The pulse of an organization is its supply chain, which is a complex layer of interconnected networks encompassing people, processes and technology !
Faraz Ahmed, our next pathbreaker, is Supply Chain Lead for the Smart City vertical at Tata Projects, an EPC organization (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) that executes complex projects in the Infrastructure space.
Faraz talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the immense responsibility and privilege of being a part of large scale infra projects aimed at nation building and providing last mile connectivity !
For students, never let go of an opportunity to leverage your interest and skills to make a difference to the society through your organization.
Faraz, Your background?
I belong to a middle class family and my native city is called Raipur in Chattisgarh. My Dad used to be in a transferable government job (now retired) and so we had the opportunity to see the different places of Central India and were thus exposed to various cultures from childhood. Most of these places were small towns (sometimes villages), and small towns have a culture of co–existence. Growing up in such setups gave me a chance to observe so many different people and situations more closely. When I look back now, I realise that those experiences somewhat influenced my world view and shaped my personality.
My interests were as common as those of any random kid growing up in 90’s India. Both my parents were from Chattisgarh itself, father was a government official (now retired) and mother is a homemaker.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
On the education front, I did Bachelors of Engineering (Mechanical) for my graduation from Bhilai Institute of Technology, Durg and then pursued a dual degree programme in Global Supply Chain Management ( PGPX ) which offered MBA from IIM Udaipur and MS from Purdue USA.
What were some of the influences that shaped your interest in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
I am a Supply Chain professional, currently working for a company called Tata Projects and leading the supply chain function for a large scale telecom infra project of value R. 3000 crore.
Supply Chain or Operations as a field has attracted me since my undergrad days for the sheer reason that it gives you a very long and broad interface with external and internal stakeholders, and also gives you the opportunity to learn about new streams and markets. As a person and especially being an extrovert, I like engaging with people and understanding their view point, hence supply chain looked a natural fit to me compared to other more linear profiles like Finance or Human Resources. This was of course the initial reason for opting for this field, but as I joined the department and started working on complex problems, I started realising that this job is much more than relationship management. It is the core of the business where the most crucial decisions are taken and complex problems are solved. I then decided to go for higher studies to understand the field in detail and to also understand the practices and functioning of supply chains in other industries as well as in other parts of the world.
I opted for a dual degree course that offers a thorough understanding in Global Supply Chain Management both in the Indian as well as international context through a dual degree in Global Supply Chain management from IIM, Udaipur and the Krasner School of Management at Purdue University in the United States. Hence, this course helped me understand the bigger picture and I got national as well as international exposure to the domain which was a key enabler for my performance in my daily responsibilities.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
As I shared above that I figured out during my undergrad days that I want to work in the operations or supply chain field, I opted for the same as I got the option to select this field during my first job. But I realised early in my career that moving out of my comfort zone is the key to learning along the way. I strongly believe that the right exposure and calculated risks are two big catalysts for transformation. Thus, I have tried to optimize the cycles of relevant exposure and also take calculated risks during the length of my career. In the last one decade of my professional experience, I grabbed the opportunity to work within 4 different industries, and when I was doing pretty well in my career, I took the decision to go for a full-time MBA & MS in order to venture out of my comfort zone to upskill myself with the latest supply chain trends, both from the Indian and Global context. These shifts might have been turbulent in the beginning but I was able to adapt and drive myself constantly and organically. I feel I have gained better exposure, developed a better network and obtained more length and depth in multiple domains compared to what I would have achieved had I continued working in the same profile all these years. This cultivated attitude of seeking relevant exposure and not shying away from taking calculated risks has been extremely fulfilling so far.
During this journey, two things have helped me immensely: Integrity and Relationships. Integrity helps in building your reputation and gives the confidence to management that you can be trusted with bigger opportunities, and relationships act as connectors to enable your talent to reach its destination just like pipelines in oil wells are used to transfer oil to designated places.
