Mastering the Management Mantra: Sashank Sai

Mastering the Management Mantra: Sashank Sai

The course of education one takes and the branch one selects seldom restrict an individual to pursue their ambition, and we need not look beyond our institute to prove this. Sashank Sai, a final year Integrated M.Tech student in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Science Engineering recently got an offer from the prestigious ESSEC Business School, which is ranked 3rd by the Financial Times. Team MM interacted with him to know more about his inspirational journey which was off the beaten track.

Monday Morning (MM): Walk us through your childhood. How did Integrated M.Tech in Metallurgical and Materials Science at NIT Rourkela happen to you? Was it your choice or otherwise?

Sashank Sai (SS): I used to be that fat kid in class who was good at studies. My mom is a teacher and dad's an engineer. I had no problems and was quite pampered from childhood. I was comfortable and felt privileged. I am from Sambalpur, Odisha but studied in Delhi. I have a younger sibling.

Coming to choosing engineering, I did not exactly choose it. My thoughts were not clearly formed. I was good at Maths and Science and also got a good rank. The choice of branch wasn't too clear. The first time I wrote JEE, I couldn't crack it. So, I joined a private institution in Delhi and while doing 1st year of engineering there I prepared for JEE again. 

Metallurgy was more of what I got than choosing it. I knew I was horrible at coding and did not like it. So, half the branches were eliminated. I did like Chemistry and found some Chemistry based branch. I then saw which colleges are better for pursuing metallurgy and saw that NITR is a good college that offers several branches with a good reputation. And then considering that Odisha is rich in mines, I thought that metallurgy would have a lot of opportunities because it would have a geographical advantage. 

MM: Walk us through your college years. Share some memorable activities you participated in.

SS: In the first year, I was too scared of people and didn't interact at all. I started working out and learning swimming. Towards the end of the second year, I became conscious. In school I was good at public speaking and in the second year, I started anchoring in fests (Innovision, Nitrutsav). And I started forming opinions which helped me grow as a person. Having a good bunch of people around is very important. I was into extracurriculars but was quite choosy. I didn't pursue any unless I was interested in it. I was in the Souvenir Team where I was the personal contact for the Metallurgical and Materials Science Dept. In the 4th year, I decided to prepare for CAT. In my second year, I joined Clarion for a week or so. Most of my friends were 4-year B.Tech students and after they'd left we all formed a group. It's when I started socializing and got into extracurricular activities. 

MM: How did you form the Training Committee? When and how did you feel that it was needed at NITR?

SS: I was a part of the Soft Skills Development Committee. We thought that this thing needs to reach more people and it has to be a little more formal. I was really good friends with Deepak then and since he too was pretty interested in the idea we brainstormed and came up with this idea. There was a placement committee but there was no training committee present then. We are getting the best of the companies but if we are not fulfilling their requirements, then there's no point. We have been getting feedback saying that the soft skills were poor and that students are poor in speaking skills, technical skills, and coding skills. We have to act upon it, else there wouldn't be any growth.  

Initially, I took feedback from Metallurgy students. Most of them said that they usually got to interact only with the same batch of people (same branch). There was no interaction with other people and so they didn't know what was happening with other branches. There was no gameplan for PC. 

Inter-branch interaction is required because most companies hire from more than 1 branch. So in that GD, it's a surprise. People who have got placed volunteered in the soft skills development committee. I wanted to make it more formal. PC is based on short term goals like bringing the best companies for placements. The whole Training Committee focuses on long-term goals where the quality of students increases. So, Deepak and I collaborated and brainstormed to form a model. In my first, I did want to know what management is about. People used to tell that CGPA wasn't important and that extracurriculars didn't matter much. They used to tell that a 6.8 pointer had bagged a fat package but no one used to tell that he had excellent extracurriculars. He has done some other work which is extraordinary so that the 6.8 wasn't legible over there. 

There are 3 major teams in it:

  1. Soft Skills Development
  2. Professional Development
  3. Employability Improvement

MM: You were also a part of the Soft Skills Development Committee. How did you manage to secure that position and how was your work experience in it?

SS: I tried hard for the Placement Committee but it didn't work out. I had put in months of effort but I was rejected at the end. But it didn't stop there. Another committee was to be made to develop soft skills of students as the PC was already under so much pressure. Soft skills aren't something that develop over a month and they take time. I really enjoyed working on it. 

Odyssey Motors, Sambalpur had a problem as they saw a rise in the English-speaking customer base. The sales team present there was only trained in Hindi and Odia and hence they had a problem with customer interaction. My mom got to know of this through someone else and she suggested me to go and talk to them once because the work I am doing here is something of the same kind being in the Soft Skills Development Committee. I talked to the Manager and the HR and told them my plans. There were 25 people in the sales team and took their modules for their sales pitch. I revamped them with much simpler language because you can't expect them to speak fluently from the beginning itself. I had a 2-month contract and I used to leave by Friday afternoon and reached there in the evening. I used to have a class from 6-8 pm. And Saturday, there was another such session so that makes it weekly 4 hours. 

MM: How was your experience in the Soft Skills Development Committee?

SS: It was great fun. Most people can speak but don’t have the confidence, so we used to train them in that aspect. We used to conduct GDs on relatable topics like late entries or attendance and then give them feedback. We selected topics they’d want to speak about and once they cross that threshold, they can speak about everything. The difficult part was talking to M.Sc. students as they were seniors. I could talk to them but the response was underwhelming. Creating an impact was my agenda.

MM: You finally didn't actually get into engineering. When did you manifest this choice of going into management? 

