Mentor Spotlight: Soumen Ganguly and TMT Consulting
Today’s Mentor Spotlight focuses on Soumen Ganguly, a Director at Altman Vilandrie & Company with a specialty in telecom/media/tech consulting. Sabrina had the chance to sit down with Soumen and learn more about his path into the industry, as well as the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Sabrina: Can you give me a quick introduction of yourself?
Soumen: I’m a Director at Altman Vilandrie & Company which is a strategy consulting firm focused on telecom/media/tech. There are about 120 people in the US and another 40 or so with our partner firm in Europe. I’ve been with the company for about nine years. Prior to that, I was at another strategy consulting firm, also focused on TMT, called Mercator Partners for about seven years. All in all, I’ve been doing work in strategy consulting within the telecom/media/tech sector for just about sixteen odd years.
Sabrina: Can you describe how you got into your current job at Altman Vilandrie and some of the things that have helped you be successful there?
Soumen: So let me start with how I got into strategy consulting. I started off as an undergrad with Karthik (one of the founders at MentorWorks) and then I came over to Penn to do my Masters in Engineering. As part of that two years in grad school, I think I understood a lot of what I really liked, as well as what I didn’t like as much. I realized that I really like the telecom industry, and while taking a bunch of courses at Wharton, also that I really like the business aspect of telecom and tech as well. I also realized that I didn’t necessarily want to go into academia by doing a PhD or product development, which would have been the natural paths after an MS.
While reviewing my options, I received some really good advice from one of the professors I took a course with at Wharton. His course was offered across many of the schools at Penn, and as a result had a fairly diverse set of folks in terms of their academic program. The professor noted that I clearly liked telecom and tech, but also that I was good at “translating” what the MBA students had to say to the engineers to the marketers etc. Give this skill and interest, he suggested I look into what he described as strategy boutique firms- strategy consulting firms focused on specific industries. He actually gave me a few names of firms to look at. One of them, Mercator Partners, was interviewing on campus at Penn. I interviewed there and they’re Boston-based, and that’s how I stumbled into TMT strategy consulting and spent close to seven years there. As part of that, I came in as a Consultant, eventually getting promoted over the years to the Principal/Junior Partner role. I was introduced to AV&Co. through a common client. AV&Co’s mix of operating company and PE client projects was interesting to me, and that drove the decision to move over.
Sabrina: What prompted you to become a mentor with MentorWorks?
Soumen: It’s really connections. Karthik is a really good friend- we’ve known each other since undergrad. So, I knew about the concept for MentorWorks as he was coming up with it, and gave him my perspectives. One of the things he brought up was if I would want to be a mentor. Given how well I know him and how much I liked the idea, I was happy to sign up.
Sabrina: How has being a mentor impacted your own career?
Soumen: One of the conversations Karthik and I have had a lot was how 20 years ago that we thought that certain things were really important to do well. Many of them were, like doing well in school. But some of the realization after spending time in the world post-school is that there are things beyond what you thought would be most interesting and important in school to do well. Those included building out a network of folks that you know and keep in touch with. It involves expanding that network to be broader than just immediate work and school and thinking about it as a longer term investment in your career.
It’s also kind of looking for folks that you can connect with that share similar interests but are a bit further ahead than you in their career that can be advisors. I’ve had a few of those in my life that have really been pivotal in making decisions. In some cases, they haven’t even been folks I was extremely close to, but just folks that I respected that could give me advice. This professor I mentioned at Wharton was an example of someone who gave me a very good piece of advice that kind of led me down my current career path. I’ve had a few different mentors that have provided advice that was very pertinent over the course of my career, and this is something that I think can be helpful for those just starting out their careers.
Sabrina: Clearly you’ve had some advisors to help you with career decisions, but if you could give your younger self some advice, what would you say?
Soumen: Hindsight is 20/20, which is always hard. I think there’s two pieces of advice. The first piece of advice is to try to get a sense for things you really like doing, and try to also get a sense for things you don’t like doing. There’s a lot of things you’ll be able to do just fine- the perfect job would over index in what you like to do, and you can’t totally avoid the stuff you don’t want to do. But you know what fires you up, and that’s the direction you should head toward. That’s sometimes hard to understand. In my case, I realized I really liked telecom and tech, but I also liked fuzzier problem statements that aren’t “go develop a product.” For example, you have a client that has a technology they want to go to market with it, so how do you help them develop a business plan? I like that fuzzy aspect of things, and I like being at the intersection of business and tech. I probably would at best be an okay engineer, but I would never be a great engineer. So that drove me away from academia and getting a PhD.
The second piece of advice is don’t be afraid to put yourself out there in terms of exposure to a broader network- it could be through open events, friends of friends, family friends, folks you met at school. This idea that often getting breaks in your career, at least early on, may not come from your immediate network but rather your warm network (someone that knows you, but knows you through someone else). I remember in college, I felt that getting your first job was about getting all those applications in. I think the realization is that that’s true, but given that you’re competing against so many other faceless names in an online application process, you need to stand out. Many times, you stand out because someone knows you through someone else.
Sabrina: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experiences?
Soumen: The last thing is what’s come out of my experience as a mentor at MentorWorks so far. I think where I add value is one, for folks looking to start their career in high-tech and telecom. I give them a brief overview and what’s interesting or not within the industry. Second, I think I try to demystify what consulting is all about because it’s such a broad term and there’s many different kinds of consulting firms, as well as strategy and management consulting firms. I know when I got into the industry that was a very confusing landscape for me personally.
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