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'Don't hold back, give it your all'

 

...This is what Vignesh VS, Factory Personnel Manager at ITC and an alumnus of TISS feels. In conversation with Kalyani Majumdar, Vignesh talks about the exciting field of HR and his job responsibilities, along with some important suggestions for MBA aspirants.

 

Q. Tell us about your career trajectory until your MBA.
I did a B Tech from Vellore Institute of Technology. Right from the start of my engineering I wanted to go for Masters, but by the end of my second year I was not sure whether to go for MBA or M Tech. After engineering I started working for Accenture as a Software Engineer. After clearing CAT and also TISSNET I was introspecting which is the area wherein I would like to specialise in.  I didn’t want to decide on it after finishing a year in a B School. I wanted to figure out the area of specialisation that I wanted to pursue right from the start.
So, I was evaluating my strengths and weaknesses and I felt that somewhere I was more comfortable working with people. Although I was a software engineer, I was always involved in employment engagement activities and I was one of the first volunteer for many cultural fests etc., while I was working at Accenture.
I somehow felt that I was good with human engagement so I thought perhaps I should pursue HR.
Career wise also when I got selected in TISS, I thought since it is one of the top B schools for HR, I should go for it.

Q. Tell us a bit about your experience of studying at TISS.
My experience at TISS was really fantastic. Now, looking back, I feel that choosing TISS as my MBA destination was the best decision I could take for my career, and not the other B Schools that I had as options. I was also selected at IIM Trichy and IIM Ranchi, but I had already taken the decision to pursue HR.  And, I am so glad that I chose HR as my specialisation.
So, at TISS, the campus life is excellent and when you talk about the fieldwork internships, I think TISS is perhaps one of the best and it is also one of the strongest points for TISS. In field internships at TISS you get a feel of almost six different industries. So, you have four corporate internships, one summer internship and one NGO experience as part of the internships.
Right from the first semester they send you for field work internships and that is where the main learning actually happened for me.
It is one thing to study theories and case studies in the classroom, but quite another experience to really get exposed to corporate environment and that too right from the first semester.
I went to NSE for my first internship and apart from looking at the scenarios from the HR perspective you also get a clear understanding of the different industrial experience that you get exposed to. So, my first exposure was in the banking domain and then my second internship was with VE Commercial Vehicles in the area of Industrial Relations. My summer internship was with ITC through which I got a pre placement offer. Then I had an internship with Unilever and then Aon Hewitt. So, it gave me a very well balanced understanding of different industries and aspects of HR and business functioning.

Q. You are also involved in campus recruitment for ITC. How does it feel to be on the other side of the interview table?
I really have to give credit to ITC for giving me this opportunity to be a part of their recruitment team that goes to the campuses.
Now, when I go back to these campuses for recruitment, the pressure is of next level. I have gone to TISS as well as to IIFT and I feel the pressure is on you.
So, I feel the same pressure that I felt when I was a student and sat for those interviews. Campuses like TISS where you have the placements happening in a single day is even more stressful for the recruiters as, this is where five different companies sit at the same time and fight for talent. It is like each interview goes on for around 5 to 10 minutes and within that you have to take a call.
You have to evaluate whether this candidate is really suitable. You need as much data as possible on the candidate, right from the GD that happens prior to one day we start jotting down certain characteristics of the candidate. And the final interview is just a confirmation, that you are a true-fit for ITC.

Q. How should one prepare for the tests and PI for TISS?
So, at TISS, the Quant and Verbal portions are fine but TISSNET gives a lot of importance to the general knowledge section. For an aspirant who has seriously prepared for CAT the Quant and Verbal portions of the test should be easy.
Apart from the other sections, you must give enough time to prepare for GK as it has a lot of weightage here at TISS. I remember I had to prepare separately for GK. I remember going through all sorts of books on GK that exists.
There is a written test as well. In the PI round I was asked questions mostly about why do I want to pursue HR and why did I choose TISS as my MBA destination.
Apart from that they ask questions on social issues. So, I was asked to talk about a social issue from my hometown. This was something unique at TISS. The rest of the interview was mostly about questions regarding my work at Accenture.

