One question used to haunt me always – ‘Do you know where to stop?’ I guess I have an answer today. Coming from a protective family, leaving home at a very young age to pursuing my dreams and landing into the world of numbers, life has taught me to be fearless. Today, I am not bothered to stand out of the comfort bubble and speak up!
Mathematics has always remained my passion since childhood. As a part of West Bengal state board, I was introduced to Statistics and other complex mathematics – as an additional subject during my 9th & 10th Standard – that’s when the love developed. During my Higher Secondary days, my love for Maths and Statistics elevated to a hyperplane. I came to know about Chennai Mathematical Institute at that time and appeared for their National entrance test and got selected. Being a shy girl from a protective family, I was ready to leave home at that young age for the love of Mathematics. I don’t know what had gotten into me that I even left behind the opportunities of pursuing Engineering from few prestigious colleges of that time. My parents were not sure whether I was taking the right decision, but I was firm to take the plunge no matter what!
I got to know that I was the only and first girl student to join CMI, where they chose only seven students from all over India to join the class of dual Honors BSC in Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science curriculum. While studying there, I had the opportunity of unveiling and learning interesting topics, which later on changed my life. Inquisitiveness was born, and it kept nudging me to learn the practical use of these subjects. Of course, teachers always encouraged and suggested that I study few of the courses like Econometrics or DSE Economics, as those were some of the best courses in that field. But that wasn’t enough; I had to clear few of the entrance test, with economics as one of the core subjects. I had a very little knowledge in Economics, so I had joined Econometrics Department to prepare myself for these exams. With my professors to back me up along with my hard work, I completed Economics Undergraduate course and got selected in ISI for the MS in Quantitative Economics course.
By the time I joined ISI, most of my batchmates who completed Engineering had joined job in IT industry and were drawing good compensation. My parents used to feel depressed as I was not sure what to do after Master’s degree from ISI. I was just fueling my passion for learning more, not knowing what kind of job opportunities exist for my academic field. Fortunately, McKinsey came as the first company for the campus hire. After a 16 hours’ long, rigorous interview process they selected five candidates, and I was one among them. All my friends and distant family members congratulated my parents and me heavily after securing this offer from McKinsey, but you won’t believe I had no awareness, even then, what McKinsey does!!!
It’s McKinsey who introduced me to the world of Analytics; it is at McKinsey where I realized that Analytics is a fascinating domain where a concoction of knowledge from Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, and Economics – all get heavily used. Over the time, I have also realized the blessings of following my passion, as it made my career progress fast, vast and compelling at the same time.
While McKinsey became an institution to me for building the right attitude, honing the soft skills as well broadening my views, I was still a strong introvert person at heart. I would deliver great work but not know how to socialize or how to network. The reason could be the culture I grew up in that I never learnt the value of networking or small talk. Hence, people got to see only my good work but never knew ‘me’ well. I always used to think that it’s necessary to be an extrovert to be a successful leader. So, when McKinsey offered me an opportunity to pick the leadership track or expert track, I chose the latter. However, Marketing & Sales COC was looking for a suitable team leader at that time, and they thought I would be a good fit, but I denied the opportunity without even giving it a thought. And here my mentors at McKinsey came to my rescue. I went for training in “Interpersonal communication”, where I shared my mental block with my mentor. He gave several names of top industry leaders globally who are introverts. He taught me the difference between ‘Introvert by preference but Extrovert by choice.’ And he also made me acknowledge with the rare skills that an Introvert leader possesses. I came back with new confidence and discussed the management proposal and embarked in the new leadership journey step by step. There was no look backing after that!
Honestly, I don’t remember any moment to be bad or ugly; I take them as learning. Even now, I learn every day, I learn from my seniors as well as from my juniors and peers. So, when I first traveled to Europe and landed in the fashion capital of Italy, I felt like an illiterate despite being educated! I went there on a client project and was supposed to stay there for 6 months, but I faced ample challenges to communicate in that country. I realized that English is just another language and the whole world doesn’t speak English! I was building a Marketing Mix and Cross promotion model, where I didn’t know which are the products client is selling. Even the client data was in Italian. How on earth could I decipher it? So, I went to a supermarket and could not explain that I was looking to buy ‘salt.’ I had no smart phone those days thus no Google translator. Thankfully I was carrying a bilingual dictionary with me, came back to the hotel, checked the Italiano of ‘salt’ and went back to the store. The whole store laughed their heart out. Well! It turned out to be a beautiful day with doses of laughter:)
This wasn’t the end of me toiling to learn Italiano, as all the meetings and discussions used to happen in Italian and attending group discussions with a translator was becoming tough. So, I decided to learn Italian. I picked up a good audio course with digital training, stood in the stores during weekends to understand each of the products I am building the model for. Started watching Italian TV channels. Surprisingly, when I was studying in Madras University for a year and was preparing for ISI exam, I joined an optional course to learn French, not really knowing what I will do with that course. That knowledge came handy here. I picked up Italian very fast and started doing small conversation with the stakeholders in their own language. Suddenly my acceptance within the client team improved. Looking at my effort they all came together to help me out. I not only delivered that project with the highest impact but also trained client team in the whole analytic model building and delivered an advanced Excel training to the client in Italiano !! Do you know, all the formulae of Excel changes from one language to another? I first learnt it myself and then delivered training on advanced Excel to a houseful batch of 65 client employees along with their CXO team, in their own language, that’s Italiano btw! They all stood up to give a standing ovation at the end of the training!! It felt awesome that day! No learning is wastage if you love to learn.
I always feel very inspired by people who live their passion. And I am a big fan of George Herbert Leigh Malory who is believed to have scaled Everest way before Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norge. He with his partner Irvin scaled up but never came back, and his body was found 800 ft below the summit point. Twice his body was discovered by fellow mountaineers, and people tried to take him down, but mysteriously, both the times his body disappeared! While explaining why people try to climb Everest, Malory said “What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for”. This has thrived my life so far and will keep doing so.
Outside Analytics I am a vivid adventure lover – Trekking, mountain biking, off-road driving are very close to my heart. Observing the scenic beauty of omnipresence Himalaya, scaling tough mountain passes, traversing unmanned challenging terrains, camping with nomads or ibex is where I find my soul. Every time I trek to the snout point of any Himalayan river, I feel as if I am touching my Genesis. Down the line 10 years, you will find me in a Yoga Ashram, teaching yoga, spreading the physical and mental benefit of Yoga and promoting the benefit of ‘Simple Living, healthy living, and Happy living.’ Today people don’t know ‘How to be Happy?’ I want to preach that through Yoga, Meditation, Exploration.
Meet Ujjyaini Mitra: A dauntless trekker, Yoga practitioner and, exemplary leader.