Chepu- () • 07/03/2008 03:30:27 AM
1. Discuss an experience that has had an impact on your development as a leader. (400 word limit)
My leadership capabilities developed most significantly during an operations improvement program that I am currently leading at Indias second largest alcohol beverage company. The program extends across its Beer and Liquor businesses and across 11 plants spread throughout India. This summer, the program was falling apart, with no one at the client being able to lead the effort. I was asked to step in to ensure that the bottom-line impact target of the US $30 million was met by the year-end. The massive industry attention, the extremely tight timelines and the geographical difficulty in implementation made the situation extremely challenging.
Not surprisingly, the morale in my senior client team was extremely low. I also had to problem-solve with experts of beer and liquor manufacturing, consult with external systems experts and negotiate with vendors across three continents. But firstly, I had to raise the team morale by convincing them what a valuable contribution they were making towards the company. To demonstrate to the senior client team the importance of taking ownership of the problem, I had to take on the task of actually running a beer unit for 2 weeks by leading 58 plant executives, generating efficiency improvement ideas, and reducing production cost by 30%. Before I knew it, the teaming was raring to go. So I quickly assessed each members existing skills, potential skills and preferences and allocated them tasks accordingly.
The team has been working round the clock and the results till December have shown that our overall profit has increased by US $32.5 million till now. There were three key things that I learned about being an impactful leader from this experience.
Firstly, I learned that the key to having impact is to lead the team by example and to motivate and inspire them with results.
Secondly, I learned to crisis-manage difficult situations. For example, as part of our effort, we were redeploying manpower in the plants. The insecure workers at a particular plant misunderstood this exercise as a manpower reduction effort and went on strike. Rather than waiting for HR people from Headquarters, I went ahead and talked to the workers leaders and even spoke to all the 400 workers to explain the objective of our exercise. Apart from saving time and money, we also got great cooperation from the workers.
Thirdly, I learned the art of resource-management as I directly managed over 150 people and developed skills required for a long-term continuity of impact.
Thus, I was able to pull-off an operational improvement program for an organization in a bad financial state. It was remarkable that the team succeeded against strong discouragement and skepticism from the middle management. The owner greatly applauded the efforts of the team. This experience has developed immense confidence in me to be a leader.
2. What are your three most substantial accomplishments, and why do you view them as such? (600 word limit)
Fight with uncertainty in life: In July 2000, my father was diagnosed with third stage cancer. It was a crisis for my family. Although I longed to be with the family, I had to continue with my first job and provide financial and moral support to my family.
My father underwent the painful treatment of chemotherapy for over one year. It was a tough year for us, and I had to work hard at my job and find the time to look after my father and my family. Just as things started to improve slowly, a second cancerous growth was detected in the lungs last January. We were shattered and my father, tired of the painful treatment, was losing his enthusiasm for life. Even the doctors were not optimistic and future of the family seemed uncertain for a second time.
I realized that getting the family together encouraging my father to maintain his zest for life had become much more critical for his recovery. I moved my family with me and I started to spend much more time with my father boosting his morale. I took all the responsibilities of my litter sister from my parents and made sure that the family has a smile all the time.
Despite being detected with a third cancerous growth five days back, I see a remarkable shift in his spirit to fight the disease this time. I view this as an accomplishment as I have been able to make my family strong enough to fight this once more and not be deterred by setbacks in life.
Creating a National Technology Festival: As a student at IIT Kanpur, the biggest challenge for me was when I became the Festival Coordinator: I wanted to take the technology festival of IIT Kanpur, Techkriti, to a national platform. Leading a talented team of 250 students, I restructured the festival and gave it a purpose that would benefit both the student body and the local populace, since I strongly believe that one cannot grow in isolation , without the growth of society or the country. I objectively clubbed the alumni reunion of the year with Techkriti and orchestrated the active support of eminent alumni. From an insignificant position, we managed to take Techkriti to being the second largest student technology festival in the country where around 1200 students from all over India participated. I consider this a significant achievement, as I was able to mobilize three strong forces-students, alumni and school administration-to create a phenomenon that now has a national status in India.
Launching a telecom startup: The most intellectually challenging assignment was during the course of McKinseys work on the launch of a nationwide telecom network: my job was to define the mobile-handset strategy for the CDMA-1xRTT (2.5G) mobile network. I studied the telecom growth cycle of Bell-South and Belgacom, held discussions with telecom experts, and understood TRAI requirements. But when I presented my strategy to the CEO and his top management, they disagreed with it vehemently, pushing me to stick to their original strategy. Although I was not convinced I had to assure them that I would re-think the strategy and go back to them with a fresh viewpoint.
But I believed in what I had proposed and persevered in my earlier direction. To prove my point, I coordinated with a Korean handset provider to do a pilot-run in a controlled environment. The results were encouraging and ensured 25% faster growth for the business.
I went back to the CEO with enhanced confidence to explain the strategy once more. This discussion did not start on a positive note, but in the next one hour, I used the results of the pilot to change his point of view on the strategy.
