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'Focus on your role to give the best you can'

  Says PRIYANKA KHURANA GOYAL, the Executive Director at Nomura, winner of Mrs India Queen of Substance 2015 and a doting mother to a two-year-old. She has achieved all this and much more at only 32 years of age. The 3rd rank holder from IIM Calcutta talks to Advanc'edge MBA about her astounding journey and how she plays the multiple cards of her life with ease and elan.  

Q. Was it always your dream to be an MBA? How did you turn your dream into reality?
(Smiles) When I was pursuing my Bachelors in Information Technology from Delhi University, I was introduced to someone who was working for Lehman Brothers. That was the first time I’d heard about the company. He was placed in New York, and after listening to his description of his profile and position, I fell in love with investment banking. Now, once I get curious about something, I make sure I get to the bottom of it. The very next day I went to a cyber café and did a thorough research on everything about trading, investments and about investment banking as a whole.
The same gentleman told me that he had got the job after studying at IIM Ahmedabad. So I started my study about the CAT, its format, the topics and the score required to make it to the top IIMs. I usually do a lot of research and homework before taking any plunge; I knew cracking the CAT would not be easy. So I researched about the institutes that helped students to prepare for CAT. I think the right training can do wonders to polish students and make them ready for the big day.

Q. Tell us about your life at IIM-C. How was the experience there right after you entered?
Everybody at IIM-C had scored brilliantly in the CAT, which is why they could make it to the premier institute. Naturally, the environment in the college was extremely competitive. You must have seen the movie 3 Idiots; well, the situation was quite similar at IIM. The first trimester was slightly tough not only for me but others too. We were will figuring things out and tying to cope with the pressure. And relative grading was practised when it came to assessments. So, in a Class of 100, only 5 could get A+, the next set A and then A- and so on. Therefore, the competition was quite intense. 
But then IIM prepared us for the professional world. The cut throat competition that we experienced there was quite useful for us in the long run. The classroom scenario was more like an office. Many work in a company, many perform well also, but there is only one person who gets to become the MD eventually! (Laughs)

Q. How did you manage to overcome the competition at IIM-C and emerge a winner?
I believe I became attuned to the rhythm there. I started enjoying the pressure and the competitive environment; in fact, I stood 3rd! Everyone too gradually adjusted to the process. After the first year, the focus shifted from the grades and the real learning started. I managed to get a pre-placement offer (PPO) from my dream company — Lehman Brothers — during my summers. I’d accomplished my primary mission! The second year was comparatively more relaxed and naturally we had a lot more fun. I learned far more then than I had in my first year. We had group activities and team events, which not only brought us together but also taught us how to become team players.
I cherish my campus life every bit. It was my first experience at a hostel and the bonding we developed there was amazing. I had never interacted with such a cosmopolitan crowd before. At Delhi University, the students were mostly from north India, but at IIMC, they were from across India. Those two years in such a diverse environment opened me up to many new perspectives in life.

Q. How was life after you graduated from IIM-C, during the initial days of your career?
I joined Lehman Brothers at their London office for the first two years. I realised everyone working there was a topper from somewhere or the other! And that perpetual competitive environment persisted in office.

Q. Did it help being an IIM alumnus?
My stint at IIM certainly helped me when I joined Lehman Brothers. I felt I was more equipped to handle my responsibilities. Also, I personally feel the Indian education system is far more comprehensive, rigorous and thorough than others, especially in Maths. IIM Calcutta prepared me well and that advantage helped me immensely.

Q. Why did you return to India?
After two years I joined Lehman India. London was already a developed market, so I didn’t find the work challenging enough. Developed markets like London or New York are already saturated and it can get boring after a while.  On the other hand, Lehman had just started out in India, and I wanted to be a part of that start-up, that growth phase. It was more challenging. I love taking up challenges over and over again. Later Nomura took over Lehman Brothers so I became a part of Nomura.

Q. The early days of your career must certainly have been quite different from what it is now. Please share with us the challenges that you faced and how you overcame them.
Nothing really changes, as far as the work is concerned. It all depends on how one approaches it. During the initial phase of my career, my boss used to give me work. Now I create work and give it to others. This is the same pattern for everyone. Initially, learning the work takes a lot of time. But things like tight deadlines, challenges and setbacks can happen to people anytime in their career. When you’re younger and just starting to learn, you get quite stressed by these things. But once you start getting a hang of things and become familiar with the work pattern, then the ability to handle pressure increases. Moreover, a seasoned player starts analysing his or her role into the whole thing much better than a fresher.

