CHENNAI: In the city recently to launch the Postgraduate eXecutive Programme in Retail Management for mid- and senior-level managers as an offering by the Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Retail Management, Great Lakes Institute of Management (GLIM), Chennai, the writer caught up with Nitin Sanghavi who is determined, funny and above all, an achiever. As the director of the CoE, Nitin brings with him plenty of industry and academia experience, and his story is one for the books!
Born in Amreli, Gujarat, he completed his primary and secondary education there. “I stood first in school and won the scholarship for 11 years continuously. For the SSC exams, I came seventh in the board, a big thing in the family. I then felt like the big fish in a small pond, so I wanted to go to a bigger pond and headed to Mumbai to study at the Elphinstone College there. Unfortunately for me, out of the top 10 State rankers in Maharashtra, seven were there along with toppers from other states. That’s when I felt like the small fish in the big pond! he chuckles. But he claims it was a lot of fun and he decided to pursue his dream to become a scientist in Manchester University (MU), UK. “I used to read a lot when I was young and the life of Thomas Alva Edison and the way his mind worked always appealed to me. His inventions had potential. So I went on to complete my MSc and PhD in physics at Manchester.”
But soon after, the curious mind of the 23-year-old Nitin began to get depressed as he had accomplished what he had come to do but still didn’t feel fulfilled. It was in that perplexed and depressed state of mind that he began to read his roommates’ books on management. “I found marketing fascinating and thought to myself, this is my next challenge! The only connection I had to business was the fact that I would occupy my father’s chair in his shop in Gujarat in his absence.” He approached the late Prof Sir Roland Smith in MU. On the board of 10 companies at the age of 45 and a marketing guru who made teaching in marketing fashionable, Roland welcomed Nitin to his class. “I was hooked! I continued to do another Master’s and PhD in marketing. I never regretted any of my choices. Science gave me that logical frame of mind, and made me question why and made me curious. Then he invited me to do some consulting work for him and I gladly accepted. It was very interesting and one of the projects was on retail industry and I knew then that I had found my destiny!” he says.
According to him, marketing and retail brought core disciplines like business and management into sharper focus at a single point — when a customer makes a purchase. You will fail if it doesn’t all come together properly — merchandising, strategy, costing, sourcing, trends, etc. “The field also brings immediate results. You will know by evening how effective your strategy has been. You won’t succeed in the retail industry if you become too parochial,” he says.
“I went on to do merchandising, operations, running great brands and what not for 16 years when MU invited me to teach. I thought a sabbatical of two years at MU would be a good way to unwind, read, research and expand my thinking. It’s been 20 years since,” he chuckles.
He urges research centres to change and keep updating themselves and the research they conduct, because it’s the only way to stay numero uno. “You also need to give students freedom to think and function. The moment you put them in boxes, you are restricting them from pursuing what they want to pursue. Total freedom was given to me and that I believe is the best part of my edu. If it wasn’t given to me, I took it anyway.”
He has a go-getter attitude. The retail industry and his students love that. There is a giant leap between academics and industry, but having taken that, he has now earned credibility in academia too. He currently plans to spend five months a year in India at GLIM and the rest in Manchester.
Ask him what he brings to the students at GLIM, he says, “Global perspective, balance of rigour and relevance, a deep insight and appreciation of how the world works. I have been a visiting professor in Japan for three years and also in Australia, Singapore, USA, France, Switzerland, India. This has given me a perspective of retailing around the world. I can bring in example after example into my classes, which works so much better with the students than theory alone. I believe most retail management courses don’t have the right blend. Senior-level perspectives, credibility, know how from the industry and academia — these are all important for holistic education.”
It came as no surprise when this expert retailer mentioned that he indulges in retail therapy. “I enjoy shopping! My wife and I visited Kumaran Silks recently. We loved the fabrics! I also think Shopper’s Stop is a good Indian brand, but I could be biased as I am on the board. Provogue and Flipkart have also done well for themselves,” he says.