Friday, August 03, 2007

Englishwala

So what do I do? When I get into a conversation, the question inevitably comes up.

I have noticed I try to answer this differently every time: 'I am a business man, setting up training business', 'I am in International Business Development and setting up a training business' and 'I am a training professional, setting up a training chain'. There may be another few variations but I don't recall it at this time.So, when I thought of getting used to one straight answer, this is what I arrived at - I am Englishwala, and my job is to set up a business of training English.

Yes, worldwide, and as my job title will say - India is included. I always wanted to do something worthwhile with my life. My Calcutta childhood did not show many possibilities, and my indifferent academic results did not inspire others to think of anything other than a standard office job for myself. So, I did - as destined - start off as a computer operator, gradually moving into customer facing roles, and then by a stroke of luck, in training.

IT Training it was - and yes, I was more or less at the right place at the right time. In 1995, APTECH was leading the industry with several new ideas. Indian IT just started becoming a serious industry, and APTECH, a clear No. 2 in the IT Training industry, turned heads by one initiative after another - creating franchise models to reach smaller cities, using a partnership with Zee TV to start training on TV, working with Zee TV and Apple Computers to create Neighbourhood Learning Centres, creating multiple specialised training brands like Arena for Multimedia Training, Hardcore for Hardware training etc. They were the first ones to create an online learning portal - http://www.onlinevarsity.com/ - back in 1996. Also, International Franchising - APTECH moved to Bangladesh and several African countries during that period. All these initiatives, backed by a very intelligent and aggressive campaign 'We are No. 1', suddenly put NIIT, the market leader, on the backfoot.

However, APTECH's challenge did not last long. After a few sparkling years, by 1997/98, its influences were waning as NIIT gradually regained its market. I shall talk about this fascinating yeo-yeo game later in this blog, and also say how I managed to play a small role in this shift. But, for the moment, I wanted to say how much that APTECH stint made a difference in my life.I learnt the Challenger's art in APTECH, I always say. We did a lot of new things, and explored new ideas. I learnt my marketing in APTECH, though I never publicly admit it. Later when I moved to NIIT and waged a war on APTECH, I used the techniques I learnt there.

Once, I was told by a very senior NIIT executive that I am one of the best education salesman in India; a compliment I accepted without embarassment. Something I did not acknowledge then, but know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that I learnt most of my trade in those short, impressionable years at APTECH.

This is not to say that I did not learn anything at NIIT - I learnt a lot about operation, people management, systems and processes, documentation, franchise management. I combined the best of my learnings at both the places, and wanted to become the best Education Businessman in the world.

From there, to this Englishwala role. There are lots of stories to be told - of that journey, of this journey. That's what I intend to do here.

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