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Collaborate to Compete

conversation with Sanjiv Aiyar, President Pan IIM Alumni Singapore

“Collaborate, Connect & Change” sums up Sanjiv Aiyar’s 40 year career. As he steps down as the Founding President of Pan IIM Alumni Singapore (PIIMA), I caught up with him to get his views on the IIM alumni community journey in Singapore. I also sought his views on ‘compete vs. collaborate’ which he turned into a ‘collaborate to compete’ discussion!

The soft spoken, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta distinguished alumnus, fondly recalls growing up in a collegial and collaborative environment - both at home and at school. Far from being envious, his schoolmates actually felt happy for him when he did well academically.

One of the early instances of selfless collaboration he came across happened in the super competitive atmosphere of IIM. He jokes that in his student days at IIMC in 1978-1980, he was less than diligent in attending classes! However there were generous classmates who shared notes and gave ‘crash courses’ for the benefit of others. It so happened he ended up getting better grades than his fellow student who had delivered a crash course in Finance. He realized his batchmate was truly creating shared success while from a mercenary perspective he should have seen only some downside for him. This had a profound impact on Sanjiv - something which he carried forward into his working life.

Sanjiv feels most of us get conditioned to operate on zero-sum logic in corporate life – in order for me to succeed others must go down mindset. Collaboration is neither instinctive at work nor something taught in business schools. Routinely over-allocating targets to the team members to succeed even if the team members fail individually, playing politics to get ahead of the colleagues, winner takes all attitude in corporate ‘partnerships’ – examples abound. As a young sales manager he decided not to take the almost mandated guideline to over-allocate targets, he allocated just the right amount to his subordinates; everyone in his team succeeded and the team target was exceeded consistently. His basic belief is “even if one person fails in my team then I have failed as a leader".

Quoting examples from his corporate career in Telco and Technology business, he mentions how telcos routinely work with other telcos to share infrastructure (vs. building all on their own) while being hyper-competitive; in the printer business, print engines are white labeled etc. Sanjiv however pointed out that collaboration is more of an afterthought than a norm – the instinct is to own it all and win-win is often just talk.

When it comes to collaboration, Sanjiv is most passionate about the achievements of PIIMA (Pan IIM Alumni Singapore). A pivotal point in his journey was attending the first IIM alumni networking event in 2005 where he found his calling. He says – from being just an attendee, he jumped whole-heartedly into alumni engagement and community building. He considers it was his good fortune to get to work with like-minded and selfless alumni. IIM was a little known name in Singapore back in 2005, hence the focus was on creating better brand awareness.

The alumni base at that time had significant numbers from IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta and Lucknow. First important decision was to focus on the collective IIM brand – collaboration vs. focusing on individual institutes. This was the genesis of IIMPACT. Starting from a simple networking event, IIMPACT has evolved into a thought leadership forum – receiving strong accolades across the entire Indian diaspora; Prime Minister of Singapore and several senior Ministers have been guests of honour delivering keynote addresses; a platform has been created for the well-known as well as the not so well-known to inspire others with their life stories. True to the ethos of collaboration, IIMPACT is inclusive: it is open to everyone and not restricted to IIM alumni only. The inclusive outreach extends to other alumni associations (IIT, HBS, NUS, NTU etc.), professional organisations (TiE, CII, CA and ICWA etc.) and various government agencies like the Singapore Economic Development Board, Enterprise Singapore, High Commission of India, NITI AAYOG etc. IIMPACT has inspired several other similar projects globally including IIMBue which has become a pre-eminent alumni event in India. IIMPACT has played a role in conceptualizing InSpreneur – a High Commission of India initiative to strengthen India – Singapore Entrepreneurship bridge.

Sanjiv calls his IIMPACT journey a hugely satisfying one and one in which he had fun in what he was doing. Without an iota of doubt, he calls IIMPACT the biggest success in his life – an effort which has been acknowledged by his alma mater which bestowed the Distinguished Alumni Award upon him for his contributions. His biggest challenge also has been IIMPACT. Running a massive event that IIMPACT is, making it financially viable is not easy to put it mildly! Sanjiv jokingly calls himself the Chief Begging Officer, running around to get sponsorships for IIMPACT. He says it was the collaborative instinct across a set of accomplished and opinionated alumni which made the success possible.

On something he wishes he knew earlier he says, “I wish I could have started this journey of alumni community engagement a lot earlier”. His goals remain the same as before i.e. enjoy what you do and create shared successes. His advice to anyone reading his life journey is “Don’t go with what is in it for me mindset. Be open. Collaborate more often. Good people will join and you’ll enjoy success which is more fulfilling.”

About Sanjiv Aiyar - Sanjiv Aiyar is an accomplished business leader with 40 years of global experience in Technology and Telecoms. He has been in leadership role with a Singapore Government Linked Corporation - Singapore Telecommunications Limited (Singtel) and US MNC Hewlett Packard. He is deeply engaged with the professional Indian diaspora in strengthening the economic and Entrepreneurship Bridge between Singapore and India working actively with agencies in Singapore and India such as Enterprise SG, EDB, High Commission of India etc. He is the Founding President of Pan IIM Alumni Singapore (PIIMA). He was one of the founding board members of IIM Calcutta Innovation Park (an incubator, set-up by IIM Calcutta). He is the Founder CEO of ApKar Consulting (started in 2014) – a strategy consulting company focused on growth advisory. He is on the CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) National Committee on BioTechnology and was Vice-Chairman of TiE Singapore. His alma-mater IIM Calcutta conferred the Distinguished Alumnus Award to him in 2019.

Contributor: Rahul Singh -A banker by the day and writer by the night, Rahul is an expert at connecting 3 Is - Ideas, Insights & Individuals. He enjoys meeting people, building communities and mentoring. Rahul regularly speaks at events, delivers keynote addresses and hosts high profile panel discussions. He has deep interest in cross cultural understanding, higher education and sustainable development. He serves as Principal Corporate Advisory Group at IIM Udaipur and is the Secretary for IIM Bangalore Alumni Association Singapore. His book “You know the glory, not the Story – 25 journeys towards IKIGAI” is available for pre-order now

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