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The art of recognising the pattern breaker that will take you to the next level

In Infosys, there’s one joke that’s best said with a serious face. It goes around in the garb of a harmless question:“Who is the Infoscian that has addressed the maximum number of B-schools this year?” Most go with Narayana Murthy or Vishal Sikka. Some, suspecting a trick questing, even bring in Nandan Nilekani - for once an Infoscian, always an Infoscian.

 

“Sundaram RM,” is the answer sprung on the unsuspecting.

“Who?” your eyes pop out in disbelief.

“He’s the Head of B-school hiring at Infosys,” says the smart aleck. “Talking to B-school kids…. that’s his job.”

What’s more, Sundaram’s been at it for more than six years now – starting out as Senior Associate Lead - Acquisition Talent, then Lead, then Senior Lead, to his current position as the Practice Lead since January, 2016.Infact, he heads an entire team responsible for B-school and Chartered Accountancy hiring at Infosys. In all these years, the joke has grown roots and, when said seriously enough, has a ring of truth to it. Rumour has it that if Sundaram is at it for a couple of years more, the question has an outside chance of becoming a part of Infosys GK.

“Imagine!” says Sundaram with exaggerated excitement. “And all this wouldn’t have come to pass, had it not been for the ‘pattern breaker’ in my education.”

After graduation, Sundaram was hired by HSBC. It was a supervisory role, with a lot of general functions thrown in - handling complex customer queries, ensuring one call resolution, customer satisfaction, negotiating with customers for best payment solutions, ensuring timely future payments and collecting ACH payments over the phone. But the part where he found his kick was in organizing training schedules for new hires - process training, picking topics to be reiterated, transitioning classroom training to on-the-floor applicability, etc. The two years of supervisory multi-tasking at HSBC were good enough for him to decide what he really wanted to do…. and he went after it. He packed his bag, and he was off to Goa. Not just for the party, but for GIM.

“GIM has been a ‘pattern breaker’, in more ways than one,” says Sundaram. My graduation and other stages of education had highly homogenous groups. We were all of the same age, similar backgrounds and, importantly, from the same region. The learning was cohesive, but the view presented was limiting. Also, ‘learning by applying’ is not something you find easily in institutes across the country. Learning is pretty much a monotone derived from a one-to-many interaction.”

Since we are pretty much used to the monotony, understanding principles rather than reproducing them, can become quite an effort. Sundaram conceded, this initial alignment did take him by surprise; but once through, learning at GIM became almost a fun process.

“The business impact or organizational impact of decisions taken can be huge. We got a firsthand experience of that through case studies and simulations. The PGDM schedule can be quite demanding, but it lays a good preparatory ground for professional challenges. A residential MBA is quite a unique experience… holistic actually. I was a part of a class with varied and rich backgrounds, and in GIM, you don’t just attempt to solve issues based on teachings in a classroom, but also try to come up with the most suitable solution agreed upon by four or five different thinkers of the group. This alone can broaden your vistas. The combination of highly knowledgeable teachers, along with a mix of professional and youthful MBA students in groups, makes it kind of defining. It is life changing.”

For Sundaram, GIM was a trigger, that set him seeing and contemplating things from a very panoramic perspective.

“So, once you finish your course at GIM, and start your job at a company, the first few years can be sort of baffling. This is because you don’t really see a real-time application of all that you’ve learnt. After a few years of work, you grow into more strategic roles… a leadership role, if you please, and that’s when all that you’ve learnt at GIM synchronizes with your work. It’s a culmination point. Thanks to the viewpoint offered in GIM - and all the years of the buildup at work -you are better prepared. It is now that your learning deepens and perspectives broaden. You learn to add value at work and in life.”

Not surprisingly, Sundaram strongly believes that ‘pattern breakers’ are the most important things… not just in work, but in life.

“There’ll be stuff you like, and stuff you don’t. The important thing is to embrace the experience. A business leader is not an expert in one particular aspect, but has a good understanding of almost all aspects of the business. In those two years at GIM, pick up everything you can, and - as Steve Jobs said - one day you can look back and connect the dots.”