Sarah Siraj (GMBA Class of 2020) graduated from SP Jain as a part of the Dean’s List, and is currently building her future at The Better India – a digital media platform that focuses on positive stories about lesser-known heroes, pioneers, reformers and trailblazers. What is Sarah’s story? We caught up with her to find out.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What are some significant moments from your life that shaped you?
Sarah: I lived the first twenty years of my life in Chennai, India, and that is home to me. Throughout my childhood I dabbled in so many exciting activities – I played Squash, danced, played the piano and swam. I went on to become a competitive swimmer in my teens, and I attribute a lot of my who I am to those years of my life. My stint with competitive swimming defined my sense of self, and competitive spirit for all the years to come. A large part of my confidence also comes from my mother – witnessing her overcome countless hurdles in her journey from a home-maker, student, corporate employee, to a successful entrepreneur and PhD Scholar taught me patience and resilience. I think every experience – good and bad – has contributed to shaping who I am today. I can share a few that I remember off hand – While in school, I lived and studied in South Germany for a short stint, with a local family. This was transformative for me and sparked my intrigue in culture and art (personally and professionally). I’ve had the opportunity to work in sport, arts and culture through my career and even in my current stint and I think it all started as a young girl in awe of everything around her in a little town near Munich.
Q.Was there a particular moment while growing up when you decided to choose the career you are currently in? Did someone inspire you?
Sarah: I like to think of where I am in my career as a series of fortunate events. It all started off with an internship at IMG Reliance (Now RISE), where I came to understand that events were businesses by themselves; they require capital, a clearly carved out user group, value engineering and must be self-sustainable. That internship went on to become my first job working closely with the Senior General Manager of Implementation. It was a challenging stint where I learned the operational nuances of large-scale events. My decision to move to Fountainhead MKTG and Mumbai, the hub of the industry, was to grow beyond the operational aspects of events and involve myself in strategy and planning. Here, I worked with brands across different sectors to create, curate, promote and execute business plans and IPs. This was a defining stint in my career – I met the most interesting people, who transformed the way I looked at work, and taught me the importance of building. It’s where I discovered myself, learnt what I enjoy, what I’d rather not work on, and where I wanted to go.
Q. How did you work towards building your career goal?
Sarah: I knew I wanted to move up from executing to creating – but while I had so many exciting ideas, I knew I had a lot to learn. Large companies teach you a lot in terms of structure, processes and networking, but not enough about building. I wanted to work in a start-up and get into hands-on building mode. Concurrently, my mother launched a healthcare venture – Orange Ray, one of India’s first holistic healthcare clinics. It was a great opportunity to learn on the job, and the management acumen I had gathered in my previous stints gave me the confidence to take the plunge into the entrepreneurial world. This was the most exciting time, because I had the opportunity to see the business impact of every action we took. It was a thrill to take tough decisions, constantly iterate and steer the direction of the business with our small but amazing team.
Q.How did you find out about SP Jain’s MBA? When and why did you decide to enrol in it?
Sarah: While working at Orange Ray, I realised all of the things I was missing in terms of a “toolkit” to run a business. I didn’t have an understanding of financial control (the backbone of every business), the frameworks to approach strategy and growth, and the rulebooks to grow. Sure, there are so many ways to equip yourself with this knowledge – but I chose the most conventional way – to learn from a business school. I had read about SP Jain’s MBA and the opportunity to learn from stalwarts across the globe. Given my love for travel, the chance to immerse myself in three different cultures sold it for me. When I applied and was awarded the merit scholarship, there was no turning back.
Q. You spent your time at SP Jain with the people from around the world. How did this impact you?
Sarah: I think my time at SP Jain changed the kind of professional I was. It taught me to unlearn and question every thought process and structure that we approach solutions with. It allowed me to confidently express ideas and to look at every problem as an opportunity. With the countless case studies that you go through every day at business school, you learn that ALL businesses come with challenges and no challenge is big enough to be a roadblock. When you read so much about inspiring business leaders, unconventional start-up ideas and talk to professors with decades of professional experience under their belt – it really makes you believe that nothing is unachievable.
Q. You were awarded a merit-based scholarship, you were a Dean’s Lister, and you also graduated with a 3.9 CGPA – your SP Jain experience has clearly been full of impressive achievements. Which achievement from your time at SP Jain would be your favourite?
Sarah: I would say my least exciting achievement (if that’s what you call it) was my CGPA. That was just a way of quantifying the smaller wins. There were so many – right from winning a debate (and lots of money) in Sydney, to mustering the courage to sky dive, to making business presentations in front of large, intimidating crowds, winning a design thinking contest in Dubai and a trivia quiz in a bar at Fujeirah – all of them have a place in my heart.
Q. You are a part of the 2020 cohort, a class that graduated during a global pandemic. How did SP Jain prepare you for the unique challenges you are currently facing?
Sarah: I was lucky to have been placed (in a phenomenal start-up) 2 months before graduating. So, I never experienced the wrath of 2020 as someone looking for a job.
Q. Today, you are working at The Better India, a platform that aims to being positivity into our world. How has your experience been in this role?
Sarah: My current role at The Better India is everything I wanted for my career at this point. I work closely with the founders in business strategy, planning, investor relations and special projects initiated by the CEO’s office. It is the most extraordinary experience to work so closely with founders who have built such a disruptive company – in a world that runs on sensationalised news. I’ve written here about why this job has made me, not just a better professional, but a better person.
Q. What advice would you want to give students who want to take up a similar career path as yours? How can they make the best of their SP Jain journey so they are equipped for this career?
Sarah: My advice would be simple:
If you don’t know what you want to do, start by trying everything and striking off what you don’t want to do. It’s a slower but steadier process.
You can truly do anything that you put your mind to. And the lack of what you might think is “natural ability” can be made up for through persistence and hard work. Nothing works like hard work but just make sure you channelise it in the right direction
Look at everything as an opportunity and explore every opportunity at B School. Unless you sign up for that debate, that exhausting assignment, that alumni meet, that adventure activity or even that bar crawl, you won’t know what it will do for you.
Want to read more alumni and student stories? Click here.