Karan Pradeep is a management professional with eight years of experience in multinational businesses including Food and Beverages as well as Automotives. He finished his Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and entered the corporate environment. He reaches for new heights as he carves out his career path in the corporate world, one challenge at a time. Karan is excited about encouraging young talent and is available as a mentor with Careers Infinite.
What drove you to pursue management studies after mechanical engineering?
Frankly, the idea of an MBA arose when some of my friends were preparing for CAT. During the final year of engineering, I was not very clear about what I wanted to do. I had a job offer from an automotive company through campus placements. But I still wanted to give MBA a shot. So, I took up the CAT for the first time then, with the assurance that I had a back-up option. I did not make the cut-off that year, so went to work.
While at work, the person in charge of Graduate Engineer Trainees (GETs) became a mentor to me. I guess he is also my role model when I try to help others today. He was in a position to assess my strengths and weaknesses, because during the training period of about 6 months, he was constantly interacting with us day and night. He made sure that he shared his candid feedback with me, and his feedback played a big role in my choices. He identified my strengths around sales and leadership. This input played a critical role in my choice of function within the automotive company after training and led me to take up marketing rather than R&D.
Moreover, having lived a major part of my life in Chennai, he recommended that I should look to get exposure outside Chennai. This input played a key role in my choice of Hyderabad for my first posting in the company. He also recommended that an MBA would be a better option for me than an MS or an ME. That put things in perspective for me and gave me the motivation when I started preparing for CAT again.
How long does it take for an individual to settle down in the management field?
It is not a ‘one size fits all’ kind of a thing. I believe that each person charts their own path and timelines in this career. In my case, I consider myself lucky because the choices I have made and the path I have taken have not left me with any regrets, but not everyone might have that kind of luck. Some people start out with a clear understanding of what they want; but for some, it may take many years and multiple learning curves to figure it out.
Ideally, I would say that the starting point would be around 9th or 10th standard, when, as students, we can start evaluating potential career options and weigh them against each other. I started out thinking of myself as a veterinary doctor, and after multiple course corrections I am here today. Once we start evaluating careers, some options get eliminated easily. A big help at this time would be to reach out to people in those career fields that interest us and ask questions about their work. This can help students get some information around what the career option entails in terms of studies, options in India or abroad and, essentially, the pros and cons. Over time, I have realized that it is also important for us to make our own decisions rather than blindly relying on others to decide for us because, when it is our decision, we will even give our 150 %, and this applies to education and career choices also. In short, look at your options, evaluate them and then decide. Once you have a clear idea, then the rest will start falling in place.
What are the most important skills, for a management professional, which are not taught in school?
In my opinion, first and most important is people skills. It is extremely essential, and I’m still learning it. It’s not an easy skill to develop and not at all an easy one to master. People skills does not just mean teamwork and cooperating with others, but also means learning to say no where necessary and learning to say the same diplomatically. This is all the more difficult because we are neither culturally trained for it nor taught about it in school.
The next thing is shaking off the expectation we put on ourselves to understand things completely right at the start. We generally do not step into a business knowing everything and most of the time everybody is aware of the same. In case they are not, tell them openly. For instance, I was very unsure when I started out in my company. But, one of the things I did was ask questions fearlessly when I didn’t understand something. Some of the questions I asked were so stupid that many colleagues remember me for the same, but the questions helped because they let people know where I was in the learning curve and aided my understanding of things so that when I had to make decisions, I was confident about them.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career so far?
My challenges have been in terms of developing and applying the skills that I have just talked about. It has been hard to learn and practice saying “no” to people, especially in our Indian environment. Also, initially, I had found interactions, particularly with international delegates, to be challenging. I felt that it helps to spend some time in researching and understanding their cultural aspects. It may not be essential to greet someone from another country in their native ways; but it certainly goes a long way in leaving a lasting impression and fostering a good relationship, if you do. Small things matter!!
What’s your opinion on the work-life balance offered by your career?
In my opinion, this balance is mostly an individual’s comfort level and by extension mostly an individual’s responsibility. Some people choose to work for most of their day. They do it because they want to do it, not because the company forces them to. That’s the kind of balance that works for them. As far as I’m concerned, I like to go to work and be back at a reasonable time so that I don’t waste much of it traveling. Of course, it helps that my company offers me the flexibility to adjust my timings according to my schedule.
What’s your view on mentorship?
In my case, I consider myself very lucky to have two amazing mentors. They have given me clarity and sound inputs at crucial times in my career. But, mentors are not people you talk to every month about your work and ask for counsel. They are people you can talk to when you have a question or problem to solve and need a fresh perspective or a sounding board. Obviously, they are people who are very good at what they do and do not mind spending some time for you, although the only benefit they get is the satisfaction from being of help. For school students, it is advisable to reach out to people in different fields, more specifically the ones that they are interested in. When students are finishing up studies and are planning their entry into or about to enter the workforce, they will really appreciate the observations and objective advice from a mentor. It is always good to have a mentor you are comfortable opening up to.
What is your advice to students of business management?
The end result of a business course is that it structures the way you think and the way you approach a problem. My advice is to focus on the tools that the course gives you rather than the method of teaching, because it varies among schools. Some teach through case studies, some through theory, and some others through industrial visits. But, you are not learning a lot of technical material like, say, mechanical engineering. The “structured approach” that you learn does not change much even if the problem itself changes, and I have found this useful in both, my professional and personal life.