Alumni International Career Perspectives: India TXT

Transcript for "Alumni International Career Perspectives: India" episode.

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Thank you for tuning in to our third podcast series featuring Smeal international alumni supporting lifelong learning and business career development for alumni and friends of the Smeal College of Business. This series showcases the diverse alumni who have launched careers throughout the world. Follow our three episodes released in mid-September and October. This podcast will be released in early November. 

Then on November 13 at noon Eastern Standard time, tune in for a live Lifelong Learning webinar with supply chain alumna Meg Alderman, who is a manager in supply chain for Deloitte Switzerland. Registration is now open. And the webinar is titled "The Art of Starting Small-- Why Failing Fast May No Longer Be an Option." Like our podcast episodes, our webinars are free. And past recordings can be found on our website under Lifelong Learning. 

I am your host, Cindy Satterfield, Senior Programs Manager for Smeal Alumni Career Services. And I'm very excited to be working with alumni around the world to showcase the diversity of the Smeal network. 

Today I am talking with Anirudh, a 2014 Smeal finance graduate working as director at his family business, Kankatala Textiles, in Vizag, India. Anirudh started out his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City as a consultant after graduation. In August 2015, he returned to India to become the director of Kankatala Textiles and has taken the company global by starting an e-commerce store. He excelled as a finance major here at Smeal and was invited to join Beta Gamma Sigma for his academic achievements. The honor society, which has been around for over 100 years, only invites the top 10% to 7% of upperclassmen. 

Welcome, Anirudh. We are excited to be talking with you today. My international alumni connections through LinkedIn and other platforms are one of the favorite parts of my position here at Smeal. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself and your work story? 

Thank you for having me, Cindy. It's a pleasure to give back to Smeal, connecting with alumni and helping fellow students understand about the real world after college. 

I come from a business family. And I always wanted to do a bachelor's in business and to get an international exposure to education. And I always considered America to be the most applicable and experiential learning. I was an international student at Smeal, majored in finance with a minor in economics. I interned with PWC in my junior year and then worked full-time for a year after college. After a year of working with PWC in New York City, I have returned to join my family business in India. 

Wonderful. Please tell us a little bit about the history of your family business When was it first started? 

Oh, we'll have to go back eight decades. Oh, we had a very humble beginning by my great-grandfather, late, Appalaraju Kankatala. He started off selling saris, a textile cloth, which is worn by women in India, in 1940 on a bicycle door to door. In 1943, he opened our first store in the old town of Visakhapatnam, a small 10 foot by 10 foot, 100 square foot store, and it was one of the first in the city back then. After two decades, in 1965, he turned the store 10 times bigger with saris from across India and saris up to 1,000 rupees in 1965. 

And in 1983 was the next big change when the gen next entered the business, Kankatala Mallikharjuna Rao, my father. He changed the way clothing stores worked in Vizag by opening an air-conditioned, exclusive all-silk store. And it was the first air-conditioned store in our city. It was a strong brand positioning and a branding moment for us at Kankatala to put customer comfort at first. 

And next in 2007 was a major year, where we expanded to a store of 30,000 square feet, where we were selling saris up to 4 lakh, Indian rupees, which is $5,500. And then after 2007 up till now, we have 10 stores across five cities. 

And in 2015 was when I entered the business after leaving PWC. And I have taken the company online in 2017. It took me a year to start and set up the online business. This is a brief journey of my brand till now. 

That's a company very rich in history. And I can tell it means a lot to you. After graduation, you went to work at PWC. Why did you leave? And what drew you back to India? 

See, I've always-- since childhood was born into a family business of entrepreneurs. I always wanted to do and get into my family business. And I wanted to work abroad in a city like New York City and get an exposure of working somewhere where I am not the boss. And I'm the third generation in family business. And I wanted to continue my entrepreneurial journey. So I have returned to come back to India. 

How have you branded your textile business? And what has helped it grow internationally? 

Basically, in Kankatala, it was always to be different, and whether it be in our branding, in our packaging, and thing. When it comes to growing the brand internationally was when I started in 2016 with Facebook and Instagram pages. Within a short period of time, we were able to get followers, as they were very impressed with the knowledge we were sharing on our page. We were able to reach out to customers who have known our brand over the last 75 years who live across the globe. The 75 years of history was an added advantage, as it gave confidence to our customers. 

We showcase exclusive designs, weaves, and talk about the process of making a sari on our channels. And many of the people who wear these saris or who wear clothes, they were not actually aware of what was the process involved in making of these, which we were bringing to them on our Facebook and Instagram pages, which has gotten the attention of sari [INAUDIBLE] Social media has helped us grow our brand internationally without borders. And it has helped us get orders from 30 countries and 21 states of India. 

