Career & Perspectives of Alums

“In actual life, every great enterprise begins with and takes its forward step in faith.”

–  August Wilhelm von Schlegel

Consulting includes varied types of activities. Many establishments along with their members often interpret these applications in different ways. One of the many ways where the activities can hence be classified is in terms of the professional’s area of expertise. They can be in various forms such as human resources, corporate strategy, competitive analysis or even operations management.

Let’s get to know the story of one such successful entrepreneur Mr. Viswanath Gopalakrishnan, PGP 1984, an OD consultant who gave up a flourishing corporate career to start his own consulting firm to seek newer experiences, learn and grow, and to be confident about the future while putting his experience and thought processes to work at helping people. After working as a software engineer, a customer support executive, product manager and HR manager in the succeeding years, Viswanath decided that 13 years in 3 organizations (the last 2 MNCs) was sufficient experience to begin a venture of his own. 2 decades later, he enjoys his work as an OD consultant, Coach and Trainer, with newer and ever-expanding areas ahead of him to explore.

Q: Who/What inspired you to start off with your own consulting firm? Can you tell me more about your role and background?

At the time I completed the PGDM in ’84, I was a keen techie. In reality, – a non-techie who just learnt stuff on the job and with help from a very good consultant – in my pre-IIM Chennai days. This was the start of the microcomputers in the late 70s – early 80s.

Post IIM, I continued to think I was a techie until 4 years into my job I realized that I was missing something. And as it turned out, it was the people connection – a role in which I was in touch with people and as I now recognize it – a ‘service’ oriented role – helping people in some way or other. In 1988 I jumped into HR and it has been 29 years since then and am I glad I made that shift!

6 years later (when I was well and truly entrenched in an HR Manager’s role), I realized again that something was missing and this time it was not merely helping but getting to the depths of what is helpful and what is not. Delving into Behavioral science following 2 of my IIM-B Professors – G K Valecha and S K Roy – was the best thing I did. And for sure I wasn’t ready to be an independent consultant. But I still decided to jump off the corporate ship without any clients, strategies, certifications, or a PhD and into the world of learning and development which keeps me engaged even today.

Q: What were the initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?

Classical initial hurdles were uncertainties about my own competence, doubts about whether customers would buy what I had to offer and the challenges of acquiring business (how does one go about meeting and making myself known). ‘Experiential learning’ in particular was even less known in the mid-90s.

One of the flagship workshops that our firm (I had partners almost right from the beginning of my consulting career) offered was the use of the wilderness for Outbound learning. Outbound learning workshops of that era were really tough. And bringing insights from those experiences was an amazing job! We let nature help us create all kinds of situations which then brought in uncertainty and that was just what we needed to see how groups respond. Groups loved the workshops we conducted and many customers became quite fond of doing outbound. To give you an example, one Manager said right at the start of the Outbound “Since the last time I came for an outbound, many of my team members have quit. I want to understand what I can do differently this time?”

Q: What excites you about entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is about challenging oneself – no matter what is happening in the outside world. Beyond the regular work, there is the challenge of what can one newly offer. There are no right answers and no one to tell you that you are on the right track. However, there is a whole world you can consult with and then decide the route you’re going to take. Lastly, it is about taking responsibility for one’s choices and learning from the outcomes that you meet with.

Q: What are the various responses that you have received so far?

Well, 23 years is a long time and what I would say is that our work (and the manner in which we conduct it) has always had a positive reception because our work is about letting our clients express what they have to say and to find collective meaning.

Q: Who is your biggest motivator?

People out there. The fact that someone trusts me and my colleagues to take them through a journey is a big motivator. And a responsibility as well and so we work hard to ensure that our clients get what they want.

Q: How do you spend your leisure time?

Of late, leisure has almost become negligible. Perhaps, during travel that is related to work, I find a little time to relax and meet friends or relatives. And on the odd day in a month, when I just listen to music for 3 straight hours – mostly Hindi film, semi-classical, ghazals and qawalis. That might be the only leisure that I can afford at the moment.

