I had the pleasure of serving on the Alumni board with fellow alumni Shankar Meembat (SM), the year that he was elected President of the NUS MBA Alumni executive committee. Shankar has now been with Nokia for close to 15 years and moved back to Finland. I am very grateful to him for taking some time out of his busy schedule for an interview.- Anuprita Bhomick (AB)Here goes:
AB: Why did you decide to do an MBA? What factors made you choose NUS in 1993?
SM: I started my career in R&D. When I was heading a product development team, I found that there was a discrepancy between what we were developing and what the sales team was selling. They would come back with orders for systems that simply did not match what we were working on. I needed to find out why it was so difficult to sell/market a product, and so I decided to "cross over to the other side". As I made my career change, I want to have that change supported with suitable qualifications and an MBA became the natural choice.
I would love to say that I did extensive research, got great references etc. before I chose NUS. Unfortunately, it was a more practical and down to earth decision. I needed to do this course part time since I could not afford to stop working. I did not want to do distance learning. That left me with very few choices - NUS, SIM, MIS. At that time, NTU did not get into my mind as a management institute. NUS was a very easy choice. I graduated in 1996, three years after I started.
AB: Where were you working before and after the MBA?
SM: When I started my MBA, I was Singapore Technologies E & E, heading a Product Development team there. When I graduated, I had just joined Nokia in a Marketing role.
AB: How did the MBA help you in your career?
SM: Quite a lot! The reason I got the job in Nokia was my mix of technical and business experience/qualifications. Nokia was at a stage where they had realized that they would not be able to keep selling based on technical specifications, but needed to sell based on business benefits. At the same time, the rapid growth of the industry and the nature of the customers (traditional government owned mobile operators) demanded that technology was still at the top of the list of requirements but the MBA was important for a customer facing role. So, the MBA helped me clinch that job at Nokia.
But more importantly, the biggest benefit of the MBA through my career was the widening of my perspective. I was able to communicate with a wider audience on their terms. I could talk RoI and Marketing perception to the CxOs and do that with confidence. I think it was simple things that I picked up and used over and over again to supplement my discussions. Simple concepts such as risk Vs. rewards - useful point to discuss when a customer is struggling on an investment decision to buy your product.
AB: Did you keep in touch with the school, your classmates? What made you decide to come back and join the MBA Alumni board?
SM: Unfortunately I couldn’t keep in touch much. I had just got into a new job when I graduated. There was a lot of travel and I moved to Finland a little over a year after I joined Nokia. The next six years I was posted overseas and had little contact with the school. When I returned to Singapore in 2003, I wanted to get engaged again and look at any means to contribute back to my Alma Mater. I had a meeting with Beng Teck and Patrick, then the VP, who invited me to join the board as a means of actively contributing. One thing led to another, and at the next AGM, I was elected the President.
AB: Can you share some funny incidents on campus?
SM: That was a long time ago…!
AB: Meaning you don’t want to rake up anything embarrassing after all these years. Ok, slightly different topic. You lived in Singapore for at least a few years before your job took you back to Finland again. What did you think of your Singapore experience and what do you miss most about it?
SM: Singapore is a great place to live in - safe, comfortable, everything that works, close enough back to my family in India and so on... Then there is the heat, the cost of housing and cars and lastly the disadvantage of a small place - there is really little variety that you can have. As a place of work, again the meritocracy is great. Singapore is plugged in, so you have access to the latest techniques and technology, making work easier to do. But then, finding work/life balance is tough.
What do I miss ? That's easy - the makkan !
AB: Thank you so much for your time Shankar. Just one last question. Care to share some words of wisdom for our current students?
SM: Academic qualifications are great - they provide the foundation and the recognition. But the true value comes from experience - your own and others. I believe you get the most from your MBA when you contribute yourself. Given the stringent admission process, you can be assured the NUS MBA students are all tops in their respective fields. So, active participation in the class room discussions, networking with other classmates, alumni - these are the things that would be most valuable to you. Don’t miss out on these opportunities. All the best!
The NUS MBA Buzz team expresses sincere thanks to our Alumnus Anuprita Bhomick for taking the initiative of conducting the Alumni Speak series