Corporate Excellence: Manisha Seewal, PGP 2002
Manisha Seewal is from the PGP 2002 batch. She has launched an illustrious career across the entire spectrum of marketing communications in different industries such as FMCG, Insurance, Media, and Automotive. Currently, Manisha is the Group Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Carro, Southeast Asia’s largest automotive marketplace. In her current role, she leads brand strategy, digital, social, performance marketing, customer acquisition/retention, multi-channel content strategy, media relations, and brand reputation across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
In addition to her corporate portfolio, Manisha is also an associate lecturer at Singapore’s Republic Polytechnic, where she is keen to share her knowledge and develop the next generation of industry leaders.
Manisha is listed amongst the World’s 100 most influential CMOs and Top 50 Women Leaders in Asia. She is often invited by top academic institutions like INSEAD, National University of Singapore, Singapore Management University, St. Gallen University, and Singapore University of Social Sciences to deliver keynote sessions on Innovation, Digital Transformation, Women in Tech, and Diversity.
1.What are some of the good memories and learnings from the IIMB journey of yours?
Ans: IIMB was a window into the complexities of working life ahead. It was a humbling experience as I was no longer the brightest person in the room. There was always someone way smarter than me.
Being the only student in my batch with a humanities background, I had to quickly pick up subjects that I had never studied, such as accounting, statistics, regression analysis, corporate finance, supply chain management, and information systems.
The top 3 skills that IIMB taught me are adaptability, prioritization, and the power of harnessing my strengths.
During my IIMB stint, I honed my strengths as a marketer and communicator with the aim of becoming the best marketer that I could be. Though initially, it was challenging to cope with the academic shift from a humanities specialization to technical business education, this was where I learned that taking small, consistent steps towards self-improvement can go a long way in managing stress. All these would not be possible without the help rendered by my classmates, who were forthcoming with knowledge sharing.
Lastly, memories like the L square parties, Bannerghatta market, movies at MG road, and vibrancy of the exchange term students are etched into the beautiful memory lane of IIMB.
2. What is the role of a mentor in your life?
Ans: For me, a mentor is someone that I can turn to for both a quick sense check on my short-term plans and an in-depth discussion on subliminal psychological drivers that makes me strive for excellence at the workplace.
Having a mentor is important, and I am blessed to have one.
Another critical part of working with a mentor is verbalizing what we want. It takes courage, but it’s worth it.
I will quote Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” So if you have found a mentor, be very clear of where you want to go.
3. Can you shed some light on some of the interesting experiences in work so far?
Ans: There are two experiences that I felt are worth sharing. The first was my internship with Coca Cola, where I was in a Sales and Marketing role in Mumbai. Given the Coke badge, I was expecting to be part of big advertising campaigns that featured Bollywood stars and had fancy parties. Instead, I was asked to deliver Coke bottles in a delivery truck for a few weeks. It was hot, humid, and unglamorous.
Though it started with disappointment, it was a blessing in disguise. This experience provided an insight into the on-ground operations of Coca Cola. It gave me a better understanding of the business and in finding operational inefficiencies. I learned that to be an effective marketer, you have to work the ground.
My time with Coca Cola helped to set a solid foundation for my action-oriented approach to problem-solving. Right after graduation, I faced a critical situation in a remote place where the only means of transportation was in bullock carts. But, being on the ground, getting hands dirty and going beyond my comfort zone to understand the situation first-hand, helped to gain the confidence of my team.
Another notable example was the 2007 financial crisis. During the 2007 financial crisis, I was working at a multinational bank. As there were layoffs, I was tasked to handle the workload of our four-member marketing team.
This was career-defining for me as I had to pick up almost all aspects of marketing that I never got the opportunity to, such as branding, market research, events, public relations, and integrated advertising for both life and general insurance businesses.
I learned that “If we commit 100%, we can achieve anything”. This experience gave me the courage to take up challenges of launching several of Singapore’s first projects in the technology space, such as Singapore’s first chatbot from a life insurance company, first car subscription service, and first usage-based insurance.
4. How easy is it to establish oneself in the automotive industry?
Ans: It is easy as long as you have a passion for it. I love cars and have changed ten cars in the last 14 years in Singapore. During this time, I dealt with direct sellers, used car dealers, did the paperwork myself, and understood the on-ground realities of the automotive industry.
Having this personal experience of being both a buyer as well as a seller, allows me to get in the customers’ shoes and see it from a customer’s perspective when developing the marketing strategy for Carro.
In the coming years, I also hope to see more women join the automotive industry.
5. If you go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self who just graduated from IIMB?
Ans: “Put yourself first” is the golden advice I would give myself.
We often try to be what society expects of us. In the process, we short-change our dreams. We conform. But over time internally, we become unfulfilled and unhappy.
I have learned that it is not selfish to take care of yourself and make your happiness a priority. It is necessary. So do what makes you feel fulfilled, challenge your limits, make mistakes, try new things, and dream big so you can give your best to the world.
After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
This interview of Ms. Manisha Seewal has been taken by Ms. Vijaya Lakshmi, who is currently working as Management Consulting Analyst with Accenture Strategy and is an Alumni of IIM Bangalore, 2019 Batch.