Another major campaign which we have done which made us stand apart was Queens of Andhra. Andhra is a state in India where we are. And the campaign Queens of Andhra was done for our 75 years anniversary. And we made a coffee table book out of it. We photographed six queens, and we paid a tribute to them, who have ruled the land over the last 1,000 years. It was a campaign which took six months to make, as it involved a lot of research and design. This campaign has garnered a lot of interest among the people of Andhra and the women who have learned about the various queens in our regions who were not so popular. 

That's really fascinating. Can you name any advantages and challenges you face in a family business as opposed to working at a larger company and vice versa? 

Yeah, definitely. I've worked in both a corporate company and in a family business. So I would say one of the major advantage of working in a family business or being a part of a family business are the common values you share across the firm. As it's a family business, everyone is usually on the same page and has the same values towards business, which gives a sense of purpose and pride, which is also the competitive advantage and the edge [INAUDIBLE] run a family business. 

Another thing I would say is the commitment. Usually, when it's a family business, it is your name and your investment. For example, Kankatala is my last name and it is also the name of our brand. So it is something which is very close to my heart. And I would put in the added effort and the added hours, whatever it takes, to make it a success. 

The third most important advantage, I would say, is loyalty. Usually, when it's a family business or your own business, even during hardships, everyone sticks together to emerge stronger, while at a corporate, it's not exactly the same, as there might be layoffs and there is a fear that you might not be working anymore. 

I'd like to talk about a few of the challenges or disadvantages which can come up in a family business. One of the major challenge or disadvantage of a family business is the continuing of the family business, which is the succession planning. As you see, majority of the family businesses don't last over generations, because it is usually difficult to find the next person who's in charge. The leader must determine who can take the best decision to move the business forward and aim to reduce the potential for a future conflict. This is usually a daunting decision. And this is one of the major reasons why family businesses fall apart. 

That's a really great perspective. And I'm sure there are other people within a family business that can identify with that type of problem. Since you've worked in both the United States and India, can you point out some cultural differences in the workplace between our two countries? 

Sure, Cindy. There are definitely a few cultural differences the way work is done here and in America. One of the thing is the organizational structure. Whereas in India, it is more of a top-down organizational structure, while in America, it is more of a flat structure. In India, it is usually rare for a boss and an employee sitting and working next to each other. In India, you also address your boss or your higher up with "sir" or "madam," while in America, it is a first name basis even if you are interacting with the CEO. And to be honest, it was quite different for me when I joined the business and I had everyone addressing me as "sir." 

And also, another thing in the work culture is in India, most of the businesses work six days a week, while in America, it is five days and you get the Saturday and the Sunday off. In India, being a developing nation, people do work overtime. And it is quite usual to see people working beyond the office hours and working late, while in America, they usually stick to the right times in the office. 

And as [INAUDIBLE] was talking about the culture, multi-cultures, in America, you do work with people from different cultures and different countries' backgrounds. But in India, it is usually all Indians, but how we define multicultural is a little differently, as each state is unique with its own language and provisions. So India is multicultural in a different way, I can say. Also, there are not many people from different countries here in India. 

And with the new number of companies coming into India, multinational corporations, like Google, Big Four, Airbnb, Uber, and tech startups, there is a big change coming into the work culture in India. 

Can you name one specific change that you've noticed taking place? 

I can definitely say one of the major change is the five-day work culture. I see a lot of new corporations are embracing the five-day work culture right now. 

OK. What are the thriving industries and career opportunities available in India? 

India is one of the fastest growing developing nations in the world, with a growth rate of more than 5% of the GDP, which is higher than most developed nations. However, there are hints of a small recession coming. But Indian currency and banking systems are very strong, with a large reserve of gold and foreign currency. So this wouldn't cripple the economy. Even during the 2008 recession, India was one of the least affected nations. 

So when it comes to the thriving industries, I would say it's definitely the technology and information technology sector. India is one of the fastest growing technology industries. And there is a huge potential for it to grow even further. 

The second, I would say, is that retail industry has been growing well, with an increase in the online commerce and personalized retail. Urbanization in India is going to be a big boon to the retail industry. I would say the next things would be the health care, energy, and media, which are also growing very fast in the country. 

In the Indian job market, what skills are in high demand? Are these skills important in the global job market as well? 

Yeah, I can name a few. So one of the most important things what people require is to embrace change. In the current age, where technology is changing every day, one of the most important skill is being ready to embrace change and a change in technology. 

Another important skill would be analyzing data, because every process right now has become technology-driven. And there is a lot of data available. So it is very important to understand what we can do with it. Under the 

The most important thing in any skill, for any entrepreneur or an manager or an employee, would be the troubleshooting skills because a lot of businesses, a lot of firm processes throw a lot of problems at you. And to have a good set of troubleshooting skills would save a lot of time and money. Logical and analytical thinking is very important. 

I do believe that the skills are equally important in India and in the global market as well. 

Great points. I like the term "troubleshooting" for problem solving. From an international perspective, what made you choose to come to the United States to get your education? Why Penn State? 