Q. What kind of impact do you feel automation is having on HR?
Every new technology is being frowned upon for some time. Even during the Industrial Revolution many people were against it. So, right now that is what is happening with AI, automation and machine learning. Technological development will keep happening. I feel that the end result would be that the HR will be able to do their job more efficiently with the support of automation.
I think people should not be so worried about being replaced by automation as at the end of the day you still cannot replace human experience, emotions and touch with machines, or AI or data analytics. How much can it talk about human emotions?

Q. You are now working with ITC. What does it entail?
At ITC the experience has been fantastic. I am the Factory Personnel Manager in ITC and I am looking after a tobacco processing plant in Andhra Pradesh. The plant is in a remote area.
The learning has been tremendous. Ask any HR professional and they will always say that working in Industrial Relations (IR), is extremely important for a holistic HR experience.
This is the backbone of what we see as HR today. It is a manufacturing unit, here there are workers belonging to different categories. This is a hardcore HR role as compared to the kind of HR activity you see in banking sector or in the IT sector.
Here, one primary challenge is dealing with the unions. It is a multiple union setup and for any HR professional, if at all you get an opportunity to work in a manufacturing unit you will be seen as a person who has seen tough situations and circumstances.
For instance, over here any small issue can lead to a strike and people can be highly aggressive in a factory set up, and agitations are common.
Tomorrow when I move up the corporate ladder I will be the HR professional who has first-hand experience of handling such situations. At present, my work responsibilities entail all areas with respect to humanised workforce. So, sometimes there are issues brought by multiple unions, there are grievances on the shop floor, we are also responsible for wage settlements with the factory workers. Providing medical facilities and maintain the security of the plant is also our responsibility. So, anything apart from the production process comes under the HR.

Q. Has MBA changed your approach to life and work?
Definitely, a big yes! Earlier I was a software developer, thus, I was an individual contributor. My interaction with other people was limited and I did not get the macro perspectives of a company or an industry. Definitely after MBA, the roles and responsibilities are really huge compared to an engineer.
The exposure I have and the scope of my work has also been large compared to what it was earlier and most importantly, I think I have become good at team management and that is something that has changed me a lot, compared to how I was in my pre-MBA days. Now, I am not just responsible for my contributions, but I am also responsible for other people and their contributions.
I have developed leadership qualities after doing an MBA. I have learned how to engage the team members more effectively and extract maximum out of them. I have understood the value of ownership.

Q. What do you think of management education in general? Do you think we should incorporate more live projects?
Case studies are important, but real world exposure is something that actually adds value to your management education. Now, apart from summer internships many campuses are offering winter projects as well.  Apart from that, the good news is that more and more B Schools in India are including live projects, in their course programme. Unfortunately these are only limited to the top B Schools.
So, yes there are many B Schools that are giving only  summer internships and I feel they should include more live projects in their curriculum.
Practically, being part of an organisation and getting a feel of its functioning is a must.  I feel all B schools need more industrial experts apart from case studies and theoretical learning.

Q. Any suggestions for the MBA aspirants?
Competition is really tough so prepare well. I don’t want to discourage anyone but one must have a realistic goal in front of them when it comes to clearing CAT. There are people that have given CAT for more than 6 times, without getting success, for them it is alright to step back and re evaluate their goals. You must ask yourself the real reason that why you want to get into a B School, is it because of the pay package or are you really passionate about having a career in managerial and leadership roles? And, answer honestly. Sometimes an MBA aspirant gets swayed by the placement figures of a particular B School, even if it does not fit their career goals. This should be avoided. Lastly, do your due diligence properly before choosing your B school and the best way to do that is to get in touch with the current students from the particular B School to get the right picture and see if it is a good fit for your career goals.  

Q. What is Industrial Relations?
Industrial relations or employment relations is the multidisciplinary academic field that studies the employment relationship that is, the complex interrelations between employers and employees, labor/trade unions, employer organisations and the state. The newer name, “employment relations” is increasingly taking precedence because “industrial relations” is often seen to have relatively narrow connotations. Nevertheless, industrial relations has frequently been concerned with employment relationships in the broadest sense, including “non-industrial” employment relationships.