Final Posts: 2 of 3 (Vlerick Interview)

As I close the blog, I’ve wondered about how I have changed in the past year. The answer is “In many ways, and for the better” and I guess a single post wouldn’t adequate the detail the entire story… Vlerick was kind enough to publish an interview with me for the Alumni Magazine, I’m not sure when the magazine is out, but the interview questions made me think about the changes over the past year… here’s the transcript.

Interview Ashwin Chandrababu

  1. Could you please briefly describe your professional experience/career so far?
    1. I have been part of the finance and accounting operations of Hewlett Packard during the seven years of my career before MBA. Working in a large organization like HP provides many opportunities to gain experience in various roles. I was fortunate to have a chance to contribute as a people manager of 20 professional in finance operation team, business process analyst managing process improvement and compliance projects of both Europe and Asia Pacific regions, as a project manager driving ERP deployments and a Process Tower Lead managing business process transformational projects and implementing shared service organization.
  2. Why did you choose to follow a course at Vlerick? (Why that particular course and why Vlerick?)
    1. Vlerick met the threshold requirement of a business school with an international and mature student cohort and an intimate class environment. Given that I myself belonged to a virtual team of 16 professionals representing 12 nations in my previous career, I knew fully well the value that diverse cultures and perspectives bring to the learning experience. The average experience and age was also an important factor because my preference was to spend time with fellow students who had significant work and life experience and not only block buster GMAT scores. Beyond these two factors, the fact that I had spent about a year in Belgium before and most importantly my interview process with Vlerick helped with my decision.
  3. What is your in-company project? What does it involve?
    1. Is it in a similar area to the branch you want to work in or already work in? Our project was about helping the regional management team of a large company, responsible for more than a billion dollars of revenue in General Western Europe region, define and implement an improved go-to-market model. I was able to secure this project through the networking and mentorship opportunities available at Vlerick School and securing projects on your own has its advantages. When I interviewed with the Managing Director of the company about the various possibilities of a project, I was specific to let him know that I would love to leverage my previous experience and the knowledge from the MBA course, but wanted to gain experience and learn about an area that I was not previously exposed to. He was kind enough to offer this project in the sales and marketing area with which I previously had little exposure and I’m glad to say that the learning experience has been fantastic.
  4. What do you plan to do when you have completed your Vlerick course? What changes will this involve?
    1. Professionally, nothing is decided at this point. I do however go back to the market with a different attitude towards career. As much as milestones (aka. Promotions and positions) are important; I do believe that I will primarily choose roles based on the opportunities that they provide me for accomplishments every day. Having spent a significant part of my career in the delivery organization of services, I would consider designing solutions and products to solve customer problems as worthy accomplishments and would like to eventually lead an organization responsible for the entire value chain. I’m not especially particular about the industry that I would like to be part of because I do believe that customer problems exist in every sector and therefore there is enough scope for creativity in every sector.
  5. What branches take your particular interest? Or do you have a passion that is not linked to any branch in particular?
    1. I can claim without any hesitation that “The Modern Firm” written by John Roberts is the business book which has by far influenced me the most (professionally). I’m certainly passionate about the topic that it deals with which is Organizational design for performance and growth. It has changed my idea of firms and organizations as merely vehicles of monetary profit generation and much more as useful vehicles through which much value is added to the society and progress in human history. I know that this sounds almost philosophical, but it is this kind of revelation that has gotten me interested and even passionate in the field of organizational design.
  6. What important moments have marked your professional life so far?
    1. In spite of giving this question a hard thought, I’m unable to pinpoint one or a few moments that have marked my professional life. The reason is that the way I planned my profession for the first seven years has been much less driven by achieving milestones of salary and promotions and much more driven by seeking new opportunities to learn. In the seven years, I’m happy to claim that I have taken up six different roles in four divisions and each one of them has been valuable in my learning experience. If I must pin point which specific moment provided me significant lever in career progress, then it must the opportunity to lead 20 professionals at a very early stage in my career. The challenge was that most of my team members had significantly higher work experience and educational qualification and this experience in a way reinforced my working style of respecting every colleague for how well I can partner with them and not based on their position in the corporate hierarchy. 7. What has been your biggest challenge up to now? Having to decide to quit a secure job in a shaky economic environment and invest literally all my savings into the MBA has been a challenging decision. Since I come from India, it was also equally challenging to make the decision of leaving my mom alone back in Bangalore. Meeting these challenges alone would have been practically impossible, but I am fortunate to have great friends and family who supported me with this endeavor. My friends have paid a significant portion of my tuition and my mom has been more brave living alone for the entire year that I ever thought she would be. She has learned to switch on the computer just so that we can speak on Skype and is also taking music lessons : )
  7. Has your education at Vlerick already had an effect on your professional and/or personal life? In what way?
    1. It is not an exaggeration to claim that this year has been life changing experience. Professionally speaking, I go back with a wide range of skill set that I can offer to the business world. These wide range of skills open up many new opportunities, when the demand in general economy will grow again, which I simply could not have pursued before. Also, what I have realized is that there is, or at least should be, very little difference between my professional and personal life. For example, I go back with a much better understanding of myself, especially my weaknesses and this knowledge helps me both professionally in choosing which kind of people I must partner with to counter my weaknesses and by doing so, it directly affects my personal life too. I do want to point out that among the things I have learnt this year, a significant portion was learnt outside the classroom during interaction with my classmates, professors and mentors, general life in Leuven and most importantly, just having all the time to reflect on myself and not worry about how to meet next week’s performance targets in office. The educational experience after a few years of work experience is very different compared to my experience during bachelors program.
  8. Have you already benefitted from the network you have developed through Vlerick?
    1. Today I can boast of knowing personally two CEOs in Europe. I can also boast of knowing a few future CEOs in making among my friends in the MBA class. I do very strongly believe that the networking opportunities in Vlerick are great. It is a different question about how we see the purpose of networking. In the large scheme of work, if it is networking opportunities for future partners, customers, competitors or even employees that we seek, then the Vlerick experience is very good, however, if the purpose is to find a specific kind of job in a specific sector of a specific country, then I’m afraid, Vlerick alumni is not so spread out around the world – at least not today. I have benefited from the network for I have been able to interact with some top business leaders in Belgium and future leaders around the world to the extent that I can seek their counsel and reference for any of my future career decisions.
  9. What motivates you to do what you do?
    1. Three lessons that I learnt from an early part of my life have stuck with me and influenced why I pursue whatever it is I pursue. Firstly, on the final day of our bachelors program, our academic dean persuaded us to strive to be the best at whatever it is we do. My dear friend from college made a strong argument about why he wants to anything he does with dignity and my father during our evening walks lectured me about how I should help others and even if I can’t, I should never intentionally hurt anyone. What these three people told me motivates me in what I pursue: Tasks and accomplishments that I believe I can be best at, that are dignified and that I believe will help others or at the very least not intentionally hurt anyone.
  10. Where do you come from and where do you live now?
    1. I was born, raised, educated and employed in Bangalore, India. I’ve been fortunate though to have travelled to many parts of the world through my work before I reached Belgium for my MBA. Today, I live in Leuven which is where our school campus is located. 12. Are you currently employed? Currently, I’m employed because I opted for a leave of absence from my previous company, Hewlett Packard and I believe is was a very wise decision!
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