Alumni Speak: Srikant Mallela and Amrit Acharya, ITC


T5E interviews recent alumni across a wide variety of industries who have spent a year or more at their respective firms. We hope this will enlighten current students with respect to what companies look for while recruiting undergraduates and help them make more informed career choices.

What does ITC do?

Amrit: ITC is the market leader of cigarettes in India. Over the years, ITC has diversified its presence into multiple other segments: FMCG (including Foods, Personal Care, Lifestyle retailing, education stationery, etc), Hotels, Paperboards and Packaging and Agri-Business. They even have a presence in Information Technology. Most of ITC’s diversification strategies are either an offshoot of backward integration in the extended value chain (such as the Agri Business) or a result of leveraging other internal strengths (manufacturing and retail channels in case of the FMCG business).
ITC recruits IIT graduates for all of its businesses except Hotels and Information Technology. A very high percentage of campus hires are posted in an ITC factory, handling either an operational role (such as quality, maintenance, etc) or a projects role (which has a wide job description, but essentially deals with project management of new initiatives). Some graduates can also be posted in the Head Office of a particular division of ITC, where they will typically be assigned roles in the supply chain planning function. Each role has its own set of challenges and opportunities, and it is difficult to judge the merits/demerits of one versus the other. Suffice to say, however, that most IIT grads would prefer a projects role over an operational role, as it offers a steeper learning curve.

What does your work at ITC involve?

Srikant: ITC hires graduates from IITs into managerial positions, primarily for factory roles or projects.
Some of the projects are really very interesting as they entail setting up new products, processes, even functions and/or verticals. Many work in factories, which are more techie roles – core electrical, mechanical or chemical. But most profiles are techno-managerial.

I’m in the Leaf Tobacco division at Guntur (Andhra Pradesh). The function is just being set up and hence I’m able to work on a multitude of projects which require a good hold of theory and practice (theory is domain specific – I had no prior Supply Chain knowledge, but picked it up on the job).

I’m into Supply Chain Planning where currently I’m dealing with both Strategic and Operational Planning. Strategic Planning primarily entails Capacity & Network Design of raw material/finished goods warehousing, and at times factories. In simple terms, it’s about changing the locations and sizes of nodes across the value chain as supply and demand locations keep changing.
Operational Planning entails specifically setting up logistics planning systems for day-to-day movements across the chain. This entails good level of use of optimization techniques (OR) to build robust systems. Most of these are at times taught at courses, but in real life it becomes very challenging to structure the problems with the high external variability. I had thoroughly enjoyed conceptualizing, developing and implementing these systems.

As young managers, we are also given small-scale implementation projects to gain breadth. To mention a few, I have renovated an office, worked on a GPS based truck tracking system, started a cycling club at Guntur, and even worked on recruitment methods for Management Trainees from IITs.

In addition to all of these we also get to be a part of business planning, where I co-created the divisional Supply Chain Plan for the next five years, and most recently worked on exploring new business adjacency for our division for possible diversification.

Amrit: I am a project manager in ITC’s ABD-ILTD division, which expands to Agri Business Division – India Leaf Tobacco Development and I report directly to the CEO. I do not have a fixed job description; I take up any projects that are in the pipeline and meeting my specific interest areas. During my first year, I worked towards the setting up of a new factory at Mysore and I have handled several productivity improvement initiatives there – all of which require some engineering fundaes. I subsequently handled the Wind Energy Portfolio for my division, where we made a significant investment in setting up a 9 MW Wind farm for captive power generation. My role was end-to-end project management, starting from technical due diligence to evaluating returns on investment to commissioning.
Presently, I have taken up a few strategic roles where I am part of the team drafting the five year divisional business plan and a few other strategic projects. Overall, my experience has been good and I have gained good insights into running a business.

What is the work environment like?

Srikant: The environment is very conducive. The amount of learning in the early years in tremendous as a lot of emphasis is given to the fundamental first principles and rigour in approach and execution to all problems – majority of which are unstructured in nature.
We all join as managers – thus we are the bosses of our time. Having said that, we have to lead by example as many of us are heading small to large teams depending on the role.