The CEO and the top management, finally, adopted my strategy
I consider this a significant achievement as I boldly stood up against the CEO and his top management based on what I believed to be correct and emerged a winner in a difficult situation without shifting from my stand.
3.Recognizing that successful leaders are able to learn from failure, discuss a situation in which you failed and what you learned. (400 word limit)
I was working for disabled people through an NGO known as the NCPEDP and I had organized its first advocacy camp, which turned out to be a disaster. As a team leader, I was coordinating with local politicians and local government officials who had agreed to help spread the message and also felicitate some selected disabled people for their achievements. The motive of the camp was to create awareness about the disabled people amongst South Delhi residents. For me, the camp was an important event as I saw it as a first step towards making an impact on the lives of people of a segment of Indian society. However, the camp was a failure, to my surprise, as none of the residents turned up. The politicians and government officials left with a negative impression of NCPEDP and me. The look in the eyes of some of the fellow disabled people said it all. It seemed as if they had lost a ray of hope, which could have improved their lives substantially. At that moment I decided to hold the camp once again.
I took the responsibility for the failure and went back to the whiteboard to assess where I went wrong in my execution. Hindsight revealed two important mistakes I made. First, I was busy with my telecom client work and left my NCPEDP working pending. By the time, I got in touch with the chairperson of the South Delhi community center, we were left with limited options for the choice of dates: we had to settle for an inauspicious time in the midst of a busy marriage season. Secondly, I made a mistake in educating the people about the camp. I had assumed that people would see the benefits of the camp.
I went back to the politicians and the government officials and requested them for their support one more time. They eventually agreed. I had learned that I must persevere till the end to make an effort successful and also that I must plan everything in advance. Thus, all the volunteers had their responsibilities clearly laid out. I personally ensured that the people in the region were informed and educated of how the camp would benefit the disabled. This time, and every time after that, everything worked fine.
The store does not end there. After sustained efforts in the region, the residents acknowledged the needs of disabled people and a new shopping complex built here has separate access provisions for disabled people. The community has identified some public buildings, which will be also remodeled to incorporate the requirements of the disabled.
4.Discuss an ethical dilemma that you experienced firsthand. How did you manage and resolve the situation? (400 word limit)
While working on a US $30 million operations improvement program for an Indian alcohol giant, I was visiting all its 11 manufacturing units to improve operational process. During my stint at a plant in Aurangabad, an industrial town in the middle of Maharashtra, I detected some illegal practices: the plant management were under-reporting the alcohol recovery percentage and then illegally selling the accounted alcohol in the unregulated market. The key people involved, both government officials and senior plant managers, were generating obscene money.
Obviously, persuading them to stop this illegal activity fell on deaf ears. In fact, they subtly offered me money for not disclosing this. I obstinately refused the offer. But over the next two days, I was taken into many different meetings and they used various tactics to sway me from my stand. I was even give a life threat.
What should I do now? was the questions, which I was not able to answer. I was in a dilemma as I saw two separate paths. First, I could overlook the whole scam, complete my work, and walk away unscathed. Second, I could risk my life to stop the illegal money making which would also hamper the momentum of other improvements being introduced to the plant.
Common sense pointed towards the first path. But more than the client reputation and the license to do business in Maharashtra being at stake, it was my inner-self that was not allowing me to overlook the illegal money making. Thus, I decided to take a risk and clean up the whole mess.
I went up to the owners of the company and explained to them the whole imbroglio along with the seriousness of the threat to my life. They understood the issue and appreciated my initiative. I wanted to make sure that the whole issue was resolved in such a way that neither my work in the plant nor my life would get affected. So we decided to appoint an external agency to do a thorough operational and financial auditing in all the plants. This would surface any other such activities being followed elsewhere also.
Though the agency is yet to release its report, I am confident that in the new few weeks, such decade-long illegal practices will be curbed. I am satisfied with my honest work-attitude and handling of the situation where I could safeguard McKinsey values and solve the dilemma remaining within the ethical system.
5.Provide a candid assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. (400 word limit)
Following are my key strengths, which I believe will be instrumental in achieving my ambition:
Exceptional leadership skills and courage to take bold steps: Especially over last one and half years, I have successfully demonstrated these skills in different situations. I led one of my toughest assignments for a telecom client where I pioneered a new mobile handset strategy despite the aggressive opposition from the top management. In another situation, I took the challenge of orchestrating an operational change program across a clients 11 plants spread throughout India. I managed over 150 people to achieve the US $30 million savings target, an accomplishment that helped the client come out from its bad period in business.
Taking initiatives: I took the first major initiative in reviving the lost relationship between IIT Kanpur and its alumni with the purpose of gathering support for the school during its tough times. The relationship with the alumni and the success of the initiative gave me courage to take the Technology Festival of IIT Kanpur to a national level. This was my second significant initiative. In addition, I am currently doing voluntary work for a NGO, NCPEDP, to help define employment policies for disabled people.
