The Prodigious Pandit: Sandeep Kumar
Aug 14, 2017 | Team MM
A maven in the field of consulting, Sandeep Kumar is an alumnus of the 1992 batch of REC Rourkela. A mechanical engineer and a former manager at SAIL, he currently serves as the Senior Vice President & Head of Consulting Services and Emerging Service Lines at ITC Infotech, Bangalore. In an email based interview with Team Monday Morning, he shares his experience in the erstwhile REC, of his time with SAIL and about his exploits in the consultancy sector.
MM: Tell us something about your days before joining REC.
SK: My early years were rather nomadic and spent across the country – we used to relocate every 4-5 years. I was largely used to township life, small self-contained townships, with beautiful communities and good facilities.
I was an avid sports person and picked up many sports on the way. Reading was my other passion, from classics to racy detective novels; I read them all.
MM: Share with us your experiences in the erstwhile REC Rourkela. How important do you think were the four years at REC for your career?
SK: REC was my second stint of life away from home. I had experienced boarding school early in life. I remember we had shared accommodation with three students room during my first year, 2 each from 1st year and 2nd year. Facilities were sparse, sharing and giving was in the culture. Something that sticks in the memory was the Chai adda at Backpost! It was great fun when we got to meet people from across the country and some foreign students as well. It was also a very eventful time with political earth shaking events like the Mandal Commission, internecine skirmishes in the college, etc. I remember the college was closed down sine die for 2 years in a row. The experience was good, academically and most importantly, I learned many lessons of life. REC Rourkela was a great stepping stone for the years ahead.
MM: How was your experience with SAIL? What prompted your decision to pursue an MBA?
SK: SAIL was my grounding into manufacturing, an industry I love. SAIL made me go beyond all the stuff learned in the textbooks and introduced me to a new aspect of learning. Managing a diverse workforce of technicians and semi-skilled workers while keeping the mill running, all this across shifts. The greatest learning experience was working with a large team where respect had to be earned and the only way was to get on the field and get your hands dirty. I still remember with nostalgia the farewell I got from my team of 40+ mechanical maintenance staff. They presented me with a very touching neatly typed farewell letter and a watch.
My decision to pursue an MBA was made during the college days, back then it was a cool thing to do and there were the multinational dreams. I had decided I would try for one of the top 4 IIMs or XLRI – however, my first three attempts did not work out. I was making it through the written exams but was being eliminated in the personal interview round. Dame luck smiled in 1996, I got calls from all the top 4 IIMs and was offered a seat from all of them. In a way, it was good I had to wait – it helped me crystallize what I wanted to do. I decided to pursue an MBA while specializing in Production & Operations, thanks to my stint at SAIL.
MM: How important do you think MBA was for your career?
SK: Getting an MBA was critical to 3 key things in my career so far:
(1) It helped me get a 360-degree appreciation of business, tie in conceptual and process understanding to what happens at the operational execution level
(2) Develop what I call a "zoom in zoom out" mindset – a mindset that allows one to straddle strategy and execution with equal felicity
(3) A chance to work with a concentration of brilliant minds from both the student and the academic community.
MM: There is a common perception among students nowadays that they need a management degree simply to increase their job packages, but what according to you is the actual need for an MBA?
SK: I think our learning in engineering school is skewed towards the needs of Engineering & Design functions in the industry. A bulk of engineering students, however, go into operational roles where the needs are largely about managing processes, people, and systems. Pursuing MBA helps in developing skills towards the latter. An MBA also helps broaden perspectives and build confidence.
MM: You moved into the consulting industry. Was it a conscious choice, or did it happen gradually?
SK: It was a conscious choice. I had ambitions of doing an MBA even while pursuing my engineering, however, my stint at SAIL helped me focus my efforts around specializing in production and operations consulting.
MM: You have been associated with Infosys in various capacities for over a decade. How would you describe your experience with Infosys? What major projects and responsibilities did you shoulder during your stint with Infosys?
SK: Infosys was a voyage of consulting discovery. Indian IT firms had seldom done much in consulting before 1999-2000. I was involved in 2 strategic aspects around consulting at Infosys:
(1) Making consulting mainstream in an IT services firm. Roles like Management Consultants, Domain Consultants etc. are now accepted high-value roles across the industry.
(2) Driving verticalization in the true sense for Infosys. We created Industry verticals where we were able to run high-value consulting engagements, additionally offer innovative and cutting edge business solutions to our clients.
In my 12 year stint with Infosys, I ran a variety of consulting leadership roles within Infosys. I started as a Manufacturing Industry consultant and soon was elevated to lead the Manufacturing Industry consulting practice. In 2007, I moved into Infosys Consulting as the India Consulting leader for our Manufacturing Vertical. Infosys then gave me the opportunity to incubate and scale a consulting organization focussed on its emerging markets like Greater China, Japan, Australia and Canada.
