TQ Specials: Utsav Mitra speaks……..

(The following are Utsav’s notes on his speech at the Youth Conference 2012 at Delhi University on 11 August 2012. The Youth Conference 2012 was organised by the Sri Ram College of Commerce and included distinguished speakers such as Suhel Seth ( Managing Partner- Counselage India), Mr. Bimal Jalan (Ex-Governor, Reserve Bank of India) and Mr. Gaurav Kapur (VJ, Actor and Sports Presenter). ThincQusitive thanks Utsav for sharing.)

Youth Conference 2012

“Dear guests on the dais, teachers and most importantly, dear students, the most under-qualified person on the dais says hello. I neither have had the distinguished experience of some of my co-panelists nor am I as articulate. Irrespective, this will be an honest attempt at making most of the next 30 minutes.

My talk will be in three sections:

  • Reflections on my college life
  • Reflections on my 3 years of working life
  • Planning for the future

This will mostly be a one way experience sharing session. But I’ll keep it as simple and as relatable as possible. I was one of you, just three years back, so I understand! Also, if anyone wants to interrupt me or has any questions, please feel free. Else I’ll take questions at the end. An important caveat worth bringing up upfront – I’m only sharing what worked or didn’t work for me – this by no means is to suggest that this is the only way to succeed (or fail). Therefore pick and choose what works best for you


Section#1: Reflections on my college life

 Advice #1: Plan your years. There’s an old saying: “He who fails to plan, plans to fail”. Here’s how I went about it, though I would recommend that you chart your own path.

  • I spent 1st year exploring – was a part of 10 societies, slogged, stepped on toes, burnt bridges but broadly understood the system;
  • I spent 2nd year figuring out nuances about how elections are fought – supported my room-mate and got him elected G.Sec. Saw the Students’ Union inside out and decided to change a bunch of things if I got elected and then decided to contest sometime late in 2nd year;
  • Luckily things worked out in my 3rd year, I won the elections and I was made President. Next step? We had to identify what was wrong with the current system and what needed to be done to take the Students’ Union in particular and the college in general to a different league. So we created a Corporate Communications Cell for sponsorships and media relations, an Organizing Cell to manage the events and an Internship Cell to take care of internships for 1st and 2nd year students. Building new institutions, seeding the right DNA into these bodies, segregating responsibilities and giving ownership to individual heads were at the core of our success.

Advice #2:  Everyone needs to have a legacy – decide yours.

  • When you meet at an alumni event or a few years down the line, you would like to be able to say what change/improvement you had brought to the system or what your significant achievements were – no one’s going to ask you if you scored 67% or 77%. Let me give you some examples:
    • Saying “I headed ComSoc from year x-y isn’t enough” but saying “I was the Head of the ComSoc and I did the first national level quiz at SRCC which was attended by A, B and C” is good;
    • It doesn’t have to be serious always – Saying “I started the Travellers Club and 50 of us went trekking to Hrishikesh” is awesome too!
    • Let’s not undermine academics altogether – “I was DU topper for 3 years in a row” could be a perfectly acceptable legacy as well;
  • While it might seem selfish at a personal level, the value added to the system is enormous. In the long run, those who create opportunities for others and those who build institutions that last are remembered the most!
  • College life is a microcosm for the real world. This will be your first real chance to hone your leadership skills and you won’t get the opportunity meaningfully atleast for the next 5-10 years, but what you learn now will be crucial for you to climb the proverbial “corporate ladder”. So be thoughtful about the choices you make.

Advice #3: Max out

  • Think of college life as a set of choices – you can chill in the front lawns for 3 years and come to write your exams or you can explore a bunch of things, hone your leadership experience, get a good job and use these opportunities as a springboard for a successful career. While I agree college life is the most ‘vella’ (pardon the usage, but there isn’t a more appropriate word) time in your life, spending it wisely (without compromising on fun altogether) may be better in the long run. Point broadly is – decide if you want to go with the flow or not. Whatever your choice is, make sure you are entirely comfortable living with the outcomes of the choice;
  • You spend your time in college doing three things primarily a) Academics b) Gathering leadership experience and c) Fun. Different people choose to allocate their limited time differently. My ratio was 10:70:20, you need to define what your priorities are and then allocate time accordingly. As I said, it’s ultimately a set of choices and there are opportunity costs involved;
  • At college level, you have all the time and all the energy, but no money. A few years out of college, you have all the money and all the energy but no time. As you grow old, you’ll have all the money and all the time, but no energy. But energy and time are two very precious commodities, go max out!

