Student’s Corner: An Interview with Mr. Sangeet Paul Choudary | Distinguished Alumnus Awardee 2020

What was your background before you joined IIM Bangalore? Why did you decide to do an MBA, and how did you choose IIM Bangalore?

I graduated from IIT Kanpur in Computer Science in 2004. IIT followed by IIM was one of the most obvious career paths in India at the time. I had secured one of the highest paying jobs during placements at IIT Kanpur but I believed it made sense for me to join an IIM instead. I had received calls from all the IIMs then. I had wanted to get into a consulting career in general and was keen on the media industry in particular. I had calls from all IIMs and chose IIM Bangalore out of my personal preference.

What was your life at IIM Bangalore like as a student? What clubs and activities were you active in?

I wasn’t super-active with clubs but was very active in music. I established a campus band and organized several music events on campus. I also participated in and organized the musical events at Unmaad and other fests.

In terms of coursework, I really enjoyed all the strategy courses and both my CCS projects. One involved visiting a village in Karnataka and understanding how technology transformed the lives of the people there. It was part of an experimental lab by Hewlett Packard. The second project was about the Indian music industry. I liked the strategy courses on campus – I was always more of a strategy buff than a finance or a numbers person. There are a lot of fond memories I have from campus – from the L Square parties to the late-night chai filter at 2 am.

What were your career plans while at IIM? How has your career evolved since then?

My career ambitions moved around quite a bit as a student at IIM. Back then, everyone wanted to go into finance. I was interested in the media industry. I messed up my placements in the worst possible way by choosing the wrong job despite having multiple offers. I started looking for a job switch as soon as I graduated – and that’s the worst time to look for a new job when everyone’s already hired their share of MBA grads.

Two years after IIM, I started having the itch to find my own path – essentially to explain how the world was changing because of rapid technological and macroeconomic shifts. It took me another three to discover exactly what I wanted to do. So I quit my job in 2012, and started what I do now.

Could you tell us more about Platform Thinking Labs and what it does?

From about 2007-08, I have been interested in how the world is being changed by advances in technology. I wanted to build really deep research about how tech is changing our world to help executives and policymakers better navigate this change. I started a blog and began writing on my own research – it got featured by newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal. This led to a partnership with MIT to further study and understand these shifts. In 2016, I wrote a book which became an international bestseller – it sold a quarter of a million copies. I also wrote one of the most influential articles in the history of the Harvard Business Review – which is currently ranked among their top 10 strategy classics of all time. A lot of my ideas started getting adopted by CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I started getting invitations onto boards and ministerial committees.

My company is a think tank that conducts research around these areas and licenses it to other firms. I personally advise CEOs, work with over 32 Fortune 500 companies, and have had the opportunity to speak at more than 300 global summits, including the G20, the WEF, and the United Nations, on how technology is transforming business.

What are any key technology and business trends that every MBA graduate must know about today?

Keep in mind that trends in technology and business are intermingled. A few obvious ones. The first is that we are in an era where intellectual capital is being commoditized for the first time. The commoditization of intellectual capital is a bigger shift than automation. The second is that business is moving from vertical integration towards more open ecosystems. Artificial intelligence and other such technologies are components of these two shifts. There has also been a geopolitical shift in the last few years – from a world order built around the US, to one where the shift is happening towards Asia. And now with Covid19 coming in, many trends will get accelerated.

Another key change is the meaning of competition – in the traditional sense of the term when I studied it, it meant resource control. Now, it is more about understanding the customer and their needs, and the customer value chain. Business is becoming much more customer-centric and competition is managed through your value network rather than your firm-owned resources.

Do you think Indian companies are adapting themselves well to the increasing role of technology and undergoing a digital transformation, or are we lagging behind?

India is definitely a laggard in this aspect. ‘Digital transformation’ is an often used and abused term. For many companies, it simply means digitising their current processes. They don’t change their business model around it. What India lacks right now is a business model for the digital age. Instead, we often copy and paste our old business models onto a digital framework.

Any advice you would like to share with the current students of IIM Bangalore?

  • I would like to say that the curriculum and the degree at IIM is just a basic framework to learn and not the end goal. Use the concepts there to daily reinterpret what you see in the world around you. As managers, your biggest skill is in processing information into decisions. Develop and refine your heuristics early.
  • It is important to interpret business on a global scale and not just in a limited Indian context. Be plugged in to what is happening across the world. Get immersed into it, read business newsletters and international publications, and form your own perspective about issues. Strategy is a global thing, so don’t restrict yourselves to an India-only perspective.