We recently had a chat with Manoj Mittal, one of our advisors and investors at Stoodnt. At present, Manoj has got decades of experience across multiple business models such as Subscription, SaaS, Digital Markets (Lead Gen), Digital Entertainment, and Media. His alma mater includes IIT Delhi, the University of Wisconsin, and Harvard University. Let’s have a look at his study abroad and career journey after MS in US.
Tell us briefly about your journey from high school to IIT India and the graduate degree?
After 10th grade we had to make a choice between various streams and two of them, amongst others, were Technical Drawing and Biology. Ostensibly, the idea was that one led to the engineering profession while the other medicine. It was clear to me that I wanted to pursue the engineering line and hence chose Technical Drawing. After high school, I appeared for various engineering college entrance exams; I cleared the JEE and joined IIT Delhi for a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering.
When I graduated from IIT Delhi, there were three most sought after paths (in those days),
- Work for an international firm like Schlumberger (outsized compensation :),
- Go to the US to pursue higher education, and
- Go to IIM’s for MBA.
Pursuing the civil services (IAS) was another one, but it wasn’t that sought after, I would say. I chose to come to the US because I was interested in pursuing higher education at UW because of its name and reputation. In hindsight it was a good decision, because the quality of education that I received was par excellence.
How did you decide on your major in UG and MS program? What was the biggest challenge you faced during your college years and what did you enjoy the most during those days?
My UG was in Mechanical Engineering because of my interest in automobiles. However, over the course of next few years that changed and I became more interested in Computer Sciences. I did my MS in Computer Sciences; was very interested in data, hence my focus and thesis was on Semantic Data Modeling.
During my course of studies, there were different challenges at different times; during the undergraduate studies the biggest challenge (and fun as well) in the initial years was the move from a sheltered home living to a hostel environment. This challenge was compounded by the competitive pressures at IITs; for post graduate studies I moved to the US and here the challenge was fending for myself while finishing my program. I was lucky enough to have gotten assistantship of some form or another. Additionally, the Masters programs at UW was challenging; there was quite a step jump from the degree of difficulty from undergraduate to masters (at least in the field that I was in)
What was your career journey after MS in USA?
I got a job with Hewlett Packard as a database engineer. This was my dream job because my focus area, as I have mentioned before, was Semantic Data Modeling. After that I got my MBA and then did a 2 year stint at Wall Street as an equity analyst. Subsequent to that I spent many years in Corporate Development (M&A). For the past few years, I have been heading FP&A for 3 of Gartner’s businesses. It has been an immensely satisfying ride so far.
Why did you decide on pursuing MBA at Harvard and what did you pursue post MBA?
While at Hewlett Packard, I realized that I was running with my blinders on. I decided to pursue an MBA to broaden my horizons and learn more about General Management and Finance.
How was your experience in corporate strategy, Investments banking and subsequently in number of leadership roles in global fortune companies?
I have had a fulfilling career in diverse areas. The Wall Street experience was my first foray into practical finance – learned how to read financial statements of a company, not only from the eyes of the company management, but also through the eyes of buyside investors. The “dark side of the world” wasn’t that dark after all! Strategy & Corporate Development taught me how to boil down strategy into numbers, the art of negotiations and cross functional team leading.
M&A was a dynamic area because each deal was different and taught me something new. As I progressed into more leadership/management roles, I realized that I like to lead by example….. in other words, I am a big believer in domain expertise and believe that I should be able to help my team with their daily tasks if the need arises.
Any insights on what skills are important to become a successful strategy consultant?
I have never been a strategy consultant, so take this with a pinch of salt:
- Listening – understanding clients needs
- Problem Solving – breaking down complex issues into simple and bounded problems; one has to be good in analytics.
- Resilience – the ability to cope with pressure and deadlines
- Teamwork – I am a big believer in “no man is an island”
What were some of the best career decisions you made and why?
I have had the privilege of being an engineer, computer scientist, financial analyst (Wall Street), M&A specialist, and Corporate Finance person. I wouldn’t trade the diversity of my experience for anything. But, I do have to add that this is a very personal thing and may not work for others. Some folks are happy with a focus/specialty in one single area.
What are some of the career mistakes you may not want to make in hindsight?
Although I have had diverse experiences, I wish I had the opportunity to work for more companies!
Any guidance for students in what they should pursue or focus on during their college in terms of skills, knowledge etc.?
College days are some of the best days of your life – low risk; try new things; figure out what you enjoy. There is a lot of talk about discovering your passion, but don’t be in a hurry to find one. Passion can also be developed in the area that you are working in (and an area that you weren’t necessarily passionate about you when you started). Your focus areas will depend on what you enjoy and you will figure these out in due course of time!
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