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Career Series: Abhijit Nimgaonkar, ZS Associates

April 4, 2015

Abhijit Nimgaonkar holds the position of a partner in ZS Associates which is a consulting firm. An ‘81 batch, Electrical and Electronics Engineering graduate from BITS Pilani and one of the most experienced names in the domain of Management Consultancy, Mr. Nimgaonkar is in-charge of the India Operations of the firm and heads the office of ZS in Pune.

We present the transcript of a discussion we had with him over a cup of coffee during Cognizance 2015, pertaining to the work of a management consultant, his life in the corporate world and the students of IITR. Career Series is Watch Out!’s initiative to guide the soon-to-be graduate IITR junta in making a sound career choice. One of the first entries in the series, in conversation with Mr. Nimgaonkar:

Can you tell us something about Management Consultancy and the kind of job that a Management Consultant does?
You must be aware about the terms called Mathematical Modeling and Data Analysis. In simple words, it is basically trying to reach a conclusion using data. It is applied to a wide range of Marketing and Sales related areas. That is simple maths. You might have a particular opinion about a particular sales or strategy. But how can you back that opinion or advice with facts and analysis that supports those facts? That’s what you call Business consulting. There are business decisions that need to made very quickly and incorporate this fact based and analysis based approach. For instance, in sales and marketing space you got to own the entire space. This can be done by making the sales people smarter about their job and for that they need information that can be used by the same to woo the customers and convince them to buy your product. This may come through identifying the right customers, having correct information to talk to them intelligently and convince them. Technology is used to do that, which is also termed as Technical consultancy. In the middle of that there is an operational practice too. We do analysis on the back-end data, procured through various channels, and provide digestive information that can be fed to the sales people, the managers etc. For mass audience you need these operations and technological solutions. For business consulting, it is about answering a question for Vice President of Marketing or Vice President of Sales which is a higher level of decision making. Management Consultancy is a union of all these three sets.

Can you tell us something about your early days in this domain?
I graduated from BITS Pilani in Electrical and Electronics Engineering in 1981. After that, I did a job in a software company where I used to set up mainframe computers. After serving 4-5 years in that firm I joined ZS, which was a start-up at that point. I wasn’t very sure about joining it, but after I met the founder Prabhakant Sinha, an IIT-Kgp graduate and the then Professor in Kellogg School of Management I agreed to it. At that point, I was working on a project that involved writing the 911 system for the city of Miami. I left that after its completion and joined the newly founded 20 membered firm. This brought both a challenge and an opportunity in my life. In retrospect, I believe that it was one of the wisest decisions I ever made.

What are mistakes that you observe that people make an undergraduate level?
What I observe is that people are very impatient. I am not sure if that’s just the IITs or your entire millennial generation but people wish to try a lot of new things very early in their lives. They are impatient and many times their aspirations can turn out to be unrealistic. I have a slightly different philosophy from what you might hear from the mainstream entrepreneurs and visionaries. I consciously try to manage, a balance between new ideas and expertise. I have realized over time is: Innovation depends on expertise. And expertise depends on a mundane word called repetition. Practising what you’ve learnt makes you a true expertA and tcademia or entrepreneurship, this applies to many other domains too.

According to you, what has been the key to your success?
I’ve just been very lucky. But there are a few other things that play an equally important role: You have to believe, first of all, in what you’re doing. The hard–work and the sincerity eventually pay-off but there are times when the pressure can get to you. Especially when you’re in a fast growth mode. But if you are persistent enough and remain focused, then success follows.

What are the future prospects of Management Consultancy in India?
Management consultancy, 25 years ago was very different from what it is now and I think that the change is going to continue that way. We have now small teams doing work in India that was once sold as a big consulting project 10 years ago. There has been an explosion of data. You must be familiar with the phrase of of Big Data. In short, it isa set of information that can be characterised with a lot parameters and variables. Today, all sorts of decisions are driven by hard-core data that is collected over the internet through you and me and tThat data is making Amazon find out what book you’d like to read to what strategic decision that needs to made by a company. WAll of us are in the business of that and hence, the challenge here is to find out ways to handle that data. For instance, there’s a client who submits us his business problems through web and it in itself becomes a consulting project for us. The strategy-making for a company has departed from being a traditional quarterly or half-yearly event to a much more exciting, real-time process. In the core of it, I think that what we call Management consulting might change but the business problems would remain the same.

What are the characteristics of a person that are needed to succeed in this domain?
There are 3 characteristics of a good consultant: Treat people right.. Do the right thing. And. A gget the things right. People are the greatest assets in this area and one has to give them proper respect to each and every person he/she deals with. Apart from this, we face a lot of competition and in this age it is very crucial for a person to be honest and sincere towards the work. Adding to that, a person might be very honest and courteous but after that it is extremely crucial for a consultant to be analytical about a problem. Dealing with ambiguity, thinking through the problems and being confident about the facts before making decision, separates a good consultant from a mediocre one.