Tete-a-Tete with Manav Jain – On Entrepreneurship and Success

Having done his graduation from Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) and MBA from IIM Shillong and having always been at the top academically, this young man opted out of the placement process to pursue his own entrepreneurial journey at the age of 22 years. A multi-faceted personality with interests ranging from table tennis to cooking, after having achieved so much at such an early stage as the Managing Director of Rakesh Papers Pvt. Limited, his humility is what makes him easily approachable by all to date. Let us learn from him what the secret ingredient for his success has been so far.

1. Directly from a student to the Managing Director of Rakesh Papers Pvt. Limited, that is quite a dream for those pursuing MBA. How did it all start?

Well it all started in Class 11, I have to admit. Fresh from the board exams, we were supposed to mark our preference for a field and I chose to go with Commerce since this was the field I could somehow relate to, since I had been interested in my father’s business operations. Barely a month in Class 11th, our board results came and a 100 in Science provoked teachers and students alike that Science was it! However, personal preference prevailed and I continued with Commerce. Interest developed all throughout the remaining 2 years of school life, which continued further in B. Com. (H) and MBA. MBA for me was an extension of B. Com. (H), not in a way of new subjects, but in a way of new thinking associated with old concepts.

Once in MBA, you get to think of what you want the most in life, and that decides your career path. I’m the kind who hates to sit idle and do monotonous work. I like creativity and I wanted a way that helps this creativity last with me for a long time. And the best way to make this happen was entrepreneurship! So that’s how the career journey began. Having seen my father work in the same business, paper was something I had related to since childhood and so I wanted to extend that relationship. I joined my father to learn more about the commodity, the tricks of the trade, etc. And now when I think I have significant knowledge about it, I’m looking at expansions and newer areas in the same field.

2. Managing a firm’s entire operations so early in career, what were/are the biggest hurdles or difficulties you face at work and how do you overcome them?

There are a lot of hurdles when you’re fresh from your studies and are entrusted with the responsibility of handling the entire business operations. It is exactly opposite to the job oriented path of life wherein you start with smaller responsibilities and then gradually move on to bigger ones. Here, you start with everything and continue with that!

I believe the biggest hurdle in this process is to get it all arranged in a fashion where you can apply your mind and heart. When I entered the organization, there were some things, which I liked, some that I hated, and some that didn’t interest me. People at such responsibilities are expected to lead the firm strategically and looking forward; but until and unless the core of the organization isn’t perfect, strategic thinking cannot be implemented. So, the best way I thought to overcome such hurdles was to bring about operational efficiency. Operational tasks can vary from setting up a Client-Server IT system to changing the way transactions are recorded and analyzed. The task is challenging due to resistance to change among the employees, but nevertheless, it is of utmost importance. Over a period of 6 months, I set up advanced IT capabilities and transformed the internal operational activities of the business. Resistance to change can be resolved by educating to employees so that they can adopt the new system, and luckily we were able to achieve that at most times. The second hurdle is the cost involved. Operational improvements do not lead to direct profits, so the justification for such expenses gets difficult as incremental profits are observed indirectly over a period of time. However, I was able to convince my father that such costs are reasonable and he has been very supportive throughout.

3. Heading a group of people elder to you as well as having more industrial experience than you, did you ever face problems in taking decisions, delegating work or asking for status reports?

YES! I was just 22 when I joined the business and all employees were elder to me (and still are). This situation was pretty awkward. It’s quite odd to shout at employees for wrong work, or asking them to do more work, or to change their work pattern. They look upon you as an amateur and themselves as pros, and you can’t help but agree to this! A new status report delegated to an employee won’t come to me unless he is interested in preparing it. So such issues are always there and do come up in daily life, but the best way forward is to go slow on this end, and not try and change everything at one go.

4. 95.60% in 10th, 95.75% in 12th, 3rd in SRCC and then Double Gold Medalist at IIM Shillong, with such a perfect academic record you were sure to get the best placement in campus. Were there no apprehensions at any stage while opting out of the placement process at IIM Shillong?

At times, yes, there were apprehensions about opting out of the process. In fact these apprehensions came in because of the nature of MBA. Everyone who joins in, comes with a mind of a placement, and when the name attached is an IIM, the placement takes an even more center stage! Packages start floating in and you see the CTCs rising to record levels. And then you think if you want to join any of the companies? The placement and package isn’t a worry since you have the best profiles coming on campus. That thought brings about a lot of apprehension! And then you see the process starting and people getting offers; and you are sitting in your room thinking you won’t be able to run around the college shouting that you got a placement!