Amrit: The work environment at ITC is nothing to write home about. Most of the factories follow a 6 day workweek and 80-90 hour work-weeks are not uncommon. A lot also depends on the location of posting. Most of the locations are rather remote and hence, your social life is limited to your peers, immediate seniors and the families of your colleagues at work. That said, all ITC locations will have ready access to recreational infrastructure (shuttle courts, tennis, swimming, clubs) etc.

ITC has a fairly rigid management hierarchy, though it again changes from division to division. The agri-business division, where I work, has a highly accessible senior management and we are strongly encouraged to discuss new business ideas or our future growth trajectories within the organization. However, in general, the management is not very receptive to transfers across divisions of ITC, at least within the first 3-4 years.

What does ITC look for while recruiting undergraduates?

Srikant: All assignments at ITC are challenging and require ability to look beyond the obvious. Thus strong fundamentals knowledge is extremely essential where one needs to quickly understand any new processes or systems or machines.

And of course in real life there is never success without failures – thus a never-say-die attitude is a must.

Amrit: ITC tests for engineering fundamentals while recruiting. However, while technical prowess is one of the important criteria for ITC, it is not the most important criteria for selection. During the interview process, ITC is primarily trying to evaluate whether you are a good fit for the organization. In ITC’s context, ‘good fit’ translates to having excellent problem solving skills, being self motivated and being comfortable with open ended situations.

Preparing for placements can be a harrowing experience, and I have the following advice for all final years:

– Know your resume. 90% of questions in an interview are usually based on your resume.

– If you don’t know the answer to a specific question, then say so; best not to be caught in unfamiliar territory.

– Make sure you hedge your risks; apply to multiple companies.

What are the career prospects beyond (or in) ITC?

Srikant: ITC has enormous growth opportunities within. It being such a vast organization, both vertical and horizontal areas can be explored if one has the interest and competence. Honestly, unless you really want to do something different in life, ITC has almost all profiles and can offer all opportunities. Some who’d like to switch careers, do so after 3-4 years of strong experience and go to Ivy League colleges for business management. I have also known many who have started up and even studied Public Policy after working in ITC.

In short, the ITC experience will give the best foundation any job can offer in India.

Amrit: ITC offers a high growth trajectory to most campus hires. A lot of people tend to use this opportunity to build a good profile and apply for B-School 3/4 years post joining. ITC has a good strike rate with HBS; every year atleast 1-2 candidates get in.
ISB is more or less a given. For those opting to stay, ITC can offer an extremely fast growth rate. We join as Level 5 managers; Level 3 is considered the stepping stone into senior management. I have known people reach Level 3 within 7-8 years and assuming posts such as the ‘Factory Manager’, etc, which is an amazingly fast growth, as far as ITC is concerned.

ITC offers exposure in diverse fields and it is not uncommon for people to identify a specific niche and start-up. You will gain access to both 1) Domain expertise and 2) Potential clients. A few of my batchmates from other IITs have started up.

Any final thoughts…

Srikant: Work has been great so far – a very enriching experience. I have not missed IITM so much as many of us are from various IITs and we work, play and party together. Experience-wise, I must say without any doubt ITC has met and at times exceeded my high expectations.

Many a time, students do not go for the job their hearts want (due to peer pressure and so forth). I strongly suggest one must look ahead and beyond. Aim at making a great and interesting career and not a great job. If you don’t get into the job your heart wants, very soon you will feel like a fish out of water. And in case you want to app, just go for it – because you are meant for it, and please don’t ruin your friends’ chances!

SrikantSrikant Mallela (B.Tech/ME/2011) was an active member of the Center for Innovation – he led the highly successful Ornithopter SoE and was part of the team which won Robocon 2008. He played Table Tennis for Pampa hostel, winning Schroeter twice. He also organised chocolate making and body language workshops in Saarang.

ITC - AmritAmrit Acharya (B.Tech/EE/2010) was a resident of Narmada Hostel. He ‘branch-changed’ from Biotech to Electrical and ended up doing his BTP in Computer Science. During his time in insti, he was the Sponsorship and Public Relations Core, Saarang 2010.

If you are an alumnus and you have a story to contribute about your first job, write to us at t5e.iitm [at] gmail [dot] com and we will get in touch with you.

Editor’s note: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee alone and do not represent the views of, or should not be attributed to, ITC.

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