Do we have our ideas of success and failure all wrong?
Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Rejected.
Thus began my professional life.
Placement week at the end of an MBA can be a brutal brush with reality. I faced more rejections and failure in four days than I had in the previous 24 years. Every evening, after being rejected, I returned to my room, almost amazed that I had failed to convince even one company to hire me. As each day passed and more of my batchmates were getting placed, the desperation amongst those left behind only increased. I recall that one evening, I considered ditching placements and doing something else: I used to moonlight for a youth magazine during my engineering days, and now considered working there full-time. Another evening, the mood was that of defiance: I wrote out a statement of revenge (“By 2010, I will…”) against those companies that had rejected me.
Getting the Job
I was crazy about getting a marketing job. Just as much as I loved marketing, I used to find the idea of management consulting very phoney; suited-booted consultants giving gyan without any idea of how things actually worked! I was rejected by every single marketing company that I had applied to, even those very low down in the pecking order. Call it the irony of life, or what you will, but the only recruiter that made me a job offer was Tata Strategic Management Group (TSMG), a management consulting firm!
TSMG was not really on my radar. Even when they came over for a pre-placement talk, I attended reluctantly. Raju Bhinge, the CEO, spoke about the transformation that was underway within the Tata group with Ratan Tata at its helm and how TSMG was poised to play an important role. I remembered someone joking about getting a chance to meet Mr Tata if one joined them. “Why not!” I thought amusedly while sending my application to TSMG, even though it was a “consulting” firm.
On the fifth day of that week, my first interview was for a marketing role with a popular food company; at the end of the interview, the company's HR head said that they liked me but would want to meet other candidates before they made a decision. Meanwhile, I was called for an interview with TSMG. After almost an hour of discussion, Mr Bhinge said he would make an offer on the condition that I was willing to confirm my acceptance immediately. He didn't want to leave the campus and find that I had taken up some other job. I had to make a split-second decision, and I said yes.
Just as I stepped out, I got a message that the food company wanted to meet me. The HR head greeted me profusely and welcomed me to his company. I didn't know what to do. Here was a job that I thought I wanted, however, I had made a promise just a few minutes earlier. Another split-second decision to make. I thanked him for his offer, but said that I could not accept it because I had already said yes to another company and did not want to begin my career with a lie.
For many months, I wondered if I had been impulsive and pondered over what things would be like if I had chosen the career option that I dreamt of. On the other hand, I began to like what I was doing. I realised that I enjoyed problem solving and my job as a consultant enabled me to work in and learn about a variety of business situations. At TSMG, work wasn’t all global gyan (oops!); for our Tata clients, we were in-house partners with a high degree of accountability for results. And yes, I did get to meet Mr Tata soon enough.
Looking back, the biggest lesson I learnt from that day was that we often have our narratives of failure and success all mixed up. While we must have clear goals to chase, we must also not be so rigid that we fail to pursue alternate paths that might present themselves. Further, we can either mope about what wasn’t, or make a greater success of what is. During my years with the Tata group, I worked on a diverse and wonderful portfolio of projects. Not only did I get a chance to meet Mr Tata, I was also fortunate enough to work closely with him for some time. Even now, I get goosebumps thinking that I had almost frittered away that opportunity. What was surely a life-altering moment in my career was the outcome of sheer luck.
Failure taught me adaptability and humility.
In business, as in personal life, we have to deal with failure of some sort regularly. Anyone who wishes away failure or claims not to have failed is lying. How we deal with failure and learn from it is the only thing that matters. Through this column, we intend to share business failure stories from our experts and guests, so that we may not fail in the same way that others have. And don’t forget to share your own unique failure stories for others to learn.
(Think Business is a weekly column powered by GlobalGyan Academy, that will offer in depth views and analysis on business strategy, finance, leadership, innovation, culture and values.)
Srinivasa Addepalli is the founder & CEO of GlobalGyan, and advises corporates in the areas of strategy, leadership, and M&A. Srini was earlier the Chief Strategy Officer of Tata Communications. Srini is the author of several business case studies and articles. His case study on business ethics was the winner of the ISB-Ivey Global Case Competition 2014.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)