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Giri Kesavan MBA2021 on the importance of turning spreadsheets into stories
For Giri Kesavan, it’s always been about the bigger picture.
After studying Electronic Engineering at Imperial College London, he spent five years in Business Analysis and Product Management at Deutsche Bank. When he wasn’t looking after both client-facing and internal technology projects, he was covering regulatory initiatives, including the bank’s Brexit preparations.
Clearly, he had the engineering skills to succeed. So why take time out to pursue an MBA at London Business School? The answer lies not just in his personal ambitions, but his predictions for the future of the tech industry.
“Consulting is about what to do, engineering is about how to do it – but who sits across the entire process? The person who can do that is everything”
Giri believes the most exciting opportunities in tech in the years to come will belong to those who can offer the industry “a combination of technical abilities and broader business knowhow”. Organisations are beginning to look at their employees’ skillsets “more holistically” and are moving away from the long-held misconception that you need to be “tech-y” to work in tech. “Really, the skills that make someone a great engineer don’t always translate into being a great leader, or an effective manager,” he says.
Giri credits this mix of practical skills and “an MBA mindset” as being essential for his own personal growth and professional development; most recently landing him a unique role as Sky’s Strategy Manager. “Consulting is about what to do, engineering is about how to do it – but who sits across the entire process? The person who can do that is everything.”
Increasingly, organisations are looking for individuals who possess the ability to not just analyse data, but to compellingly express its meaning. “It’s all about painting a picture with data, turning spreadsheets into stories. If communication wasn’t a skill, we’d only need data analysts.”
Giri sees this focus on the meaning of data as part of an industry-wide shift. “We’re breaking down the numbers. Organisations are starting to ask not just what their findings could mean for themselves, but for society as a whole.” This has meant some serious soul-searching. “A lot of tech companies are trying to solve the same problem, so we need to be asking, as an industry, are we efficient? Is it really worth Microsoft spending millions on Teams when there’s also Zoom and Skype and Google Hangouts?”
“It’s not just what problems we should be solving, but why we should be solving them. How is what we do useful?”
Not to mention the fact that, with so many sectors relying on technology for their day-to-day operating, ‘tech’ as a standalone industry is becoming steadily obsolete. “Look at Monzo, look at the idea of ‘FinTech’. ‘FinTech’ doesn’t exist, finance is tech.”
Describing the questions facing the industry in 2021 as “philosophical”, Giri adds: “I’m always asking, what’s the point? It’s not just what problems we should be solving, but if we should be solving them. How is what we do useful? The key is to always be asking how we can drive actionable insight from analytics.”
Giri was able to put this thinking to the test in March 2020. While studying at LBS, he’d quickly realised that, as well as traditional routes like banking and consulting, students were increasingly looking for careers in tech. Keen to use his own background to develop a more comprehensive offering, he set out to bring together every aspect of the School experience, from the recruitment process to the Career Centre, to create a holistic tech offering across the entire student journey.
Naturally, he kicked off the process with a data-driven pitch. “I wrote a whitepaper on the trends of our students, where the gaps were and what the data meant we needed to do – especially in terms of preparing our students for tech careers.” He credits the experience of actively developing the MBA programme he was studying as “something that could only happen at LBS”.
The pioneering Technology & Analytics concentration for the MBA launched in May 2020. Today, 28% of the MBA class of 2020 are in full-time tech careers, with half of the MBA class of 2021 taking on tech-focused internships. Students have also been offered skills-based sessions on programs like Python and Tableau to increase their data fluency. So far, more than 300 students have signed up.
“Technology is about connecting people to opportunity”
For Giri, these numbers are indicative of a wider trend. “More and more we’re seeing the value of MBA students going into tech and media. With our cross-industry insight and international network, we’re able to add a really unique perspective that will only increase in importance going forward.” As for those tricky questions the industry is grappling with? He believes MBA students are especially well-placed to answer them. “We have a broader outlook; we have these conversations in our classrooms. MBA students with tech experience will become key to the industry.”
Why is the LBS offering unique? “In the same way that LBS teaches you how to think, not what to think, we’re not teaching you how to code. We’re teaching students how to manage engineers, how to talk to different stakeholders and how to make the best data-driven decisions.”
In 2020, Giri took his belief that technology is about connecting people to opportunity on the road, as part of Digital for Impact, an experiential learning course where LBS students work with small businesses in Africa. Using the blend of analysis and insight Giri believes will be so essential for the industry going forward, students were able to offer the organisations a new perspective on what their data means for them and their customers.
“These organisations had access to the same information, but we were able to come up with new insights. We could look at the data sets and identify key areas of prioritisation, based off our own market understanding and knowledge of the industry. This meant we were able to advise businesses on what to focus on next and which levers to change in order to increase their KPIs and metrics.”
The Covid-19 pandemic meant an in-person visit to Uganda as off the cards, but Giri still describes the experience as fantastic. “The school could have taken the easy way out and cancelled all our programmes. But instead, they’ve leveraged remote working and it’s given us a more global context. We’ve had speakers from all over the world. Many of us have been doing international internships, just because we can.”
Similarly, he suspects that, for the tech industry, one of the lasting impacts of remote working will be an appreciation of what makes it possible. “There was always this idea that you couldn’t form relationships or build trust without physically being in a room with someone. That mentality has shifted now. The secret is technology’s ability to reduce friction and bring us closer together.”