The story of Shastry, the typical MBA from a typical IIM, who comes back from Africa looking for the ideal job.
I stood leaning forward, with my hands on the balcony rail on the roof of my uncle's home in the beach city of Visakhapatnam, as two gentle sea breezes played lovers' hide-and-seek in the mustard fields of my hair, and my thoughts were, "What now?"
I had just come back from two very eventful, immensely enjoyable, and definitely unique years in Africa – having spent the first 6 months in the "Switzerland of Uganda" Rukungiri buying coffee beans (yeah coffee beans are not born roasted from their mothers' wombs….they are born as green and innocent as any other bean…it's the harsh world of caffeine addicts that makes them dry and black and brittle…so next time you are sipping that fresh, hot cappuccino over whose steams you are falling into the haze of your girlfriend's eyes, remember you are savoring the crushed, burnt corpse of a once happy, young, moisture-laden green bean) and the remaining 18 watching big strong African village lads standing in suspended cocoon-like jute bags and stuff 250 odd kgs of fluffy white cotton into them with the sheer force of their stamping feet. Yeah, they were interesting years no doubt. But now I was back in India.
My letter of resignation said, "Personal reasons", but the ruthless rumor-humor of friends said "political reasons", "humanitarian reasons" and even "maternal/paternal reasons". Whatever the reason, I was back in India, with an experience that did not lend itself to any easy classification – was it a Sales experience? No definitely not, I was not selling anything; was it Procurement then – well, that leaves out so much, I was not just negotiating prices and deciding quantities, I was a little more than a mere haggler. I felt – did not know – what it was, but definitely knew what it was not. It was not consulting – after all I was doing something concrete and practical and actual work for the money I was getting paid. It was not I-banking, it was not any kind of banking, it was not any kind of finance. The only word that seemed to fit, and yet fit just about as a swim- suit would fit Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was "general management". Which essentially meant I could apply for any non-finance roles, and be rejected by any of them. Which job should I apply for, what kind of a role should I seek now? What profile would it be that would suck deep into my inner talent, the things that make me different and promising, and make my job a fulfilling expression of myself and also pay me well for it? So, there I stood on the railing of the balcony wondering ……
"What now, where next?"
Since I was myself so unsure – or in a good MBA's words, "open to diverse opportunities" – I decided to speak to my friends from B (yeah, that's the modest moniker for IIMB that all we IIMBians use so proudly….and wear down much in the very hackneyed "To B or not to B is the question") who were all proud dacoits in the different ravines of the corporate Chambal. And what unfolded was way beyond – or more correctly, beneath – all my expectations.
I wanted to know the Truth about all jobs.
My quest for the big T (which is often as monstrous and savage as the other big T – the T Rex) started in Hyderabad. I spent about 15 days there at my dear friend Pondy's - who is also known in some secret circles (such as home and family) as Kedar Deshpande – pad. Now, Pondy had just spent 2 years being the spearhead of sales for Colgate Palmolive in such happening places as Jharkhand. The experience no doubt toughened him, but seemed to have left him pretty swollen too. Now Pondy and I were part of the huge contingent of people who are led to believe – themselves as much as by other people - that we are meant for a career in Sales & Marketing. We are energetic, like interacting with people, gel well in teams and are creative (atleast the illusions and allusions are there). Ipso facto – Sales & Marketing. Little did we realize then that what people actually meant, and what – in all probability - we actually were was "unable to sit quiet for any decent span of time, do nothing but talk the most worthless of things with the most brainless of people, evade personal accountability under the thick cloak of teamwork and can't think straight about anything (for e.g., the kind of people who would start tittering lecherously at the mention of perfectly harmless things as "bananas" and "candles"….now, now, now…we never said this blog was for kids…)
By all those definitions, if somebody was ever meant for a career in Sales & Marketing, it was Pondy. His earlier stint in Jharkhand was littered with stimulating intellectual evening discussions over Honey Bee whisky with The Sarwade (My God!!? He deserves the "The", he is one unique, funny character, who doesn't even know he is funny….he just knows that he is humorous…but then, about him and his learnings some other time in some other blog) – Pondy was in Visakhapatnam. There he had displayed his intense interest in local cultures and languages by learning Telugu so as to be able to flirt with his Telugu landlord's daughter. But whatever, the crux of the point is that, Pondy was a guy seriously meant for Sales & Marketing.
And Pondy had just quit his Sales job with Colgate Palmolive to join the Strategy cell at Dr. Reddy's Labs. Probably the only non-finance, non-consult job which is the just the anti-thesis of a sales job – less talk, more thought, and no teams, no travelling, no adrenaline rushes with the regularity of monthly periods in the closing days of a month. And he had quit because he had become quite frustrated and disillusioned with his sales job. His words – "its just routine, mind numbing, maddening, feverish rush after the sales figures, just numbers which start to exercise a cabala-like blinding spell over you".
Trust Pondy to use colourful, and too many words than necessary.
Nevertheless, he had made his point. He made me aware to the fact that many of the Sales-in-our-blood-guys were beginning to reel when Sales started to suck the blood from them. In the more rustic, but equally imaginative words of Andy (alias Abhishek Anand, yet another "typical-sales-guy" character from B), the Castrol lubes seemed to draw the bright redness of their colour from his ass-blood during month closings.
Andy was ASM for Castrol during his post-B formative years.
I spoke to quite a few other guys in Sales at that time, and realized very few of them were happy. Keeping aside the few of them who were born unhappy, the rest are fairly reasonably well balanced people. So, the realization slowly rose to the upper, conscious levels of my mind, that Sales was not a place where people have found the satisfaction they desired from their work. For Sales people, Work had not proven to be worship. If anything, it felt more like sacrificial slaughter.
Next, I turned to my friends in the hallowed (and often accused of being "hollowed") gardens of Consultancy.
Their reactions, and my learnings thereof, in the next blog.
[Deep thanks to Balaji Telefilms for letting me filch the title of one of their lachrymose serials – Kya Hoga Nimmo Ka. Aap bhi dekhein, dil ko choo lene wali, Nimmo ki dukh bhari kahani on STAR One, Monday to Thursday at 10 pm]