Career, Ambition and Continuous Learning

The DTH business is a twenty first century business. This is really a new technology in terms of the service you offer. It is also a new technology in terms of how you interact and reach out to customers. How would you say it’s different from, let’s say FMCG, which is where you started your career? 

Different in some ways but principles are the same. FMCG also makes bulk stuff and puts it into small packets and distributes it to a very large bunch of customers. Each…and each of them wants different flavours, different packs, different colours, depending on what category you are in. It’s exactly the same business. You buy content in bulk, by doing long range deals and then break them into small packages and sell them according to the need of the customer. The difference between the twentieth century business that you were referring, which was analogue cable before this and the twenty first century business that is DTH today, essentially is that there in analogue you just had one stream of content flowing. The customer did not have a choice to discard some, add whatever or interact with the stream. He had to buy what he was served and pay for it all. Here I can create packages and customer has great control, which is exactly what happened in FMCG. If you wanted a twenty gram pack versus a hundred gram pack, you wanted in a strawberry flavour verses a raspberry flavour, you wanted to pay for it in smaller lots versus large lots or whatever, he could choose that and that’s exactly what the customer can do here. But principle is the same. You are buying in bulk and you are distributing in retail in smaller packs. The big difference though is that FMCG was a linear business. First you bought the raw material, then somebody bought the packaging material, somebody produced it, shipped it to the warehouse and then it is distributed to distributors who send it to retailer, that are linear. When the customer is using the product, unlike the FMCG where when the customer is bathing, everybody from the materials manager to production manager to sales manager marketing manager could be sleeping at home. Here when the customer is consuming all these guys need to be sitting in the kitchen, real time. Everything happens simultaneously. That’s the only difference. Otherwise principle is the same. The delivery mechanism is virtual and its real time. Vodafone is quite similar again. So anything that’s virtually delivered in real time is kind of similar.

The basic principles are closer to a telecom business here than to a packaged goods business. But the core is the same. Anybody trying to treat this as a technology business and not as a consumer goods business, in fact, I would say if that was fast moving consumer goods, these are faster moving consumer goods. So that’s how they are.

What are the kind of skill sets that you would look in this industry?

The skills are unimportant in any business. You know, we lay too much emphasis on skills very often. I think the bigger piece that one needs to look for is attitude and if you got the right attitude, then you can fit across in any industry. Because the skills that you are displaying today or practicing today is not something you were born with and you also most of us have traversed through various kinds of industries. We couldn’t have been born with one set of skills, been trained in one set of skills or experience one set of skills. I think it’s….it’s our attitude which has sailed us through various places and the first big thing that we need to remember is how do we become customer centric, be able to figure out what the customer wants and tailor your processes to suit that. That’s…that’s one big piece that one needs to know. Second, especially if you are working in a country like India, be conscious of two things. Opportunities are far bigger than what you have exploited so far. There is a huge mass of people who are not using you, compared to who are using you. Take any industry…any industry…you can see that. So you can’t be saying this is stopping me. You got to be constantly changing your mind from this is what I can do. So stop looking at hurdles, start looking at opportunities. If you are spending ninety percent of your time, looking at opportunities, instead of ninety percent of the time on what’s stopping you, you will make success of it in any business.

Having said that, where are the various kind of jobs that are there in this industry?

So like in FMCG, you employ sales people, you employ production people, you employ purchase people, employ marketing people, you employ IT guys, we employ all sorts of people. So right from the beginning of buying the content, from the producers of the content, you need purchase specialists. You need finance guys; you need human resource people, because it’s a large organisation. You need sales people. You need field support, field repair people, installation people, you need technologists who understand satellite technology and understand beam up and beam down the signal. So there is not one skill that we are employing here. There are various skills that we are employing in this business. You can’t just say that because we are DT, we need a certain kind of a skill in this business.

Would you say companies like yours are getting adequate supply of skilled resources? 

