A career is not just about work, it is about enjoying whatever you do, at work and outside of work.
Our next pathbreaker Vignesh, started an a Graduate Engineer, and transitioned into Market Research due to his penchant for marketing. Thats not all, he is also an author with several of his books published.
Vignesh is an example of the attitude to explore your interests however implausible they might seem, just because you tried.
Vignesh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the several turning points in his career that were a blessing in disguise!
Vignesh, your background?
I am from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. My father is from Coimbatore and mother’s native is Sholavandan. My father worked for an automotive business conglomerate and retired from service few years back, while my mother is a home-maker and brother works for an IT firm in Chennai.
Due to my father’s profession, entire family kept travelling across various districts within India. The shifting experience from one district to another shaped my thoughts and probably did sow the seeds for my love towards travelling.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I did my under-graduation in Mechanical Engineering from Saranathan College of Engineering, Trichy and a post-graduation in Marketing from Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
To be candid, I didn’t secure the expected marks either in my 10th or 12th board that would qualify me to get into the prized colleges which would have made my parents and society happy. Coincidentally, my higher secondary education was at a school in Madurai where competition was cutthroat. Fact being, I didn’t enjoy studying and hence didn’t study. However, I managed to get a score which did put my admissions in a cat-on-the-wall situation. Adding more fuel to the fire, when you are from a family where many are rocking in academics, your position for sure will be either on a slippery surface or a sticky wicket!
Inspite of all this, i had a reason to be happy during secondary and higher secondary schooling, due to the relationships i had developed with few school friends. In fact that was the best and has evolved over years and continues till date.
It was very clear from the beginning that i had no inclination towards a career in Computer Science, Electronics or Civil Engineering domains. With these boundary conditions, the only choice was Mechanical Engineering and it happened.
My undergraduate days in college were special because the entire mechanical department was a place to have fun. My hostel life changed my perspective on various things. There was a student whose father was a server at a hotel, another person’s father was a bus driver and my every interaction with different individual did have its impact. It was lesson that one shouldn’t take things in life for granted. The days and friends from college are truly prized possessions.
The next big turning point was Death. I happened to lose someone in my life during undergraduate days. It was unfortunate and excruciating. This incident paved the way for my career path in the coming years. Amidst all this, my bench mate introduced me to non-academic reading. This was a big breakthrough. College was an excellent platform to experiment and it helped me a lot. One thing led to another and resulted in my writing content for the department’s symposium. I found a new love, writing. It was intense and deeply enriching. This helped me connect the dots when I was writing my first book in 2013.
My academic credentials were lower than my attendance, hence i was not eligible for any of the on-campus core sector company interviews. However, there was an off-campus drive by a leading manufacturing company in 2010 at Tanjore. I got eliminated in the first round and it was embarrassing because some of my batch mates understood what the questions were, while I had no clue about it. Since the rejection rate (after first round was high), all of us went for Endhiran (Robot) movie at a multiplex. Though the movie was stupendous, the disappointment of rejection continued to haunt me.
How did you get your first break?
I was not very sure about the next steps. However, it was during that time that internship opportunities for students from Tier-2 cities were also accessible. I kept searching for an opportunity. Thanks to Twenty19.com, through which my first break happened in 2010. The opportunity was with DesiCrew Solutions, Chennai. The tasks involved developing internal content and assisting the management team during rural recruitment processes. Though this had nothing to do with my academic requirements, the experience of learning workplace systems, culture and processes was fantastic.
Tell us about your career path
I would like to answer this in three phases: First Job, Pre-MBA and Post MBA.
- First Job: My first job was through an off-campus placement drive and a registration fee had to be paid. I was not interested in paying because my academics were on a shaky ground and a friend of mine also felt the same as he was planning to pursue higher studies. The fear of getting rejected was haunting me again. My college placement officer was a jovial person and he told me something profound- There’s nothing to lose. Give it a try.
Eventually i paid the fees. The interview process for Renault Nissan’s manufacturing division commenced with written test followed by group discussions and panel interview. It was shocking for me to have cleared first two rounds considering the competition. The panel interview was a litmus test. I was honest enough and mentioned that my academics were not seriously encouraging for them to probe further, to which they reluctantly agreed. On a lighter note, it was easier to say “I don’t know” to many questions the panel put forth.
However, they started asking about my internship learnings, how would these be applied in manufacturing, day-2-day roles. To my surprise, the interview process went well and along with my friends, secured the job.
This was a big morale boost. Thanks to God for being kind enough.
- Pre MBA: During 2009, I met a faculty at a coaching institute in Trichy who observed my flair for writing and kept encouraging me. We stayed in touch, but after taking up a job in 2011 the frequency of interactions reduced. Around 2013, there was a conversation with her on how each one of us can work towards lessening the divide. Something stuck me hard and decided to adopt the storytelling method to communicate. After spending some time on travel, I started writing my first book. The concept was based on addressing less encouraged issues in our society. It was shortlisted by BloogyGoodBook.com for online reading and voting. My contents were not captivating enough, and hence I failed. A sense of cluelessness prevailed as how to proceed further. Later after a year, a book house from New Delhi decided to publish my debut novel. After learning from my mistakes, I decided to work on my second book which was picked up a publishing firm from Chennai.