My consulting engagements with clients across the globe have given me tremendous satisfaction. From being a part of a strategy engagement for a US based retailer where we rolled out a Demand Driven Supply Networks strategy, to leading a pan European business harmonization effort for a global distributor, IT Strategy for an Automotive OEM, Supply Chain Risk Management is driven transformation for a Testing, Inspections, and Certifications global leader etc. It has been very satisfying partnering with clients on their strategic agenda and helping drive significant business outcomes and results around them.
MM: How did ITC Infotech happen? How has been the experience so far?
SK: ITC Infotech was all about serendipity. When the opportunity was brought to me, it was exciting because the core principles around consulting (Domain led, business solutions focussed) in the company vision resonated extremely well with me. Post joining 5 years back, it has been a roller coaster of a journey. From trying to create a business consulting entity that was relevant to us and our clients to make consulting pivotal to and a vital cog in the ITC Infotech wheel, it has been a great ride. Our vision statement is
ITC Infotech is a specialized global full-service technology solutions provider, led by Business and Technology Consulting.
Today, we aspire to build truly industry specialized services company that is consulting led. Also, being a part of a diversified business conglomerate at ITC does help both in terms of driving synergies with the various businesses of ITC and being part of an iconic Indian brand.
MM: What are some of the key factors that one must keep in mind while opting for a job in the consulting industry?
SK: No two clients and their problems (however related they might seem) are the same. If I was to distil the key factors of success in the diverse operating environment that consultants work in, it would be as follows:
Ability to deconstruct a problem (however complex it might be), quick adaptation (no cookie cutter approach), ability to empathize (don the clients thinking cap and feel the client’s problem), analytical mind-set, process orientation and ability to build stakeholder consensus.
MM: What do you believe is the future of the consultancy industry and in which direction do you think the horizons are expanding?
SK: So what does the future hold for Consulting? Changing market dynamics are propelling the next wave of consulting value propositions. IT Services companies are more and more challenged to be business solution providers where business outcomes are far more important than the tools and technology sets used. Consulting and solutions play is no longer visualized as a “customer delight” proposition. Radical business model disruption through technology is happening. IT/ ITES services companies are cognizing that there are only 3 functions that truly integrate the various service line capabilities and point it to a customer – Sales, Consulting & Technology Architecture streams. New paradigms such as “Business analytics driven process innovation”, “Platform driven outsourcing models” and “Digital transformation and innovation” have sprung up and are slated to take over from the erstwhile software factories as the primary fuel for future growth and scale. Each of these call for a radical re-assessment of processes and organization models, open up a realm of possibilities (Example: A 100% digital bank; Marketing outsourcing, etc.) that did not exist and drive consulting led value propositions.
MM: How recently did you visit the institute and how did you feel about your visit?
SK: I had the chance to visit the institute last December. Incidentally, my wife is also from REC Rourkela and we had come for her silver jubilee get together. We had a great time going down memory lane; visiting the hostels, the academic blocks etc. We did miss the old Back-post. It was nice to see all the development and the new blocks coming up. It was a moment of pride. I look forward to doing the same this year again when my batch has its silver jubilee celebrations.
MM: What is your take on the role of alumni for an institute of national importance like ours? How do you think the present scenario of alumni interaction can be improved?
SK: Primarily, the alumni have to play the role of ambassadors for the institution, be active brand ambassadors for the college. We also need to give back to the institution in whatever way we can. Having a structured interaction between academia and industry is paramount, alumni could be invited to run student interactions. Alumni can also don the role of mentors, an alumni body could be constituted by a rotation that can be tapped into for student mentoring. We need an active and vibrant interaction between student-alum, alum-alum, and alum-faculty.
MM: You have occupied numerous positions of responsibility throughout your career. How did you handle the pressure and the disappointments? What are some of the things that you had to learn along the way? How do you feel when you look back – do you have any regrets?
SK: There will be sunshine and there will be rain. I have myself experienced periods of extraordinary growth and then periods of relative stagnation. One could argue that it all follows a theory called “Intelligent Design”. My mantra is more karmic, purposeful intent coupled with equanimity. As far as having any regrets are concerned, nothing really has stuck.
MM: How do you keep your spirits high amidst professional pressure and hectic schedule? Any long drawn out hobbies that you still indulge yourself in?
SK: My family has been my anchor. My other big passion is sports, both active sports as well as an armchair analyst. I am still looking for a quad-racquet sports format involving tennis, squash, badminton and Table Tennis. I rather fancy my chances in such a format.
MM: What does it take to be Sandeep Kumar? Please enlighten our readers with a few lines of inspiration.
SK: That’s a tough one!!! However, let me quote somebody I admire immensely as a role model & an icon, a certain Rahul Dravid,
The team is like a pot. Some put in and some take out. The more who put in, the fuller it gets, and those were the players you enjoy playing with the most: those who put into the pot.
There is so much of simplicity and truism there to cherish, to preserve!