to find out the kind of people you’re going to be working with because after a point, that’ll be a very crucial aspect of your job itself.
Is it worth learning to code for someone not looking to pursue a technical role?
YES. I would suggest whatever role you’re going for, it’s always helpful to know basic coding. It has become as critical as learning to read and write.
Is there anything more that the T&P can do for students?
I think organizing more industry interaction would be my suggestion. Also, if it’s possible for them to provide alumni contacts in companies that you’re shortlisted for, it would be really helpful. They should bring down people who’ve worked along different verticals to come talk to students and have a conversation like we’re having now.
Is there anything that you wish you knew in your final year, in hindsight?
During my time, there was a lot of pressure regarding the third year internship. I didn’t do one and I was really worried that it would hold me back but looking back now, it didn’t. If I could go back now, I would tell myself not to worry too much about that. But I don’t know what the job situation and career perspective are like now at NITT. So, I wouldn’t give that advice without knowing that. It’s always important to have industry exposure. But other than that, the generic advice – enjoy your life in final year! Don’t worry too much.