Q. Nowadays, people hardly stick to one job for a long time, and yet, you’re still working in your first company. What is your secret of sustenance?
I don’t give up on things very easily. Every company in every field has its problems. I can’t run away from them! So it is better to face them head on in my current company. Some of my colleagues in Nomura have changed jobs four or five times in a career spanning eight or 10 years, but they couldn’t run away from problems. I feel it is more about how we approach things, our individual personalities. There are bound to be good days and bad days. But one bad day doesn’t mean I leave the company.
I feel I am paid a certain amount of money for working in taxing situations and facing gruelling issues. So I always look at them as challenges that I have to overcome. There is no point shying away from them and getting dejected. If I can’t do something, there’s no point in feeling frustrated about it. I must find out why it isn’t happening and make sure it does, because at the end of the day, I get paid for it. If I am unable to do something on a particular day, I go back and think about it at length and the very next day I attack it fresh!

Q. You seem completely settled in your life as an investment banker at Nomura. So how did you happen to take part in a beauty pageant?
My brother had recently developed a love for photography, and he needed a free model! So he asked me to pose and shot a portfolio for me, and it came out really well. I sent those pictures to Mrs India Queen of Substance contest, for no real reason. But then, I got selected and eventually won the contest. 
For me, participating in the contest was again like preparing for the CAT – knowing the syllabus well, the subjects involved and gearing up accordingly. In CAT, I was careful to score well in all three subjects, in this contest too, I was keen to ensure I did well in all the rounds of the pageant. So I gave it a lot of importance.
I think I have been doing pretty diverse things lately, and it is a result of inspiration from my son. In the last one year I have joined cooking classes. I am learning soap making as well.

Q. What do you think is the best part about winning this contest?
The best part about winning this contest is that it has given me a voice to talk about things about which I feel strongly. I always wanted to do something for women entrepreneurs. There are a lot of talented women in India who stop working after marriage. A few of my friends have done so. I want to use my title to support such women and the businesses that they run and take them to the next level.
For example, the person who will be designing my wardrobe for Mrs Earth is a very talented designer.
But she doesn’t get any kind of exposure and is restricted to a small store in Chembur, Mumbai. But designing for me will give her a fillip to reach the next level.

Q. How are you preparing yourself for Mrs Earth Queen of Substance 2015?
The contest is in Jamaica in October, but I’ve already started preparing. I am diligently working out in the gym and practising yoga. I ensure that I eat healthy and follow diet charts religiously. 

Q. Executive Director at Nomura, a rank 3 IIM Calcutta graduate, Mrs India Queen of Substance 2015 pageant winner, a doting mother — how do you manage everything so deftly?
Prioritising in life is very important. We have to know what to do, and when to do it. In this respect, yoga helps to a great extent. I am also extremely focused with one work at one point of time, and probably this is why I can accomplish things really fast. Our Prime Minister works at least a 100 times more than me. If he can do it, why can’t I?
It is also very important to delegate things correctly, and not try and to do everything together. But I must say I have the full support of my family and staff. My parents and in-laws keep coming to help me now and then.

Q. Did your stint at a beauty pageant change others’ perspective towards you in any way?
I do get mixed reactions, but I don’t worry too much. I just focus on my work and let it do the talking.

Q. Do you think climbing the corporate ladder can be quite a challenge, especially for women?
I feel that nowadays, if one woman has been discriminated against, it gets maximum media coverage. But the same thing could have happened to a man as well. There are a lot of nice things happening to women, but these never get the publicity because they’re boring. Organisations these days are far more mature and conscious to retain women talent. Women bring in a new perspective to the work culture. They certainly make better managers, because they can handle emotional situations well and are better at reading people’s feelings. Companies these days want to maintain the balance. Business schools too are deliberately taking in more women in order to alter the skewed ratio. So good days are ahead for women. There is always demand for talent in the industry, be it male or female.

Q. You said meditation helps you to achieve the perfect work life balance and get maximum results with minimum effort. How do you find time to meditate?
I simply have to find time for my meditation. I have been practising yoga ever since I had been preparing for the CAT exams. Now, I do both. I am an early riser and the first few hours are for yoga and meditation.

Q. Finally what words of advice do you have for MBA aspirants who are planning to bell the CAT?
Preparing for the CAT is an extensive process. Ideally, the best time to start preparing is seven to eight months before the exam. If the CAT is in November, it is advisable to begin studying seriously by January or February. Equally important is knowing how to bell it best. Many people follow different paths but I can suggest what I had followed myself:
It’s all about working smart, not working hard.
Know the correct format of the CAT well.
Dedicate at least four hours every day to prepare for the exam.
Give regular mock tests and analyse the scores of each tests.
Identify your weak areas and keep improving.
Try and study from 4 to 8 in the morning. It’s the best time to learn.