Again I would say that it is not skill. Sometimes when we don’t get the right skill, we train the people, within the company and we are not limited to looking at our own sector for those skills. For example, if it’s a journalist or specialised area like human resources, or sales or understanding the customer or communication or finance, I don’t need to be limited to this particular sector for that. I can go to any sector because the guy who is a good finance guy could have come from selling biscuits or selling cement.

The core business function in any business is not performed by more than ten percent of the people. For example, when telecom was created, tell me who had handled from the network building perspective, who was the person who would have handled building of a network and running of a network, which again in telecom constituted less than five percent or ten percent of the total staff that we hired in telecom. The guys who were there were the people who had worked in the erstwhile MTNL and BSNL. This was just about ten percent. So if you wanted that skill, you went to the skill source. For example in our case, who are the people who handled broadcasting? Just like telecom was a monopolised government sector, prior to its privatisation, uplinking and down linking the distributing television was a function monopolised by Prasar Bharti, Doordarshan. They were the ones who were like receiving signals, uplinking them, down linking, so when it came to satellite technology and broadcasting, you went to Prasar Bharti and hired people from there but that’s just the core five to ten percent of your organisation.

If I am starting my work life, would you advice me to invest in continuing education, doing online courses, anything that helps me shore up the skills I have? Because you are seeming to suggest that if you have the right attitude and the basic intelligence, then your work environment will provide you the breaks you need to climb up the ladder.

Exactly right, because to me, college education is more about disciplining the mind, less about learning a particular skills which you are going to use for the rest of your thirty or forty years of career, because you are not going to, trust me you are not going to use one skill for the next thirty years of a career. You will need different skills, you don’t even start with knowing what you will need or what you will end up as.

That’s interesting. For instance, data analytics – two words that are really bandied about a lot these days across industries, even very much so in yours, right. Because absolutely capturing people’s behaviour and consumption patterns of content and tailor making your packages for them. Do you think, for instance, that I should look at a career in data analytics because of the opportunities there?

Because data analytics is something that will go in every field. I remember the first set of people to use data analytics in their industry were the banking, credit card, insurance guys, who analyzed consumption patterns of all their customers. I remember setting up the data analytics team in the telecom for the first time, this was about eight or nine years ago, we tried to set up a customer value management, CVM function, we said where do we get these analytics from and we poached from the banking industry and when I am setting up the same thing in DTH now, am poaching from the telecom industry. So the guys who are getting in have either been in credit cards or telecom, prior to coming to DTH.

So, are you not getting fresh talent with these skills?

But you need to hire people at different levels. You are getting freshly talented people, which is why the numbers are growing. The numbers are growing you bring in one guy who coaches four other people who coach another four people who coach another four people and the pyramid is created.

You said good attitude helps. So, what is the one bit of advice you would like to give a person who is starting out on his career today?

See what college teaches you is ability to solve problems. As you get into a profession, what you face is a bunch of problems. What you really need to do is have the ability to prioritize within those problems as which are the ones you want to solve and which are the ones you would want to solve tomorrow and which are the ones you would never want to solve. Because you can’t attack all of them and so that’s first thing is about prioritization. If you are clear about putting an a b and c to every problem, and tackling the As and leaving the Bs for tomorrow and never touching the Cs because they don’t impact you so much, that’s one discipline that you need to learn and the second discipline is any problem that you get is to be layered on the table and has to be solved bit by bit till the whole piece is solved. That’s what colleges should teach you. That’s the attitude that you need to have to come into the industry with and progress within the industry. If you are saying that learning mathematics or learning geography or learning naval architecture is going to solve my problems in the industry, it doesn’t. It’s the discipline of learning to solve those problems which actually makes a success of you in the industry.

So you started as an engineer and then you did an MBA from FMS Delhi and here you are in the corner office.

I have sold cosmetics, I have sold cooking oil, I have sold colas, I have sold clothes, I have sold communication and now am selling content, so all Cs.

What would you highlight as the milestones in your career?

