The henna in her hair and the simple white-black-grey power-point slides that she uses makes her come across as the unpretentious, simple girl-next-door. But one glance at her profile and you come to know here is one Belagavi girl, who has planned her life, excelled in her career and is honest to the bone that she even confesses to losing out on some opportunities as she couldn’t network at the right time. That’s Smruti Kulkarni Shanbhag for you. Tuesday, this week, when I saw her at her home, her mother-in-law, Prof. Madhuri Shanbhag, was gushing about her, something one rarely sees, at least in public! She was releasing her first book of short stories, named ‘Tear of Joy’ which is now available on Amazon . After everyone, including her father, Prof. S. B. Kulkarni, had spoken and Smruti took to stage to speak, she was extremely humble, and shared her inspiration behind her protagonists. “It’s your story and mine and hers”, she said as she kept smiling wryly.
Smruti works for Nielsen, known worldwide for its Research and analytics, among other key businesses, as Director- Innovation Practice, in Paris. A student of Herwadkar High School and GIT, she worked for Infosys for a long time and then went on to get her MBA from HEC School of Management, Paris. When requested to address MBA students at my institute, Bharatesh Global Business School, she was more than happy. Once in the classroom, she unwrapped her experiences before the students, one by one, advising on the sidelines and making sense of how to build a career, coming as she does, like them all, from Belagavi. Her formula was simple – S. – U. – N. Strategize, Up-skill and Network. That’s apparently just what took her from Belagavi to Paris, heading innovations at a global organization, advising companies on product innovation and crafting a data-driven career.
“After an MBA, Lehman Brothers happened, and all of us were left in the lurch, with no good jobs in Management” she says matter-of-factly. “Thankfully, for me, I had my engineering degree to fall back on and companies appreciated engineers who could do number crunching while being equipped with an MBA” And so she ended up working for McDonalds as Bigdata Analyst. She dreamt of being a product manager (her MBA being in Marketing), but today enjoys her role in product innovation. “Course correction happens for the better, goals change” she says with a smile. And when asked what was the opportunity-cost they’ve had to pay for opting to work in Europe, instead of Americas, she says “Indian Food”, without a second thought! Nowhere can you find the traces of superiority, arrogance or attitude that is so much a part of high-achievers, and she’s been one, in her career and education alike, topping her school, college and being there among the top 90 from a good 100,000 students for CET.
Smruti has a life partner who seems totally in sync with his wife. Manish Shanbhag, also an alumnus of HEC Paris, is that ideal partner who almost completes her sentences as she glances at him frequently. She also contributes towards an NGO named ‘Pankh’ , run by Manish and her cousin Gouree Manjarekar, which supports women by skilling them. They also provide school bags to students from remote villages in Karnataka. “It adds to the motivation to come to school every day, apart from the mid-day meal, of course,” Manish explains. They have no pretensions to have started giving back to society at such an early age.
Manish and Smruti come across as a simple, sensible couple, who know how to ‘Live’ a complete life. Their life may have taken them across the world, but they still manage to stay ‘Belgavkars’ at heart!