However, these apprehensions do die away. Because once you start thinking about life post MBA, the monotony and job issues lurk in your mind. And when you compare these with a free life, where you can shape it in whatever way you like, you prefer the latter!

5. As a successful young entrepreneur, what advice would you give to the MBA students who are apprehensive about their entrepreneurial ideas?

Entrepreneurship is a gamble to start with, I must say. Young fresh minds have multiple ideas and concepts in their minds and hearts, and they believe all these ideas will transform the world and would make them multi-millionaires! Reality is often different. All those ideas might have been good enough to take the plunge, but only a few are ripe to make an impact! Selecting those ripe ones from the good-enough ones is a really tough task, and requires time and effort. So my advice for those young minds is that you should first sort out ideas and deliberate about them well and then try and reach to those ripe ideas. If you’re not coherent enough to reach to them, you need to think again!

Also, entrepreneurship is very different from a job. You do not get monthly pay cheques to enjoy! And even if you draw a pay cheque monthly, you won’t be happy unless you know the amount is actually ‘earned’! The mindset is different. Don’t try your hand on entrepreneurship assuming it as a low-risk paying venture. It will pay, but will take a lot from you first!

6. Two prestigious gold medals at IIM Shillong, one for being the Topper and the other for the Best All-Round Performer in the batch. MBA being such a closely packed program for two years, how did you manage to balance studies with all your other interests.

I believe the two are correlated. Some interests give you a feeling of satisfaction and freshness, and this freshness also helps in studies. For instance, a person loves to play Table Tennis and the game helps him/her to relieve stress. Then table tennis can help the person relieve stress related to studies, and this in turn can help one achieve in studies. The relation is obviously indirect. There’s one condition though! The primary interest should be studies. If you hate studying and TT is your stress buster, it obviously won’t help you develop interest in studies. My interests varied, from TT to cooking, to creative artwork, to managing events, but I used my interests in a way that they helped me relieve my study stress. So both aspects worked with each other.

7. What are your biggest learning’s as a student of IIM? Would you like to share some experiences with our readers?

In India, in the field of MBA, there are only 2 categories – IIMs and those that aren’t IIMs. There isn’t a third type. So being a student of the former gives you a respect that the non-IIM institutions can’t give you. So is there actually a difference? Or is it just a myth?

My biggest learning as a student of IIM was managing the brand IIM. IIMs are IIMs because they take care of their brand in every possible manner and try and enhance it all throughout. Each student of the institute has to understand the importance of being in such an institution and act in a justified manner. Also, as a student of IIM, it gave me opportunity to be a part of various corporate interactions, which I think helped the most.

8. With so many achievements and recognitions, how do you always manage to carry yourself with the same humility and down to earth character?

Well, I have no clue how down to earth I am; it is all people’s perception. One thing that I really believe about work is that no work is big or small except that of a beggar. Except for a beggar, everyone should be treated equal since all are indeed equal.

9. Now when creativity and innovation are at its peak demand, how important do you think are grades in today’s world? More students today prefer to learn outside class even if that means compromising grades. What is your view about that?

The education system has, over the years, evolved from being a pure marks based system to a grade based system to now an overall assessment system. And the system is forever evolving. I agree that these systems have largely failed to capture the creative and imaginative thinking of today’s youngsters, and therefore become a deterrent to one’s true wishes. However, one should look at grades not as a deterrent, but as a medium to force oneself to learn. Some things are important, but people don’t realize their importance right away. So till the time they realize its importance, they would deem the subject as unwarranted and won’t study. Grades at least force them to study in the initial stage. The core base behind this is that the content should be important in the long term, or else the force and the realization both go waste!

10. So much, so far. How do you plan to proceed here on? How do you align your achievements with the motto of your life?

At the current moment, I’m working on several expansion projects as also a foray into paper retail. These projects are being evaluated and I’m trying to align them with my long term goal of business, which is to build an organization that is known for quality paper products and a successful retail chain. And I can see that my knowledge and my achievements in several fields are helping me at every step in judging the business environment, engaging in long term contracts and several other areas. The motto of life, however, remains ‘happiness’, which is true for every person on this planet.

Swati Nidiganti