I did two internships during my PGPX course, one in India and another one in USA. The internship that I did in India was regarding the restructuring of the warehouse network for an FMCG firm in view of upcoming GST implementation and the one I did in the USA was focused on reengineering of the ordering process for a Safety and Security solution provider for Homes and Businesses. Brief details about both the projects are as below:
a) Internship in India with United Biscuits Private Limited, Kalaamb, India –
The distribution network of the firm was designed as per any typical FMCG company in the pre-GST era, i.e., to have one depot at all states (where the company has substantial sales to justify the fixed cost) to save erstwhile CST ( Central Sales Tax- A tax needs to be given to Central Government in case of any interstate sales). But with the advent of GST, CST ceased to exist and thus there was a requirement to redesign the distribution network of the firm to tap into possible savings.
I statistically optimized the distribution network through various tools such as Service Level, Linear – Programming, and Demand Aggregation. Total supply chain cost was calculated vis a vis demand per CFA ( carry and forwarding agent) and it was concluded that there are substantial savings in optimally redesigning their distribution network and adopting the hub and spoke model. ( The hub and spoke model refers to a distribution method in which a centralized “hub” exists. From the hub, goods travel outward to smaller locations owned by the company, called spokes, for further processing and distribution)
I recommended 2 CFAs with hub and spoke model against then operating 4 CFAs in south India region. The study resulted in an expected annual saving of 21% vis a vis their original cost on an annual basis
b) Internship in M/s Allegion, PLC, Indianapolis USA (Security devices manufacturer) –
The internship that I did in the USA through Purdue university was on optimizing the ordering process for a USA-based security devices manufacturer: M/s Allegion, PLC, Indianapolis USA. This project addressed the issue of low efficiency and the weak link of the Allegion Indianapolis intercompany ordering process. Allegion Indianapolis intercompany operations was experiencing low efficiency with long manual input hours to process order entries. The weak link existed in operation with inefficient ERP systems. On evaluating the existing process by mapping the flow of various SKUs ( stock keeping units) & benchmarking against global process-oriented companies, the team identified opportunities to reduce lead time and standardize intercompany ordering processes, through postponement of the assembly process and setting up of EDI (electronic data interchange) integration.
The study resulted in a reduction of intercompany ordering time that would lead to annual savings of 0.12 Million USD per annum
The PGPX course is structured in such a way that it provides a thorough grounding in management fundamentals and skill-building. Though my pre-MBA experience was as a team member contributing to my team lead, the profile offered to me post-MBA was a pan India leadership profile. The exposure and the knowledge gained during my PGPX course was a key enabler for me to be able to deliver in my new role. Also, as you grow in the corporate ladder, you are expected to contribute not only in your area of expertise or departmental boundaries but also in other domains as per the requirements of the organization. Here as well, the broader learning received during my MBA days helped me a lot.
The best part of joining any premier institute is the quality of peer group and the infrastructure ( including faculty), which was exactly the experience both in IIM Udaipur and Purdue, USA. It is wonderful to be around of bunch of people who are committed and hard-working. it changes your attitude towards life and teaches you to be more humble and hard working.
Can you tell us about your first break?
My first break was through campus placement from my undergrad college. Although I got selected in one of the premier software firms along with my current firm i.e. Tata Projects, but coming from a mechanical engineering background, I made a conscious decision that I want to join an engineering firm and thus declined the offer from the IT firm. In hindsight, it appears to be one of the key turning points in my career.
Tata Projects Limited is an EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) company. It is one of the fastest growing and most admired industrial infrastructure companies in India. They are involved in the execution of large and complex urban and industrial infrastructure projects.
Although my first job was through college, once you enter the industry and finish your training, your growth and assignments solely depend on your performance. Thus, it is very important to get associated with the right projects, gather maximum learnings and make solid relationships along the way. While working in the industry, every individual is creating a reputation for himself and it’s through virtue of that reputation, the next opportunity is assigned and all upcoming assignments are assigned.
My break after masters came through my network. As I was pursuing my masters in the USA, during the same time my first organization, Tata Projects came up with a new SBU –Urban Infra, that was created to focus on upcoming infrastructure based opportunities in the country . My ex-Boss Mr. Ravi Shankar asked me if I would be interested in joining the new SBU as Lead Commodities for Supply Chain, which was a pan India responsibility with a portfolio of R. 500 crore. I happily agreed and joined the firm directly out of college.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
I finished my undergrad in 2008 and started my MBA in 2015. For the first year post joining my 1st job, I was enjoying my work and newly earned financial independence. However, a few years down the line, I realised that I wanted to get higher education in Supply Chain. Hence for 2 years’ time, I was both working and preparing for the MBA entrance exam. It was very challenging both mentally and emotionally to maintain a balance and focus equally between work and studies, and justify your effort equally. So I had to follow a strict routine allocating the available working hours every day so that I could do justice to both the activities without getting burned out. I would say discipline is the key !