Utsav making a point

Section #2: Reflections on my 3 years of work-experience

Advice#1: Take initiatives or “be a leader”

  • Work life isn’t as complex as you might think and politicking isn’t the only way to rise. Guys who take initiatives and are willing to go the extra mile tend to be disproportionately favored vs others. Therefore, take simple initiatives to do what needs to be done without someone necessarily asking you to do something. Example.
    • Say you just heard a talk by Ratan Tata at a conference you attended with your colleagues. Send the key points/summary to your MDs/Partners and what you think about it. It’ll be greatly appreciated;
    • Or suppose you complained about lack of Day-1 training in your new company. Solution: Start an informal program where 2nd year Analysts will spend 3 hours guiding new Analysts through what’s to be done and how to navigate the firm. Initiatives could be as simple as these. Yet you’d be surprised at the impact they create. Also, people who matter will stand up and take note;
    • Going forward, you would want to have that legacy though – I touched upon this in the previous section.  You want to be known as the guy who apart from all the good stuff at work, say started a fitness regime in office (pardon the irony) or the guy who organized the best office parties. Or well, if nothing else works, the go-to-guy for excel queries! You want to be remembered (and well)!

Advice #2: Cultivate mentors

  • In any career, having mentors is an under-appreciated nuance. However, mentors are invaluable for scaling the ladder. Behind every successful man, there have been a few mentors (atleast in the initial stages). These are men who will be your biggest critics yet they would coach you, mentor you and boost your confidence when you’re down. Additionally, and this is crucial, they can open doors for you;
  • And do all you can to keep these mentors happy. Keep in touch with them and try ensuring that it’s not a one-way street alone. They are important to your future and you must show them that you understand and appreciate that.

Advice #3: Continue pursuing your hobby

  • Work pressures have ensured many people lose out on things they were good at – music, sports, writing, photography etc. While I was never a sportsman (my body shape/contour would make the “why” obvious), I was into music and writing. Unfortunately work pressures pulled me back and I gave in. Make sure you don’t make the same mistake. Take some time over weekends to do what you truly love to do.

Utsav addressing the crowd

Section #3: Planning for the future


Advice #1: Think long and hard – “What do I want to be”

  • I guess the first question you’d want to ask yourself is – “In the long run, do I want to work towards fulfilling my dream or fulfilling someone else’s dream”. Once you are sure, go ahead and move mountains to make that possible;
  • The answer may not be immediately clear and it might be wise to try a bunch of things before deciding. Let me give you my example (and this is one of the 500 things you can do of course). I have had friends who have started up or joined politics or gone ahead to do their PhDs or joined family business or started theater groups – the choice is yours. I tried consulting, am trying PE, will try politics next and then see what works out ultimately. Prof Deepak Malhotra of HBS says it well “Quit early, quit often… till you find what’s right for you”. In my case, if politics doesn’t click, I’ll head to business school, where I’ll still have two pretty good brands on my resume and have a shot at a job of my choice. Or well, I could start up if I indeed have an idea that I can pursue. My point broadly is – be open minded, you never know.

Advice #2: Travel

  • Nothing broadens your perspectives as much as travel does. As they say “The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page”;
  • There’s just so much to see in India and abroad – the understanding of cultures, lifestyles, the economic policy choices different states or countries have made and what their outcomes have been. I can assure you, the more you travel, the more you would begin to appreciate the finer things in life (which some of us sometimes take for granted).

Advice #3: Think about India

  • Think about it – Are the best and brightest of India out there to solve India’s biggest problems? The answer, I’m afraid, is no. The previous generation has failed us, it is upto us to rise to the occasion. India’s issues are well known – infrastructure, healthcare, education, unemployment, poverty, corruption, inefficient & ineffective government etc. The question is – what needs to be done and how does one go about it;
  • The good part is, most of India’s problems are self-created/inflicted, therefore the solution to the problem lies within us. To transform India you need to transform governance. In my mind, most challenges of India can be solved with the right political will. Politicians of India decided that polio needs to be eradicated – within a 15 year period, India went from being a country with the highest incidence of polio to effectively wiping it out today. Therefore, I believe solutions to India’s issues will start with changing the political system in India. Pick a party that you associate/identify with, that appeals to your sensibilities and economic philosophies and then see how you can make a difference. Today the average Indian is 25 while the average cabinet minister is 65. Surely that’ll change soon and you and I have to ensure we are the ones changing that dynamic;
  • If people like you and me don’t fight to transform India, who will? When the history of India is read in 2040 or 2050, they’ll look for 20 year olds who would’ve shaped India (hopefully a developed country then) and your name should be on it. Are you willing to stand up and be counted?

Thus ends my monologue, I’m happy to take questions.”

(Utsav currently works at Bain Capital as a Private Equity analyst. He has previously worked with McKinsey & Co and is an ex-President of SRCC. He tweets regularly @utsavmitra. Views are Utsav’s personal.)