Q: Ways of sustaining this this competitive market-

I strongly believe that when we engage in what we most cherish and are energized by, we will continue to be competitive. However, we also need to collaborate with others in order to remain relevant and of benefit to others. Benefiting the customer might sound clichéd but nothing else really works in the long term. So, the focus of businesses needs to continue to inquire into what makes sense for the customer. Then, how we choose to do out bit is up to our creativity.

“In our factory, we make lipstick. In our Advertising, we sell hope”.

–  Charles Revson

Divya Khanna, PGP 2002, VP & Strategic Planning Director of JWT, have been working in the sector of Advertising for the last 15 years. Divya started her career at Lowe Lintas (Bombay) in account management and moved into account planning after playing a dual role for a few years. She joined J Walter Thompson (Bombay) in 2010 and moved to the Bangalore branch in 2012, where she is leading the account planning team. In Bombay she has worked on a number of FMCG brands across categories: Pepsodent, Fair & Lovely, Johnson’s Baby, Knorr, Kissan and Amaze while she was at Lowe and Rin, Lux and Sunsilk at JWT. At JWT Bangalore, she is working on a range of fashion retail and lifestyle brands including Lifestyle, Louis Philippe, Kingfisher, Black Dog, Black & White and Nestaway.

Q: Why did you choose advertising?

I have been curious about people since I was a child. I was attracted to stories and consumed them in every form they were available. As I grew up, I became a voracious reader and an avid TV-watcher. While I was ambitious, I was also very clear that I wanted a job that I would enjoy, which is why I gravitated towards Advertising despite some discouragement from my family and peers. My reading and content-consuming habits stood me in good stead on this journey. There have been stressful and chaotic times, but with all the good, bad and ugly moments, I can honestly say that I have not had one boring day.

Q: Being in the sector of Advertising where do you get your ideas from?

Advertising is the bridge between the needs we have as consumers and the goods and services that can potentially fill those needs. It is not rocket science, but it is not a walk in the park either; it’s hard work that can be very satisfying when you feel you have built the best bridge. As an account planner, it’s my job to be the voice of the consumer. To track, observe, research and understand their lives, so that the work we put out into their world resonates, appeals and ultimately persuades. I see myself as part detective and part translator.

I need to investigate consumer behaviors, not just what they say and do, but their underlying motives, anxieties, fears and aspirations. In addition to primary research sponsored by our clients and from the availability of the secondary research, there are a lot of personal and professional conversations that help inform me. Reading a variety of books, watching movies, TV shows and monitoring social media all input into this objective, as part of the cultural context in which consumers live.

The other part is to be able to see the different perspectives apart from that of the Consumers’. The business perspective is important to understand the targets and pressures of our Clients as well as also in the competitive context. Also, critical is the perspective of the Creative team so we can filter all the information to give them exactly what they need to feel inspired and create great work. It almost feels like the Consumers, Creatives and Clients, speak different languages and that’s where planners come in, to help translate and get everyone on the same page, where all interests can converge.

Q: Do you have any role models whose work inspires you?

David Ogilvy was one of my earliest inspirations to pursue a career in Advertising. I read all of his books and found a world of common sense and real life insights. I found myself noticing the ads around me and wondering; how the good ones had this power to hook me and how/where others may have gone wrong.

Q: Tell us about the various existing obstacles that you have confronted and their solutions.

Every creative brief always starts with a problem. Most of the brands I work on today address a young affluent and urban audience. This Millennial generation is the first global generation. They have grown up in a liberalized India, with abundant opportunities and are comfortable with technology. Their aspirations, tastes and fashions change quickly and pleasing them is not easy. We need to keep pace with them to help our brands resonate – that means tracking their choices and lifestyles beyond just one category. These insights help us ideate to solve the business/brand problem. This is an ongoing process, when one campaign is releasing, we’re already working on the next one.

Q: Has the IIMB education in any way, helped you in this journey?

My IIMB education has helped me to understand and appreciate the Business perspective very well. I have to be mindful to remove the jargon and simplify this for myself and my team so that the other perspectives do not get overlooked.

My IIMB experience, however, has played an even stronger role in building my career. It has exposed me to diverse people and group dynamics, which helped me to learn to work for, with and manage people. Advertising is a team business- a single person can do nothing by himself or herself. The ability to get along, motivate, manage and address problems head on is very critical to any form of success in this business.