Understanding of India: I consider understanding of this emerging economy to be one of my key strengths as I plan to set up a power company in India. My hands-on experience in improving the power situation in an Indian village, experience of working for the welfare of disabled people and understanding of diverse business in McKinsey has helped me form a perspective on India.
Following are my key weaknesses which I am/will work on to make sure they do not hamper my quest to achieve my ambition:
Not pushing back enough: I have a tendency not to say no to work even if that means altering my personal plans. Over time, I have realized that this attitude is counter productive in the long run as it will affect my personal life. I have received feedback on this front and have been working to improve this aspect.
Not using the 80:20 principle effectively: At times, I tend to become to critical of the work and delve too deep into the questions, losing sight of the ultimate objective of the work stream. This quest for unfolding the sky demands a very large amount of effort and work from the team which leads me to become oblivious to the other needs of the project, some of which maybe more pressing. Thus I would like to develop the ability to carefully quantify the effort needed in relation to the objective of the outcome.
6.What are your career aspirations, and how can Harvard Business School help you to reach them? (400 word limit)
My goal is to provide an efficient source of power to the Indian industry and community and improve the life of every Indian. Thus I want to build a world scale utility company in the power sector of India. My experiences with UPSEBs thermal power stations had exposed me to the beleaguered Indian power standards. India ranks 127 on the global power performance index with a per capita consumption of 0.3 MWh, which is just 4 percent of the U.S. consumption. Working in the power plant had helped me analyze the reasons for the inefficiency in the power sector in India like poor infrastructure and low capacity utilization due to higher levels of outages. The ambition to improve the power sector in India has also been shaped in part through my interactions with my father, who is an eminent leader in the Indian power sector. My love for my country and my abhorrence for its current condition where constant power is available to only 15% of the population make me passionate about generating change.
While, my hands-on experience in improving the power situation in an Indian village, in-depth technical expertise from IIT and understanding of diverse business in India at McKinsey have been learning opportunities and vital to shaping my aspirations, I want to build my skills and networks at HBS to ensure that I am successful in realizing it.
I believe HBS can help me achieve my ambitions in the following three ways:
Firstly, I believe that Harvards case methodology combined with its excellent faculty is one of the best ways to get formal business training. Analyzing and discussing more cases than at any other MBA course, especially with other high caliber, exciting individuals, will add a richness to my learning experience in a way that a pure lecture based approach cannot.
Secondly, the diversity of backgrounds at Harvard, presents a unique opportunity to share and learn from others experience. I hope to learn the best of the world at Harvard and then apply my learnings to develop the power sector in India. I also hope to add to the learning experience at by sharing the experiences I gained while leading the execution of an operations improvement program in different parts of India, or working with an aggressive management to craft out their mobile strategy to launch Indias largest telecom company, or helping an Indian village light up, and/or working towards improving the lives of 60 million disabled people.
Finally, an MBA from such a reputed institution as Harvard would build my credibility and my network in the developed markets, which will be vital not only to bring in the best practices to India but also best resources for my company.
7.Is there any other information that you believe would be helpful to the Board in understanding you better and in considering your application? Please be concise.
My personal credo is to bring about a positive change in society around me, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I am able to achieve this. I would like to take this opportunity to present to the Admissions Committee how I would enhance the experience of others in HBS through sharing my two personal experiences from different facets of life, which I believed helped create an improvement in the society.
Improving the lives of the people of a village: Throughout my life, I have felt the need to improve the power situation in the villages and thus improve the living standards of the people there. During my undergraduate years, I worked with the Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board to improve the power situation in the villages surrounding Kanpur. I analyzed the operations of the power station and the distribution of power in villages with State Electricity Board managers. We came up with ideals like monitoring power outage from each transformer on an hourly basis to improve the working of the plant and its distribution in villages. We decided to do a pilot in Panki Thermal Power Station and in a nearby village called Tikra, which had an average of 2% power availability during a day. After three months of rigorous implementation of our ideas, the power stations efficiency increased by 10% and transmission and distribution losses in Tikra were reduced by 35%; making it the only village in the area to have uninterrupted power supply. I hope to add to the learning experience of HBS by sharing my power sector experience of bringing about a positive change in the life of people in an Indian village.
New beginning to the alumni-school relationship at IIT: The school was going through a financial crisis to improve infrastructure for the students and I decided to make an attempt to help that by reviving the school-alumni relationship and leveraging our alumni.
I led a talented team of undergraduate students towards the effort for many months. We contacted all the alumni from the silver jubilee batch and generated enthusiasm in them to meet their old batch mates and to visit the school they had left twenty-five years ago. The effort gave dividends when over 80 alumni came with their families, sixteen families even came from U.S., for the three-day function from the batch of 1973 and went back and revived sentiments for the school and its growth. They contributed over rs. 2 million towards improving the facilities for the students and establishing an Alumni Association Office in the school and agreed to transfer this momentum generated in the alumni-IIT relationship to other batches. The alumni school relationship has never looked back after that and I feel proud to have orchestrated this change. I hope to contribute to HBS society by sharing the learning from my initiative to mobilize the strong forces of alumni to create an improvement in the School.