An Epitome of Pragmatism: Priyadarshi Mohapatra
National Institute of Technology, Rourkela hosted the Annual Technical festival from 3rd to 5th November 2017. The three-day long technical carnival, INNOVISION’17 pivoted on the theme of “Digitalization” and was conducted by Technical Society, SAC and the euphoric atmosphere reverberated with the slogan, “#SIGN_IN_SHINE_OUT”. NIT Rourkela proudly witnessed Dr. Priyadarshi Mohapatra, the country General Manager at Microsoft India, as the Guest Speaker. He is a 1994 batch alumnus of the Department of Chemical Engineering of NIT Rourkela. Team Monday Morning caught up with the Chief Guest amidst his busy schedule. Here are the excerpts of the candid talk:
Monday Morning: Tell us something about your days before joining REC.
Priyadarshi Mohapatra: I did my schooling in Kendriya Vidyalaya and then went on to BJB College before joining REC. I was very active in extra-curricular activities during my school days and had represented BJB College in various competitions.
MM: Why did you choose Chemical Engineering at REC?
PM: The branches were allotted according to the ranks which we have secured in the Entrance exams. At that age, I did not know much about the pros and cons of all the branches. The perspective of Chemical branch seemed good to me as I heard that a lot of people from the branch go to the US and I have always dreamt of going abroad, so I chose it.
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?
PM: The four years in REC had been a massive learning experience for me. More than the classroom learning, I learned outside the classroom about life, leadership, and organizational skills. The biggest learning experience which I achieved was the fundamental basics of Organisational skills. I was the Cultural Secretary then and while organizing the Spring Fest I learned a lot about teamwork and managing events successfully.
I even started a team just like Monday Morning which was known as Roaming Eye. Its main focus was to pick up interesting gossips. From that experience, I learned to create a team of members with complementary skills to get optimum output. I would like to mention something from my personal experience:
Don’t choose people with same skills while building a team, rather look for people with complementary skills and you’ll get sub-optimal output.
MM: What made you incline towards pursuing an MBA back in 1995, immediately after graduating from REC as a Chemical Engineer?
PM: There was no plan of mine to pursue MBA in India. During my time, I had topped GRE and I got selected for the top 3 universities. But 15 days before I could leave for the US, my father passed away. It was a turning point for me. I canceled my plan for the US and I stayed back with my mother to support her in business. At that time I realized I have a natural knack for business and I stayed back in Bhubaneswar. I supported my family and did a Management course simultaneously in XIMB. My course of life took an entirely different turn.
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?
PM: Doing a course for better salary and job packages is fundamentally a wrong perspective. The foremost thing in life is to pursue a career which interests a person in his/her life. If you want to pursue a career which involves managing a business, running an enterprise or a corporate, and becoming a CEO, then MBA is an extremely important course. MBA is a very well-conceived and well-designed course for an aspirant who wants to pursue a career in the field of Management as it teaches the fundamentals of business.
MM: How did Oyzter Bay happen? What was the nature of your association with the organization?
PM: I was the co-founder of Oyzter Bay. I started my career in the Management field as a trainee in Titan by selling watches. From Titan, I moved on to Tanishq in 1997. In 2-3 years, we reverted the degressive sales of Tanishq brand into a profitable one. All the 6 of us, the CEO, CFO, the purchase head, the Retail Head and I (who worked as a team in Tanishq) decided to venture out for creating our own company, Oyzter Bay. Our idea was to create precious jewelry for modern contemporary and working women.
MM: You started with consumer market products and moved to the software market. How different was your experience in it, considering the fact that software was relatively a new concept in the Indian market?
PM: I get where you are going to! This question has been asked to me for multiple times. If at the end of the day you need to understand the business and what your customer actually wants, then it doesn’t really matter what you are selling. In some cases the customer is an enterprise customer, in others, they are a consumer. But their need and requirements do not change. As long as you relate to the demands of your customer, there is no challenge. When I joined IT industry, I didn’t join as the person who understands technology instead I joined as the person who came for domain expertise and who knew the retail.
I still remember that in my farewell speech when I was leaving Sun Microsystems and joining SAP labs, Pramanik Bhaskar ( the then VP of Sun Microsystem) said that ‘When I hired this guy he had no idea about technology and even when he is leaving us he still has no idea about of technology.’
And when I reflected it again, I realized that I never bothered about technology. But what I bothered was understanding the need of my customers.
MM: How was your overall experience in Sun Microsystems and SAP?
PM: There cannot be many comparisons between both of them. Sun was an infrastructure hardware company, whereas SAP was more of a business application company. My ability to leverage my business knowledge in an application company was far higher than in a hardware company, however, my Sun experience still stands out as one of the best experiences, because that was my first introduction to a technology company where I was challenging myself in a place absolutely alien to me. Also, it was a big risk because I just left my flight which was taking me to one of the best B-Schools in the world. Sun experience was dearer and stayed more than 6 years but SAP gave me an opportunity to leverage my knowledge far better.
MM: How did Microsoft happen? And how can you describe the work culture at Microsft?
PM: Like I said, part 1 of my life was all about the consumer market, part 2 in my life was all about enterprise and commercial business. And in Microsoft, I saw a unique opportunity of doing a consumer business but what really thrilled me was the fact that consumer business for Microsoft in India was more like a startup opportunity. I was pretty excited and took a plunge because it was more or less like setting up a startup.
The work culture at Microsoft is fabulous. Satya Nadella is an absolutely visionary leader. I would rate him as one of the contemporary leaders not because I am working with Microsoft, but because I am tremendously inspired by him. His biggest contribution for Microsoft is how he changed the culture of the company, how every element has come together to work for the best. The core of Microsoft culture is about “growth”, which means a learning mind- symbolizing that at no point in an individual’s life, he can believe that he knows everything. Learning can never be completed, it’s a continuous process.
I would suggest Satya’s must-read book “HIT REFRESH” for everyone, which has just hit the shelves. It's an inspiring story, where Satya wrote about how he as a CEO influenced the culture at Microsoft.
MM: Now that you are visiting REC for the first time after graduation, how important do you think is the alumni-student relationship for an institute like NITR, which is constantly climbing the ladder of rankings?
PM: Fundamentally I don’t believe in rankings, so I won’t comment on that but what I truly believe is in the power of networking. It's an extremely important tool and it doesn't matter whether you are an educational institute, a professional organization, an enterprise company, a consumer company or an individual, the power of networking works everywhere! If an educational organization stays connected to its alumni they actually leverage the power of their control. And I am sure that an organization which has a legacy of more than 50 years has lots of its alumni at extremely senior positions across the world and the institute should capitalise on it.
MM: How do you keep your spirits high amidst professional pressure and hectic schedule?
PM: To be a cooperate athlete, you actually need to draw an analogy of being a physical athlete. If you have to win the competition you have to constantly build your stamina, stay physically and mentally fit, set your benchmark and then only laurels can be brought on the performance day.
Corporate leaders need to bring clarity, bring energy to the organization and deliver services. I don’t think I practice being energetic or motivational because I believe that as a leader you can’t have a bad day, you should always have a good day!
MM: Any message that you would like to leave for our readers:
PM: Enjoy your present moment, don’t think that you’ll get lost, or be confused, rather stay in the present moment and enjoy what you’re doing. Once you start enjoying, you’ll realize what is your strength and can pursue your passion. When you are through this journey, tell yourself every moment that each experience will teach you something. Learn and keep moving, always!