As I was saying in then starting, being born into a business family, I always wanted to study business. And I wanted an international exposure because I found out that the American education system is more practical learning than book learning. In the American education system, the grading is not just on your exams or your midterms. But there are other important things, such as presentations, reports, and team projects, which I feel are most important for a student in the real world, as how business tests you in the future. 

The most important reason I've chosen Penn State is because of the diversity in Penn State. And I was very impressed by the options for various courses and minors offered in Penn State. And Penn State is such a huge school with more than 50,000 students. 

Do you feel your education here has been key to your success? 

Yes, I strongly feel that Penn State education has made a difference in my life and was very important for my success. I have learned many things apart from just the courses or the academics in Penn State. 

That's really wonderful to hear. Are any actions being taken in India in response to the need for greater diversity, equality, and inclusion? Are there any other workforce concerns that you can bring up? 

Yeah. See there are a few-- increasing amount of diversity and equality in Indian workforce over the years. India, however, does have an issue with only 1/4 of women working in India. The rest are working the home or taking care of the children. And I mentioned before, diversity in India is viewed a little differently, as I would say we are quite diverse with people of different states working in our companies. 

Also, I can say that with the age of new startups and multinational companies coming up, they have more liberal culture and diversity. They are setting the standards for other companies in India. 

I noticed you did mention it twice about India being multicultural. And I really like that idea of looking at diversity a little bit differently. That's very interesting. 

India is an emerging market with great potential. Where do you see your country globally and economically a few years from now? 

India is growing at a rate higher than most developed economies. India has more than 50% of its population below 25 years of age, which will soon start working. And the domestic demand is going to increase. And they're also going to add to the workforce. 

There is also an increase in urbanization, which would lead to a high consumer spending, which shows a bright future for the country. And most successful businesses and banks in India are growing at a rate north of 20% per annum. So I do see a bright future for India as a country. 

To focus on your current position, what projects are you working on now that excite or interest 

I have come back to join my family business. And I always wanted to make a difference here and not just add to the existing workforce. As I said, my father has entered the business. And he has changed it and expanded it. 

But now the firm is expanding even without me. So it was a big challenge for me to come back and to make a difference here. And that is when I came back and decided to take the company online. And now we are shipping to more than 20 countries across the world and 21 states in India. 

And once the online publicity and the branding has increased the visibility of my company, we have started to do exhibitions in other cities. And onto online has been helping us to understand to which city to open a new store. And whereas before, we were taking such decisions based on just facts of looking at the population and stuff of other cities, whereas now, people in other cities already know about Kankatala. And they are eager to shop with us. 

That's very exciting. And I hope you stay in touch and share your company's progress. Can you tell us a little bit about your future career plans and any trends you're following that you feel are important? 

I plan to expand our existing textile business to other major cities in India. And I'm also looking at the possibility of opening a store in America. We get a lot of orders from USA. And most Indian women do not have access to the wide range of saris in America. 

Apart from my textile business, we are also starting a construction business here in India, as there is a huge demand for real estate due to the increasing middle class and urbanization happening in India. 

That is fascinating, as those are two very different types of businesses, fashion and construction. In our previous talks, you did mention that a lot of Indians are getting involved in construction, due to the need for housing. 

You come from a family of entrepreneurs. What would you say are important qualities for someone looking to start their own business? 

I would say that one of the most important things would be passion. I feel that being passionate is very important because when you're passionate, you do not feel like you're working, as you're doing it out of love. 

And another thing is to never give up. Instead of giving up, an entrepreneur will learn from their failures. And you should ask questions like, what went wrong? How can I learn from my mistakes? Or how can I succeed the next time? These are the type of questions we have to ask ourselves. 

And the third most important thing would be flexibility. It is utmost important to embrace change with your plan and your company, based on the market and consumer feedback. 

That's some great advice. For our last question, what are some of the favorite pastimes in India that you would not find in the United States? What do you love most about your country? 

I love the fact that I can be with my family and friends in India, which is hard, as most of them are in India. And that is also one of the major reasons I have moved back. India is a very diverse country. There is so much culture and history in India. 

And as I was telling you, each state in India is very different because they have their own language. So I feel there is a lot to discover and explore in India. 

If we travel to India, what is one place that we have to visit? 

Oh, wow. That's quite a difficult question. So I would say one of the offbeat places, or something would be you should visit Udaipur. It is a city of lakes and has beautiful palaces and a rich culture. 

That's all the questions we have. Thank you, Anirudh, for taking the time out of your busy schedule and sharing your knowledge with us today. Your international insight will be food for thought for many alumni seeking a global experience in India. 

Smeal Alumni Career Services produces these online resources to promote lifelong learning, professional development, and help keep up on future business trends. Don't forget-- all lifelong learning webinar and podcast recordings, along with more information about Smeal Alumni Career Services coaching and programs, can be found by visiting and clicking on the alumni tab to find our website. Or please email us at