I found myself arguing during a job interview. It may sound most primitive, childish or even fictional to some. But it did really happen to me nearly ten years ago.
But the incident taught me some valuable lessons for life. The question that eventually turned into an argument was rather a simple one.
In business, production or marketing, which one comes first?
Let me first explain the circumstances. I applied for a position in an organization that is primarily a public-sector behemoth in the dairy industry in India, which is, indeed, known well globally for its revolutionary leader and his incredibly creative and contemporary ideas. I did not study in the Tier-1 B-schools and was neither a top-scoring students. I was a school topper in my high-school. But since then, my grades always used to resemble the growth in the India’s agriculture industry. I should say, I must have become more content particularly with regard to my academic achievements.
So, as a green-horn, I was extremely excited to get an interview call from the company early in my career. I took a train and for the first time in life, traveled in an air-conditioned coach. Dreaming about a potential fast-track career in the company all through my 16 hours of journey, I reached the guest house usually provided for the interview candidates. Getting up fresh next day morning, I was brimming with confidence and energy and was very happy to enter the interview room with a big smile.
For my interview, there wasn’t a panel. Instead, I saw a middle-aged gentleman in a black suit and tie. I said “Good morning” but was not sure he reciprocated. Instead, he was trying very hard to bury himself in my resume. I did not hear him telling me to sit so after a few seconds, I took my seat in front of his table.
Like a hard-core professional, he straight away started asking about my grades in some subjects particularly, dairy economics and agribusiness management. Then, after a few usual questions, this one came up.
He asked, “Ok, you studied MBA na?” (that’s how Indians say You know !) “Now, tell me, in business, which one comes first – production or marketing?”
I was very happy that I knew the answer. And I said,
Then the conversation went like this.
What? Marketing? How come? Did you pass the course on supply chain management? Tell me how a typical supply chain looks like”
I explained a typical supply chain from a marketing text book. “Now, don’t you see production comes first, before marketing?”, he asked on a little bit higher tone.
I replied. “Sir, that’s true. But that’s just a represenation of flow of goods. In real-life business, marketing comes first and assumes the first priority before production”
Arei, (similar to “hey kid”), I am not sure whether you understand the business concepts well. Without production, what is there for marketing? He almost yelled.
I replied politely. “Sir, I understand your point. But before producing anything we must know there is a market for it. So, I said marketing comes first.
He strongly refuted. “Nah bhai nah ! (No, my brother no!). You must produce something and then go about marketing it.”
I responded. “Yes sir, but it would not make business sense to produce something without knowing whether it can be marketed”
Now he got more serious. “Tell me without producing a banana, how can I market it?” so production must come first na?
I politely but firmly replied, “Without knowing whether there is a market for banana, how can we produce it, sir. We must understand what the market needs and produce it. It is just common sense. So I said marketing comes first”
He became visibly angry.
“Arei bhaiya! I too studied MBA. I don’t want your common sense. I know all the business concepts so only I am working in this company for the last 20 years. This company’s production runs to thousands of tonnes of milk every day and we are marketing it across the country under our $$$$ brand name, which is the most popular brand in the country. Now, you are coming and trying to teach me common sense?
I was a bit shocked to see his tantrum but trying to be as level-headed as possible and responded calmly.
“No sir, I am just sharing my perspective and interpretation of what I learnt in my MBA course”, I answered.
He continued. “Everybody in the world who studied MBA will understand that in business, production comes first and then marketing. You are trying to become another Kotler, ah?”
I decided this would be my last sentence and decided not to further the argument. So I replied.
“No problem, sir. I thought it was just contemporary thinking, putting myself in the shoes of a real life businessman and not meant to disrespect you or prove my wisdom”
He seemed unconvinced and seemingly not interested to continue the interview. And I made my decision and asked.
“Sir, can I get my travel allowance?”
He looked up, grinned and did not utter any word but simply signed the voucher and I got paid immediately.
Having sensed his decision, I came out of the room rather with a big sigh of relief. I could not but think about the legacy of the founder of the company and his prolific marketing brain behind building the most popular brand in the country. And thanked God.
Anyway, learnt a few lessons for life but the most important of them all was:
There are a few things in the world that we may attempt to change and then there are so many things that just can’t be changed. But knowing the difference is utmost important and is indeed, the key to succeed.