Alumni Of The Week : Subrat Pani

Alumni Of The Week : Subrat Pani

Mar 06, 2017 | Arghya Mazumdar Saswat Choudhury

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Subrat Pani, a distinguished alumnus of 1991 batch of Electrical Engineering, NIT Rourkela, and IIM Calcutta, is currently the co-founder of One Assist Customer, a B2B Company having over 8 lacs subscribers.

Having his roots in Rourkela, he used to be a day-scholar in his first year after which he transitioned into hostel life. He recollects:

"Life used to be great and I made a lot of friends. There used to pretty limited career options and one was happy settling for any job after graduation. Also, the number of students opting for higher studies was abysmal and MBA was just coming up as a lucrative career choice. Interestingly, I accidentally decided to pursue an MBA degree."

In his third year, while his focus was on gaining the technical knowledge required for a core job, other students would discuss their preparation strategy and sample scores in mock CAT tests. This buzz among the students made him try out the test once for himself and what he found was surprising. He really liked the approach of the test and scored quite well in the first attempt itself. That was how he made up his mind that he was meant for CAT. Following that incident, he started reading more and prepared in whatever way he could, as he didn't have the help of the Internet back then. But fate had different plans for him.

In 1991, when he took the test again, the entire format of the test was reformed  and he couldn’t clear the test. He settled for a core job at SAIL, still with the steely resolve of acing the test the following year. After working for almost two years at SAIL which he now calls "flat-out boring", he took the test and came out with flying colors. He shares: 

"I didn’t write any other test, nor did I apply for any institute except for the IIMs, as I was quite determined hat if it was not in the IIMs, I wouldn’t do an MBA at all,",

That was indeed quite a high-risk step to take and when he looks back now, he finds it was he was lucky to pass it. He was apprehensive about the next selection process i.e the group discussions and interview. Though he was an extrovert, he wasn’t that great in public speaking. But with extensive preparation and a lot of confidence, he aced the interview and got admitted into IIM-C. Now being on the other side of the interview board, he remarks that public speaking is not the only skill that lands one in the IIM’s. They also put a lot of emphasis on traits like originality and creativity which distinguishes an individual from the masses. 

In IIM-C during that period, the academic curriculum was entirely different from the other IIMs - there weren't any attendance criteria, and people could spend the entire semester not attending a single class and still pass the course as long as they managed to pass the final exam. Thus the entire freedom of learning was handed over to the student. At IIM-C, he says: 

"We were all toppers and everyone had a story of how they had got here. I had batch mates who could read books like magazines and finish them within 2-3 days. Thus scoring 0 and negative in tough papers like statistics and finance in the initial semesters jolted our ego and brought us to reality."

He regrets that he had not performed academically that well in his class. Even though he had aced his major papers of Behavioural Science and marketing, he had not done well in minor papers which landed him with an average percentile. He therefore did not get into the FMCG brands which he dreamt of but had to settle for a job with Godrej. He got posted in Kochi where he was not comfortable because of the language barrier and the non-metropolitan atmosphere. 

Then he joined Arvind Mills and later in 1999 he got into GE, which was a financial venture with SBI. After that he worked for ICICI Bank but surprisingly he left the job to be the business head of cards business of a smaller company KOTAK.  He says that possibly 10/10 people wouldn’t have taken this decision but for him it was important to be at the helm of the organization, leading the team. From his corporate experience he shares that the most important things he learnt is that you have to be passionate in your work and not merely stick to performance expectations and deadlines. You also have to ensure that other people will enjoy working with you. Talking about his corporate experiences, he says: 

 I can say that my most unique achievement was with ICICI Bank when my team had launched the 5% ‘cashback’ associated with credit card purchase in 2003. The term was introduced by us in the Indian Market. People did not know then what cashback was. We brainstormed into some of the foreign markets and came up with this term which is now heard in ecommerce industries nationally. 

He expressed his concern over the lack of a proper network between the current students and alumni. It was palpable when he had visited the institute last year during the Silver Jubilee Celebrations. He believes that the students have a lot to benefit from the alumni, apart from mere advice. He stressed the importance of networking in the current scenario, where there are so many senior experts among the alumni who can benefit the students in a large way.

He finally says that his advice to the NITR Junta now would be,

Unless the sail is fixed, the ship cannot reach its destination. You also need to have listening skills and hear other people's opinions and not assume that you already know everything. In hindsight these are the things which worked for me. So it’s best if you can make up your minds about what career path you want to go down, so you can work for it passionately and ultimately excel in it. 

You can connect with him on LinkedIn: SubratPani

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