Neelanja Chaturvedi, deputy general manager with HAFED, says the Liberal Arts approach at ASU fuelled her fascination for intercultural exchanges and sent her confidence soaring
Neelanja Chaturvedi is a Deputy General Manager with Hafed-India, the largest apex cooperative federation of Haryana, focusing on their export marketing business. A post-graduate from Loughborough University, UK, with an MSc in International Management, Neelanja calls herself an Apeejay faithful: Having graduated from Apeejay Stya University (ASU) after studying at Apeejay School, Navi Mumbai. In an interview, the Erasmus Scholar talks about the opportunities for inter-disciplinary learning that ASU provided her, the enormous job satisfaction that she derives from working in the public sector and a private jet ride with Harvard and MIT students that she will remember for a lifetime. Edited excerpts:
Kindly elaborate upon your job profile with the government
As deputy general manager at HAFED, I deal with their export marketing business. It’s a cooperative kind of business in which we deal with procurement of wheat and rice. We are working towards increasing the distribution centres within India and outside India as well as exporting the agricultural products of Haryana to other countries. But with the Covid-19 situation, the conversation with government organisations all over the world didn’t move forward. So I’ve also begun working with the internal marketing team and their human resource development department since before joining HAFED I was working in the HR field.
Please tell us about the transition from HR to marketing
Basically, when I completed my master’s degree, Atkins was a company for which I was interviewed in the UK. They had their office in Bengaluru. So that’s how I joined Atkins there. I was more interested in getting to know about inter-cultural cooperation and how it worked. I believe being a human resource consultant was a good opportunity for me during that point of time where I was dealing with UK and European clients, so it was putting a value to my degree. Since I had done my Master’s in International Management, it involved managing two to three different countries together. So I thought that this role suits my degree.
How was the experience of studying at Loughborough University, UK?
I am an Erasmus scholar. In the Erasmus scholarship you get to study in Europe as well as get to know the culture. When I went to the UK, I realised that there are various scholarship programmes one could do do with affiliations with different universities and countries. And when I was studying in Apeejay University, I remember Sushma Berlia Ma’am telling us about different affiliations and exchange programmes. I realised it might be a good exposure for me to explore different cultures where learning can be deeply blended in terms of getting to know the cross-cultural approach. That’s how I spent around eight months in the UK and around seven months in Italy for my degree at Bocconi University. The degree was the same — Master’s in International Management — but it was in two universities by affiliation.
What are your memories of studying at Apeejay Stya University?
I have wonderful memories of studying at ASU. Varuna Tyagi Ma’am, who used to teach us psychology, was really nice. Then there was Riddhi Ma’am, my research teacher when I was doing my last semester. In the Computer Science department, I really liked Garima Ma’am and Harsimran Ma’am. Both were good with their style of teaching.
I think we were the first batch to start with majors and minors in ASU. It was pretty interesting. One of the reasons I joined ASU was their liberal arts approach. Before starting the university, I was inquisitive to know if we could change our degrees or whether we could have two degrees at one time. At our time, Joel Rodney Sir, who is now with Penn State University in the US, was the Dean of Academics. He was a big help during that time. I was a little confused about which course to take for my minors or whether I will be able to complete my minors during my majors. And so the programme was really blended in terms of giving us enough time to have credits for both majors and minors.
What are the life lessons that you picked up at ASU?
The reason I was able to get into my Master’s degree along with a good scholarship is because of because of my Liberal Arts degree from ASU. I realised I am the kind of a person who likes to interact with people and enjoy the cultural exchanges. The atmosphere was really nurturing. I realised that if we took small steps, the university gave us enough chances to realise what we wanted to do. We were part of numerous leadership treks, seminars and conferences. We had international students coming from Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Bhutan, among others. So the hostel life gave us a chance to experience international culture.
You started out as a computer engineer. Did you want to be in the field of management and HR when you were young?
When I started taking classes for the minors in management and marketing I realised that as a person I am not an introvert as I had initially thought. The subjects were quite interesting, I was scoring well and I was quite inclined towards the subjects. That made me think: okay, I have an inclination more towards my minor subject. But my grades were better in the majors (laughs). By second year, I realised I’m more suited for managerial roles.
What advice would you have for those who want to study in the UK?
During my time visa was an issue. Students were having difficulties getting a work visa after studies because the UK had changed its immigration policy in 2014. They didn’t really want international students to be there unless you were studying from top colleges like Oxford or London Business School. So I made a decision of returning to India. It was because at first I was getting a scholarship. And secondly I thought I eventually want to do a PhD. That’s how I thought my career process must go. I wanted to study and gradually understand things and then apply my research and education into the PhD. The UK option is good now because last year they allowed a two-year post-study visa for students. So now it’s a good opportunity for students, especially from India because you have two years after your studies to give interviews and have all the time to get the visa approval, health insurance and whatever the immigration process is. With new doors opening, it might become another United States for Indian students.
Do you see yourself as a successful HR professional, or somebody who is keen on international marketing?
I am working with the marketing division, but I feel I am still an HR professional because I apply my HR skills into marketing. Marketing in India is all about dealing with people. If you talk about working in the government sector in Haryana, the experience with the government sector and the corporate sector is totally different. I really wanted to get into the social sector. In the corporate sector, you really can’t find that kind of environment in which you feel at the grassroot level and doing a kind of business which might work for the betterment of people. The government sector is very, very direct in terms of social responsibility.
“In the corporate sector, you really can’t find that kind of environment in which you feel you are doing business which might work for the betterment of people. The government sector is very direct in terms of social responsibility.”
— NEELANJA CHATURVEDI, DEPUTY GENERAL MANAGER, HAFED
Apart from the job satisfaction in the government sector, how did you deal with the Covid situation?
Covid-19 was an alarming situation for all of us. Working in the government sector made me realise that yes, we are doing something worthwhile because we were working for the procurement of wheat and rice. In the public distribution system the government provides rice and wheat to poor people at the rate of Rupees 2 and 5. Through one of our organisations we procure things from poor farmers who are not able to afford to go to the market or the mandi. So at a time when most people were working from home, we were actually out in the field trying to get the wheat and rice and providing services to the small, rural semi-urban areas of Haryana so that poor people are not left with poverty or without food. There are many people in our organisation who got Covid since they were on duty but they didn’t give up. The organisation didn’t close either. It was always open for the people.
What would you say is the secret to being a successful talent acquisition specialist?
I believe listening is a powerful tool anywhere we go. Even as HR is getting so automated, these soft skills are something which the power of technology cannot take away. If we listen rather than just giving answers to what we feel is relevant or analysing on our own, it can help to smoothen the process from recruiting the person, to onboarding the person, to his or her exit cycle.
Now that you’re enjoying HR, what are your future learning and training needs?
I want to get into a Ph.D. which has elements of public policy because I’m dealing with the public and the government sector. That might help me gain more insight and apply that research in my PhD. And also I will make sure that my marketing and HR experiences are blended with the public policy programmes in my PhD. Now that we have started with our export marketing, I’m again applying my Master’s degree, the intercultural approaches and strategies to exporting products.
What is your most memorable anecdote from the time you were studying at Apeejay?
This is one experience I must share from when I was in the Second year at Apeejay. There was this Asia Leadership Trek in which Harvard and MIT students had come. So, we got an opportunity to go to Naveen Jindal’s steel plant in Odisha in his private jet. That is one experience I feel like I’ll never get anywhere else: Going in a private jet with the students of MIT and Harvard was really nice. It was organised by Sushma Paul Berlia Ma’am and Aditya Berlia Sir and it was very nice of them to send me as an Apeejay representative there.
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