As you move up the ladder, you get new roles and assignments that might be in a different industry, different geography or different domain altogether. While these roles bring with them a lot of excitement and opportunities, it also brings requires extreme amount of hard work and a structured approach to deliver the projects, and the biggest challenges in this scenario is to understand the game of new industry
Where do you work currently? What problems do you solve?
I am currently working with Tata Projects as Lead, Supply Chain for the Smart City vertical. Tata Project is an EPC organization (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) that executes complex projects in the Infra space.
Supply Chain not only plays a crucial role for the organization’s success and timely completion of all projects but also the department responsible for evaluating, identifying and on boarding vendor partners for execution of various jobs. Once the partner is on-boarded, supply chain monitors progress and ensures successful delivery to create a win -win situation for all stakeholders
Following skills are required for efficiently handling this profile:
- Business acumen for decision making
- Ability to reason and critical thinking for making better decisions or
- High emotional Quotient so that you are not overwhelmed with the quantum or size of challenges and handle it gracefully and diligently
- Very strong relationship with all other stakeholders –
All decisions and activities are highly sensitive and high implication items in nature and wrong decisions can not only cost huge money to organisations but can also attract legal implications and tarnish brand image.
What’s a typical day like?
My typical day involves handling multiple techno commercial discussions, resolving contractual disputes, reviewing progress, clearing bottlenecks and solving complex business problems
If I have to list down the top 3 most interesting part of my work I would rate it as below:
- It is filled with multiple challenges touching various fields of business like visa, finance, technical, commercial and strategic.
- it gives me great networking opportunity
- It gives me an opportunity to make a difference for society and my organization
How does your work benefit society?
Tata group as a whole is inclined towards serving the society and it is in the DNA of the group to give back to society. However, an infra organisation such as Tata Projects is in direct business of building the nation. For example, I am currently working on the Bharat Net Project. This project is part of a digital drive from the central government which is intended to connect all Gram Panchayats through the internet.
Prior to working on this project, I was handling the Commodity category of the Urban Infra BU which is primarily into the business of making Roads, Metros, Bridges and Airports. All these projects are directly aimed at nation building and one feels extremely proud and responsible for being associated with such projects.
Any memorable work that you did that is very close to you?
It is the Bharat Net Project and the turnaround story – I was posted in the Regional office of Tata projects, based out of Mumbai, as Category lead for Commodities. I volunteered myself to be a part of the Chhattisgarh Bharat Net project as soon as I found out that the ultimate aim of this project was to deliver last mile connectivity through optical fibre networks and touch the deepest tribal areas by making them accessible through the internet. Bharat Net is the world’s largest rural broadband project with a target to provide broadband connectivity to all the 2.5 lakhs gram panchayats across India. I have been associated with the Chhattisgarh Bharat Net project as Lead, Supply Chain since 2019. The project was lagging behind in terms of progress during the first 12 months but in the last 1 year, my team and the larger Tata Projects team were able to turn the tables because of which it is now in the top projects across the country. During this period we have been able to connect approximately 5000 Gram panchayats of Chhattisgarh touching the lives of millions of the rural population. It gives me a great sense of pride and fulfilment that we, in our small way, are able to bring positive change in the community in which we are working.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
My advice to the younger generation would be that whichever career you choose going forward, focus more on building your personality and confidence. Knowledge, hard work and sincerity are like hygiene factors which one has to mandatorily possess in order to flourish in any career. A well-rounded personality without any rough edges works as a booster to thrive in a career, hence you should work on building your personality, get rid of your inhibitions and work on coming out of your comfort zones.
Going forward, I don’t want my life to be only about my work or career. I want to ensure that I adopt an approach towards creating a balance between my work, my career, my contribution to society and my contribution to academia. Mentoring is very close to my heart, especially mentoring the young generation coming from under-privileged backgrounds as to how to maneuver their way. I will be working with them on a more structured manner so that more people can get access to some practical wisdom without going through much struggle.