- Post MBA: After my post-graduation, there was a fundamental question about utilising my weekends effectively. Apart from working, there was nothing else to do. A sense of frustration started building up. At this juncture, through a friend of mine, an opportunity to engage with students at Career Launcher, Tambaram materialised. The freshers were extremely competent and skilled. My interactions with freshers was enriching and on various occasions, a sense of thought occurred that my under-graduation performance could have been better.
What were the challenges? how did u address them?
- Challenge #1- Cluelessness: It’s the most common challenge that professionals face in achieving professional as well as personal aspirations. I relied on advice from close circle of friends, professors and professional network.
- Challenge #2- Anxiety: Be it a project at office or about the future, anxiety is enough to kill positive vibes. Talking to people who have gone through these stages and faced similar situations will help devise our own plan. The problem with this advice is that, there is always a question: How can someone else’s solution solve my problem? I t’s a valid question. Nobody is asking you to use “their” solution. All we must do is, get some insights and use it for creating our own plans!
Where do you work now?
I work for Renault Nissan Alliance in Chennai. Initially, started my career as a GET (Graduate Engineer Trainee) in the shop floor. GET tenure in an organisation is a honeymoon period. However, it’s the only occasion when one can make as many mistakes as possible and recuperate from them. Upon choosing shop floor, every GET is required to complete hands-on experience which is real time fitment of parts in cars as per standards that eventually gets evaluated. On failing the training process, the entire operation must be repeated. It appears easy not to indulge in this process and work on managing the situation. But knowing the process gives an edge during daily operations.
My role was focused on ensuring that the entire team achieved production targets and process improvements. I was also involved in team management and skill upgradation of operators. Addressing day-to-day quality concerns and methods to improve productivity was the biggest challenge. The interesting aspect is upon getting acclimatised with a team, I was shifted to another team to manage the transition. The entire working equation must be established with new team. It is exciting and challenging to handle a completely new vertical. Once GET period gets over, responsibility and accountability is very high because at the end of day production count matters. Elevation to next level is challenging because there is always a temptation to do get involved in day-to-day fire-fighting while management would be expecting productivity improvements and results. This conflict happens within oneself. Thanks to my colleagues, first boss and super boss, who were patient and guided me throughout this stage.
The skills required for this role is perseverance, attitude to unlearn and ready to get your hands dirty. Within the company, there was an opportunity to apply for a company sponsored management program. On applying, employees were put through evaluation and got selected. Some of my colleagues opted for operations as a specialization while I chose marketing. Eventually, my management was not happy with my decision of choosing marketing.
The reason for preferring marketing was straightforward. In general, advertisements were fun and the creative process of making ads was seductive. I loved it. I was not sure if i had a future in creating ads but was ready to embrace uncertainty. There was an opportunity to work with Research division of the same organisation. Though the uncertainty levels were higher than before, there was a temptation to try and experiment.
There are different technology portfolios operating in different global markets. These solutions might or might not fit Indian conditions. And if any of these had to be implemented in India, understanding customer preferences is important at a fundamental level. The problems i address in my current role are based on technology penetration for country specific requirements through research methods. The key skills required are understanding key market trends and emerging themes across sectors as well as a fair idea of geo-political dynamics that determines policy nuances of a country.
To give an example, say-> how will per capita income of a district evolve or how the policy is evolving with reference to a technology or even, is there any potential for future policy deployment?
For a few research questions, there are no answers. However, the methods which are being adopted to arrive at a potential answer matter the most.
Usually, my typical day starts with interaction with internal and external customers followed by translating the needs/wants to business requirements. Few concepts do materialise while others serve as a learning experience. The learning components and level of interaction with external members during engagement sessions generate unique insights that help me to iterate the initial concept to a better one. This is an important aspect which i keeps me motivated!
How does your work benefit the society?
Honestly speaking, research activities take their own course of time and right now, it’s too early to exactly comment. However, the nudge which is provided to customers as a result or during the work will have a greater impact on mobility preferences.
Though my role is a speck of dust in the entire process, transformation this can bring collectively with colleagues might result in you driving a car in future which is perfectly silent, meets all your travel requirements, and an option of powering your home using car or even powering the grid.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
During my shop floor years, I mentored my line operators. Some of them were exceptionally good at their work and had necessary competencies. During year end assessment, I did recommend selected operators to be promoted to staff cadre. The assessment team did necessary evaluation and it was processed. There is always a sense of satisfaction when you have done something good for other’s development.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
- Be inquisitive. Pursue any hobby. Try multiple hobbies. Failing in a hobby and coming to normalcy is a transformative process. Anything will work. Stick to this. It will help in the long term.
- Develop meaningful relationships. Surround yourself with people whom you can reach out to at any point of time in life. This is important.
- Please don’t chase money. Money is important. It’s not the only criteria to decide in life about life. No matter how much money we have, it’s never enough. So, how can this be made as a metric to decide? It’s like searching for absoluteness in relative world. Remember, there’s no point in filling the jug when it’s already full. I will leave it to you to decide “what is full”.
- Lastly, people will attend your funeral based on your relationship with them and not on how much money you own, or properties owned or even which part of the world you are settled in. In short, on your death, what would you like to be remembered for?
- Focus on launching third book. It’s stuck because of my laziness.
- Would prefer to work for & with Public, provided God wills and does provide energy.