Rebel Robot Karishma on Switching to a Global Marketing Role
April 29, 2019. Mumbai – MBA 2017 alumna and Global Brand Manager at Henkel Karishma Choudhary is preparing for change – again. In 2015, she left her job as a robot for a tech consultancy in India to pursue an 18-month MBA journey at CEIBS in Shanghai. Now, having progressed at the global chemical and consumer goods company, Karishma will soon relocate to the USA to continue her role from a more strategic location.
Here is the story of her journey to CEIBS and some of the big changes – in addition to relocating – in her life, since graduating.
Shackled by organisational structures, Karishma describes her pre-MBA life as one of monotony. “I was working as a technical consultant, running simulations to reduce bottle necks and improve processes for clients,” Karishma recalls. “It was a monotonous job. I would punch in at eight and leave at five. Any notion of concepts like ‘design thinking’ or ‘intrapreneurship’ were quickly squashed, and I knew I needed to get out before I grew used to the status quo.”
It was this desire to make a bigger impact and open up creatively that led her to look into some MBA options. Having been accepted to a number of top business schools, including the Indian School of Business (ISB), Oxford Saïd, and Rotman School of Management, there were ultimately two stand-out features that swayed her decision towards CEIBS. “Some schools only offer a 12-month track, but I knew I wanted longer to really zoom out, go on exchange, and ultimately evaluate what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. “The other big draw was China itself. We’ve all read about business shifting from west to east, and from what I had heard about CEIBS at that time, the MBA programme gave you a hands-on experience and a chance to be a part of that shift.”
Karishma recognises that when reflecting on her MBA experience, it is easy to connect the dots given the benefit of hindsight, but she does admit that no amount of prior research could have fully prepared her for the journey. “For me, I hadn’t realised beforehand how important the environment would be for my studies. Everyone in our class was there because he or she wanted to make a change – personally, professionally, and in society,” Karishma says. “Compared with my previous work experience in India, it was extremely liberating, and to continue conversations and debates with professors and classmates around the campus after class was immensely stimulating.”
For the benefit of young professionals evaluating if a CEIBS MBA is the right fit, Karishma is keen to address the topic of diversity and culture at the school. Something that is especially relevant to those, who like her, had never set foot in China before beginning the programme. “My personal takeaway is that for many internationals, we think learning about a new culture implies a passive approach. Just by being in Shanghai for 18 months, visiting some museums, and going to Mandarin classes, you will absorb the culture by proxy,” she says. “In my experience, it’s never that simple. Sometimes you really have to work, and fight for it. There is no better example that crystalizes this point than the Integrated China Strategy Project (ICSP), which is a compulsory part of the curriculum.”
The ICSP is a high-level group consulting project that MBAs undertake at CEIBS sponsor firms in Shanghai. Under the guidance of senior faculty advisors, MBAs help to address important strategic issues and develop innovative and practical solutions. “At a surface level, the ICSP helps you understand why words like ‘high-tech’ and ‘innovation’ go hand-in-hand with China,” she explains. “But beyond that it forced us, as a team, to work through our cultural differences, find workarounds for cultural nuances, and ultimately deliver the perfect presentation to our client.”
Karishma’s group did their ICSP project for a leading e-commerce solutions provider in China. They were given the case of a global eye-wear brand, and were asked to evaluate their presence in the China market and to prepare a digital marketing strategy to take the brand forward. As well as strengthening her cultural intelligence, the project would also lay the foundation for Karishma’s career switch from a technical consultant to country marketing manager and now global brand manager. “It’s funny, I sometimes have conference calls with colleagues in China,” Karishma says. “When discussing topics like content creation, customer journey development, and e-commerce portals with them, I often think back to the ICSP and marketing modules as my first windows into this world”.
In addition to collaborating with colleagues back in China, Karishma’s global role sees her responsible for the A-Z of marketing for two industry disrupting industrial adhesive products. In Mumbai, Karishma spearheaded a number of innovative online and offline campaigns to foster loyalty – which she says brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘brand stickiness.’ Her success as a country manager led to her current global role, but she is often asked by young professionals how recruiters outside of China perceive CEIBS MBAs. “I’m lucky, as Henkel is a global company and valued my China experience from the first interview onwards. But I have heard stories of fellow alums going for interviews in their home nation, only to be challenged by the question, ‘If you want to work in (insert name of country), why go to China to do an MBA?’” she adds. “For me, the answer is twofold. First, it’s exposure to one of the largest economies in the world. And, secondly, it’s gaining a first-hand understanding of the unique way of doing business there. For professionals seeking a global career, today and in the future, both aspects are indispensable.”
Karishma came to China to do her MBA to avoid a robotic future. “I used to look at problems and try to boil everything down to what are the pain points. Now I see a wiser road that values the importance of relationship building in everything we do,” she says. Although tech is certainly still a big part of her life, the MBA has equipped her with a level of emotional intelligence which is applicable in India, China, the US, and beyond.