There is a pattern to each of these things. Each of these six industries that I have mentioned just now were in a very very nascent stage either on the product cycle, or on the distribution, whichever way you look at it. There was a huge opportunity and the past had been like kind of just little bit of a start and not too much of a penetration in the industry. So my first two odd years went into these businesses and trying to understand and put together the principles and the next three or four years that I have spent was to proliferate the business and once the business was on its rails, I got bored. I just got bored. Because if it’s business as usual and if it’s like you know everything is well oiled, well greased, everybody is going about doing his job and its incremental, then it does not interest you.

When you were a student, let’s say in FMS, did you have any sense of what kind of career path you would take or what goal you would have?

None whatsoever. If anybody is saying that I want to be this or I wanted to be that is lying through his teeth. Because as students, we just don’t know which part of this big bad world you are gonna end up in.

But you can have an aspiration or an ambition?

You can always have an aspiration.

What was yours and how far have you arrived?

Nothing. Seriously, I mean when I was growing I wanted to become a doctor. So I mean this is how close I am to it. When it came to getting admission into a medical college, I did not appear for engineering, I was appearing for medical colleges and by the time the admission in medical college happened, I realised this is gonna take too long. So I started struggling for engineering colleges and only two places were left and IITs had gone behind so I picked up the one that was available. I finished my engineering and I picked up engineering related job in a factory and then realised within two months that am gonna end up in a factory for the rest of my life because I can’t just get out of this factory from being a shift engineer to a general manager in front and that’s my end. So I said – hey I need to change whatever it is. So I thought of an MBA and when you were inside the MBA, the most glamorous thing and also interesting thing seemed sales and marketing. Some people were doing software, which didn’t interest me. Marketing interested me, so I took on a marketing courses and never did a marketing job for the first ten years of my career. I was a sales and operations person for the first ten years. Accidently got into marketing.

So you are saying that it is really not too worthwhile to sit and chart out a career path and head towards it.

It’s good to do that but don’t be surprised if you change course in between. It’s always good to set out where we are going but if you find something more interesting along the way, there is no harm taking a detour , if it’s interesting.

What has kept you inspired, what, where, if I were to say share what your source of inspiration is?

Change, change and change. Ability to impact in a changing environment. Every morning when you come in, you haven’t done something new today, it’s not worth it, the day is not worth it. If you haven’t impacted a person or a process or a customer or somebody’s life and grown the business a notch more than what it was growing yesterday, it’s not worth it. It’s just not worth it. There was one line which I read ages ago and I am sure everybody has read that, it says that if you haven’t changed your mind in the last twenty four hours, check your pulse, you may be dead. It’s one of those things. If a part of the organisation’s structure has not been changed in the last six months, then it’s not functioning. People said that’s too early, I said no it’s not especially in the kind of businesses and opportunity that we are in. You need to change your processes literally every week, every month. If you are running with the same organizational structure, then obviously there is something wrong because you are not adding new skills and you are not doing away with some of the old skills which saw you through yesterday. I will give you an example – you have these IT managers today all of these have been around since I was around in this industry and trust me when I tell you this, there was no IT when I entered this business. We had ruled sheets, we entered figures in that by hand and totalled them horizontally on a little Casio calculator and then vertically and if the damn thing didn’t total up we have to…

Start it all over again and these guys I don’t know what they were doing but today each of one of them are my age and are IT heads, when there was no IT when these guys started. How are these guys IT heads? So they must have started as something else and when then this particular sector came in and these guys skilled themselves, found interest, skilled themselves and go into that stream. So the point I am trying to make is education does not end with college and working does not start only after. So you are not only learning when you are in college and you are not only working when you are outside the college. There are people who are coming out of college today they don’t even know what streams will be in existence thirty years from now. So you encounter them, you find them interesting during your career, learn about them and if you find something even more interesting, something that you would like to do nine to five, you dive into them. So I think learning is something that is continuous but these are skills you learn them as you go along. You can’t stop.

Harit Nagpal - CEO, TataSky
Harit Nagpal - CEO, TataSky - Currently the MD and CEO of Tata Sky, Harit has 3 decades of experience with brands like Vodafone Essar, Shoppers Stop, Pepsi, Marico & Lakme.
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