When Harsh Shah enrolled at the Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow in 2004, he did not know his life would take such a dramatic turn so soon. Like most of his batch mates at IIM-L and thousands of college grads elsewhere, he had slogged his way to the B-school, driven by comforting, but somewhat vague, notions of a well-paying corporate job and the attendant lifestyle that would materialise with an MBA degree.
Shah couldn't crystal-gaze the dramatic transformations his life would undergo just three years hence. Till then, he was blissfully comfortable in his "middle-class" moorings. His favourite pastimes were reading books on temples, Indian history and mythology, and watching movies twice a month. Being a vegetarian, he did not eat out much; and unlike many of his peers, he didn't drink either.
In short, his existence was too "ordinary", lacked zing and made him someone who badly needed to get a life.
But all that changed after FMCG major Procter & Gamble (P&G) picked him up from IIM-L during campus placements last year and placed him at its regional headquarters in hip and happening Singapore.
"Let me tell you that since then, I have done things I wouldn't have ever imagined I would do at 25," says Mumbai-born Shah, whose heroes are his dad, software billionaire Bill Gates and former Australian cricket skipper Steve Waugh.
Now, his typical weekends are spent watching classics from Hitchcock, Scorcese and Tarantino in theatres, taking a trip to Macritchie reservoir for rowing or trekking on the multiple nature trails; he also eats out a lot more now having acquired a taste for Thai, Chinese and Malay food; moreover, he's become a self-professed expert at cooking Indian curries!
His hobbies and pastimes, too, have become more conventional. "Back in India, I didn't understand the concept of online gaming and even though I still hate action games I am hooked onto sport games like Need for Speed (racing), FIFA '07 (soccer), Tennis, God of War and Counter Strike and have a gaming group in office." He now also fancies his skills with the camera and intends to take a course in photography.
Shah is a much-travelled man already, having covered most of Malaysia (including the f1 race, "a long standing dream" of his), parts of Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Cambodia is next on his itinerary.
Indeed, Shah is already living up many of his dreams. There are many more to realise, such as going whale watching in Australia, sky-diving in New Zealand, a trip to Greece and Turkey and running a marathon some day, besides penning a book full of suspense/thriller stories.
But Shah also has dreams to realise at the workplace: He wants to excel in his job as Associate Consumer and Market Knowledge (CMK) Manager in the niche Business Optimisation group that provides advanced consulting to P&G's marketing partners in ASEAN, Australasia and India (AAI) markets on improving sales, increasing profitability and return on marketing investment, managing inventory/financial risks by using advanced statistical and analytical tools and techniques.
Already, Shah has begun making his mark, having won a Special Recognition Award for key contributions over the past year "that gave new directions to our businesses".
Shah attributes his life's successes so far to his B-school education. "A B-school is actually like learning 2+2. It is about starting with a clean slate, widening your horizons to multiple possibilities/outcomes, knowing the brick and mortar behind business choices-just like school, albeit in business situations.
The B-school aims at giving you a solid fundamental foundation, one that you can build and rely upon in whatever your area of interest. As they say, 'If you know your 2+2s, calculus and trigonometry don't ever become Goliaths for you.' This is what IIM-Lucknow did for me. And much more."
He says that apart from imparting the necessary technical skills (through projects on companies, such as Accenture, Radiform (Infosys) and ITC and those on sectors such as the Indian mobile handsets industry, retail banking and credit card offerings in India), the two-year gestation on campus-with its demanding schedules, diverse subjects, and eclectic mix of people-ensures that people walk out with razor-sharp confidence to take on any situation, in any part of the world.
"I carried this confidence into my job and have seen it click over and over again as I explored what is essentially a fledgling profile at P&G."
Shah, a Sagittarian, now has friends in different parts of the globe, all of them from his B-school days. "I can today actually list five-six buddies in other countries whom I can call up anytime and say, 'Dude, I am visiting, make some space!'"
Did he choose P&G or vice-versa? "I had always wanted to work for P&G. It was at the top of my list of companies to work for," says Shah, adding, "so I was prepared for the in-depth interview with the usual questions on defining moments in my life. I was interviewed by the head of the business optimisation and consulting division-Pattabiram Venkat (who eventually became my boss) - and I almost thought I was going to get this (job) one when Venkat went into elaborate, technical discussions about my summer project (at Gillette India Ltd.) and my term project (a market research project on the consumer profile for ITC's Aashirvaad Atta). Even if it was unusual, I did manage to impress him."
Going into the specifics of his decision to work for P&G, Shah says he had heard a lot about the company's caring ways and how p&gers didn't ever want to leave the company, and now he is experiencing all that first hand-smart people, full democracy, super-friendly culture, extremely meaty roles even in the first year with tangible business impact, respectable pay and perks. "Everything and more that I had asked for. I am living up my dream," says Shah, who eventually plans to return to India, but not before having done a stint at P&G's headquarters in the US.