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MBA helps at every step: A real life story

  We know how an MBA education helps grads in their business roles. This is a true story of how the writerĺs MBA in general and Marketing major in particular helped him make professional strides in his career journey with Cummins over the last 9 years.  

Reminiscing about the memories of the two years I spent doing my full time MBA from Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, has been a sheer avenue of joy for me. If I were to summarise the experience in just a statement, I’d say that it helped me upgrade my skill set, master the art of developing multiple perspectives around a business issue, and evolve my thinking around complex problems that require an out-of-the-box approach. My double major in Strategy and Marketing also helped me adapt between high level approaches to a discrete tangible approach, depending on the problem at hand.

A ‘strategic’ beginning
In the past nine years, I have had three different roles of increasing responsibility at Cummins Inc., the company I work for. I started with a strategy role. This was pretty high level work, with dedicated short duration projects and defined deliverables.
The strategic frameworks I had learned during my MBA came in handy in structuring the thoughts around business issues of strategic importance. The projects would often entail creating a base scenario, together with sensitivity analysis around alternate scenarios. During my MBA, one vital skill I learned was to make logical assumptions and quantify the resulting financial implications through spreadsheets that closely mimic business realities. This skill immensely helped me in putting together high-quality deliverables in my strategy role.

The shift to marketing
After two years in strategy, I next moved to an account management role for the North America automotive market. This was quite a complete linear shift from one end of the spectrum to the other. I was responsible for managing a big automotive account worth $300 million in annual revenues. My marketing major suddenly took center stage in the wake of the requirements of a customer facing role!
The critical points to success in account management roles are clear identification of customer needs, aligning your offerings around the needs so identified, and helping the customer win in the marketplace through collaborative intervention. Because of my formal training in marketing management, I could quickly identify my customer’s needs and pain points.

How the program helped
Let me give you a specific example. One of my customers was unable to gain incremental business because of a few inherent anomalies in the warranty and extended coverage portfolio of Cummins. Such anomalies restricted the bid competitiveness of my customer. I quickly dived in with a rapid analysis of past five-year bids that my customer had lost. I complimented this with a massive ‘voice of the customer’ (VOC) exercise of 300 dealers of the automotive company that faced the end customers directly.
Based on these twin endeavours, I was able to rationalise Cummins’ warranty and extended coverage portfolio that was more aligned to the customer’s needs. This specific initiative enabled my customer to win incremental bids worth $40 million in a single calendar year! Without my formal training in marketing management and the tools I learned in pursuing that major, articulation and execution of the initiative I cited would not have been possible.
Simple things such as training my customer on the engines Cummins sold to them, helping them compare the value offered by Cummins vis-à-vis a competitor engine supplier, effectively negating the misinformation campaign a competitor was running about fuel efficiency, etc helped my customer position itself better in the marketplace. All these actions were directly borrowed from a classical marketing management textbook and adapted to the specific situation or problem.

A broader ambit
After three and a half years of my account management role, I took a leadership role in the aftermarket space. I have been leading the global mining aftermarket business (parts and services) worth $500 million in annual revenues for Cummins. This space was totally new for me, as it involved a lot of supply chain, logistics, and channel elements that I wasn’t very familiar with. The MBA training of deep diving into a plethora of information and quickly identifying useful information by cutting out the clutter helped me develop a good understanding of the scope and the complexity of this business.
My current role is a truly global one, and market specific nuances dictate the strategy, initiative and execution for each region. This is also a fundamental premise of marketing management fundamentals. No matter how much Cummins wants to standardise processes and offering across the world, the aftermarket offering must be tailored per each market’s specific needs.
In this role, I have truly leveraged the 4P approach, and played with a variety of combinations of product, price, place, and promotion to deliver superior business results. For example, a mining customer in North America values uptime the most, and hence wants a premium engine rebuild without much price sensitivity. On the other hand, a mining customer in Indonesia cares for price competitiveness and is comfortable with moderate quality of rebuild at a lower price. Hence, various tiers of rebuild kits needed to be developed, that would align well with what the customer needs for each market.
Since the path to market is through distributors, communication becomes a key ingredient of differentiation. Hence a massive effort to arm the channel with the most accurate and comprehensive communication about product positioning, capabilities, and competitive advantage was taken up. This also included developing marketing content and imparting training. My marketing major training had a clear linkage to an initiative such as the one I just talked about.
At the end of the day, as the journey unfolds and I try to help businesses across the globe grow, the fundamental marketing management knowledge I gained from my MBA and the iterative improvements that occurred through practical execution continue to remain my constant companions.