SS: My mom's a genius teacher. And I've seen even students not at all interested in studies, not wanting to take an off in her tuitions. People also had suddenly started pursuing English. So, it got me interested. Since my dad's an engineer, I found his work interesting and so got into engineering. But wait, mom's work is more interesting! I was very interested in teaching. In Delhi too, I used to be that guy who used to teach others just hours before the exam. 

The level of job satisfaction I got out of this was way higher than what something I'd do in metallurgy. I'd been to internships initially. One in Vizag Steel Plant and the other one was at HINDALCO and I enjoyed neither. The subject was fun but the work wasn't. So, I stopped doing that and went ahead with the teaching side

MM: Congratulations on getting an offer letter from ESSEC and ESCP. What was the eligibility? How did you come across it? What are your future plans?

SS: I intend to join ESSEC. I want to join ESSEC Business School because right now its ranked third. As far as masters in management courses are concerned, it has a lot of tie-ups. 

I do like Metallurgy but I got more interested in teaching. So I had this idea of starting a school. I want to start a school where the whole agenda is to generate interest and not marks. I didn't know how to go about it, the economics of it. Then I thought of supplying HR to schools, curriculum and teachers from our side. Again that idea too stumbled upon some problems. So, I decided to pursue consultancy in the field of education. It's a very slow process to figure out what your actual goal is. And I decided to go for a MIM instead of an MBA because the latter at top schools require 3-4 years of work experience.

MM: How did you come to know of the MIM (Masters in Management) course?

SS: I attended a session conducted by Byjus held last year where they talked about higher studies outside India. The target crowd for them were not 4th and 5th-year students but I attended that session where they talked about Harvard 2+ and MIM programmes. It took me 2-3 months of reading different blogs and watching videos about the course and the schools to know about it. I figured out that for my dream schools, MIM would be pretty useful after reading about them on blogs, their websites and the Financial Times rankings

MM: Could you tell us about the procedure for applying to ESCP and ESSEC? What was the eligibility? How did you come across it?

SS: Application through a platform called ‘Join a school in France’. The eligibility criteria for it is that one should have a bachelor's degree with atleast 3 years of university study outside France.
 The requirements for the application are as follows:
1. GMAT score (no such minimum requirement but median GMAT score is around 680 and it’s higher for Indian students)
2. Transcripts (no minimum CGPA requirement but good grades are definitely an advantage)
3. A scanned copy of your passport 
4.Two letters of recommendation- one academic, and one professional
5. Essays regarding your motivation and future goals ( you would have to write them during the application process)The questions are quite subjective such as ‘Why do you want to join ESCP?’
and ‘What value will you add?’.

There are no mandatory work experience requirements but the average work experience for Masters in management course is around 6 months - 1.5 years. Based on your profile diversity, your academics, your work experience (if any), GMAT score, your motivation, and the clarity of your future goals, you get shortlisted for the interview. It's a holistic process where none of the factors can completely make or break your chances. The interview is a motivation-based interview where they get to know you and the why behind your decision.

Coming to ESSEC, one needs to apply through the school's website. Just add a Statement of Purpose (SOP) to that list and the rest of the things remain the same as ESCP.

MM: Are there any specific skills one needs to develop to go into Management?

SS: I was scared of coding for a very long time but I finished SQL despite my dislike because it’s a necessity and I better own up to it. I can’t depend on someone every time I need to access or retrieve data. I wanted to gather skills because I didn’t want to be replaceable because of the lack of a particular skill.  You need to be a good speaker because they want fluency in expressing ideas. You need it for GMAT too. I did 2 courses in Coursera on ‘Finance for Non-finance professionals’ and “Business and Finance working model’. I understood the basics and I wanted to figure out what it was. However, the biggest skill is to take the initiative.

MM: What was the preparation needed to get into these business schools? What was the application procedure? What was the CGPA criteria for such business schools? If there's some student who wants to try his/her hand at it, what should he/she do to prepare?

SS: The most important part of preparation is to decide a timeline of when to start GMAT preparation, application process and essays according to your school deadlines.
For that spend a good amount of time researching the course and the schools you are interested in.
Make sure you yourself are a 100% convinced about doing this course. After that, about 2-3 months of GMAT preparation would do. Having a reading habit helps a lot. I also prepared with the help of YouTube and mock-tests. A ruthless analysis of your mock attempts is the way to go. Try writing down what you have done and try connecting the dots. Then try finding which sector/industry interests you. Read about the top firms that interest you and their projects as this would give a direction to your profile and your essays. For me, it was the consultancy industry with education as my primary sector.

There's no minimum CGPA criteria but good academics become a huge advantage in the process. The competition is so intense that any advantage you can get, grab it. If your CGPA is an issue, as long as you can justify why it is low or other factors like GMAT, extracurriculars, work experience, and achievements in your field of interest are strong enough, it won’t hamper your application in any way. If a student wants to try his/her hand, my advice would be not to wait for the ideal moment where you have what you like to do figure out to the point. Keep doing work that interests you-some work opportunity that interests you even if you cannot see any certificate value in it.
 

Steve Jobs once said: "You can't connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” And I strongly believe in this.

MM: Did any of the Professors agree to give recommendation letters and were they helpful in any way? Were they supportive of your decision to not continue engineering when you approached them?

SS: Yes, I must say that the professors in my department were quite supportive of my decision. I had given a business-related presentation in the class for a seminar and technical writing, so they had a fair idea beforehand. Dr.Karak was a huge support throughout the process. He has been very supportive and he knew about my initiatives in college and had seen me in the classroom. He is the one who wrote my academic recommendation.

MM: Do you feel that the college encourages the students enough to pursue fields other than engineering?

SS: Considering the club culture we have in our college, we get to explore more and learn more up to a certain extent. But apart from that, no. There are certain people go for Management every year but there’s no such promotion for it.

Team MM wishes Sashank Sai a very bright future ahead.

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