Using your university entrepreneurs society to ignite your entrepreneurial spark can be key to your journey as an entrepreneur and today I interview Rousseau Dasgupta as part of my NEF interview series.
Rousseau was the former Vice-President of Oxford Entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurial society at Oxford and helped bring in over £27,000 of sponsorship to run the society, a record for any year of its operation and was also the UK Vice President of the Kairos Society.
Rousseau is currently working at SHL, a global leader in talent management where he works as an intern to the Operating Committee, equivalent to their C-suite to help forge the strategy of the firm going forward as part of the NEF program.
Hi Rousseau, thanks for doing this with me today.
No problem, Joseph, glad to be here!
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself?
Yeah, sure. I started on the New Entrepreneurs Foundation straight after university, and as part of the programme, I work at SHL, a global leader in talent management, meaning the measurement and management of people both within and applying to organisations to create the best outcomes for those organisations. My role there is as an intern to the Operating Committee, equivalent to their C-suite, working with them to forge the strategy of the firm going forward.
So were you the entrepreneurial type or more academic focused growing up?
Haha, definitely the academic type! I was (and still am) a huge science nerd, and this is probably what led to me pursuing a degree in Physics at university. I always wanted to be Tony Stark from Iron Man when I grew up – I just thought that’s what scientists did! It wasn’t until I got to university that I even thought about business as a career path, really.
You recently graduated from Oxford University, tell me about your experience and some of the key things you took away from that experience?
My four years at Oxford were truly incredible, but I have to say there just isn’t enough time to do everything! The opportunities are endless – drama, sport, societies, student politics, debating – it’s just not possible to take full advantage of everything alongside a degree. I think, though, just being surrounded by ambitious and interesting young people for that amount of time was the best thing about it – you really get a buzz from that and they really drive you to think about what you want to achieve, how you want to do it, and most importantly, the people you want to do that with. It’s a really similar buzz I get to whenever our NEF cohort gets together for one of our events, actually!
Did you get involved in anything entrepreneurial?
Actually, the first entrepreneurial experience I had was at school on a week-long business game we had called The Challenge of Management. We were split into teams of 5-7 people and spent a couple of days running a mock business and then the final day coming up with a product and pitching it to a panel of investors. As CEO of my team, I had a really great time! At university, I helped run and improve my College Bar, which was on the verge of closing (unusual for a student bar!). On a shoestring budget that I raised, I introduced a host of new initiatives and ran some bar nights that brought it back from the brink to being profitable again. I also briefly ran one man graphic design and careers agencies for other students, though to be honest these were just for a bit of extra income as a student!
You were also very involved in Oxford Entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurial society at Oxford, becoming Vice-President. You helped bring in over £27,000 of sponsorship to run the society, a record for any year of its operation - how did that happen, tell me about your experience co-running the society and what benefits and opportunities that experience has added to your life?
Oxford Entrepreneurs is really what convinced me that entrepreneurship was a viable, and indeed compelling, career path. OE is Oxford’s largest free society, and has gained quite a lot of publicity in the national press over the years for being a stalwart of youth entrepreneurship. I think what I brought to the table that year was the realisation that we were pretty big and had been around for a while, and so we had to act a little more professionally than other societies when seeking to create relationships with sponsors, speakers and partners, and correspondingly formalised our process using a lot of the things I learned on the internships I had done previously. It was also really helpful that the VP of Finance the previous year had stayed on so we were able to work together and leverage a lot of her relationships from the previous year.
Running OE was an amazing experience, and it really got me talking to a lot of entrepreneurs and investors, gave me a chance to help run our incubator and to be involved in the organisation of events like Tata Idea Idol, one of the biggest student pitching competitions in the country, and a format that we helped roll out to a lot of other universities through organisations like NACUE.
You were also the UK Vice President of the Kairos Society, what role did you have to perform and what did you learn from the experience?
Kairos is a huge international student entrepreneurship society, but that year my friend, Melvin Chen, the then UK President, and I decided to plant the flag here and start the UK chapter, so in many ways it was very much the opposite of OE. The biggest challenge was recruiting the UK Fellows – having used our connections at GroupSpaces to put the word out, we were inundated with CVs and phone interviews, an extremely positive and enthusiastic response! Having painstakingly chosen around 50 Fellows to represent the UK, the job of organising them and their activities during the Kairos Global Summit in New York was the next challenge. It was through this that I actually met Mike [Bandar] and Ushma [Soneji], who are now both on the NEF programme!
How did you find out about the NEF programme and what made you decide this was the next step for you?
NEF actually approached OE to publicise the scheme amongst our members. I was actually sending out the newsletter that week and thought about how great the opportunity sounded, and how unique it would be to get such exposure to the senior people running a growth business. It was a really different prospect to the very hierarchical, corporate environments in which I had worked before.
After the interviews with NEF and a couple of the placement companies, I was left with a choice of a couple of them, but what really got me about SHL was the fact that although it was growing fast, it had a global presence, and this international aspect really got me excited about working there. Moreover, the CEO, David Leigh, was someone I saw as an excellent potential mentor as he had had a similar background to me and could really advise me on my own future.
What have been some of the key things that you’ve learnt from the experience so far?
After things like how to build professional relationships and the value of effective communication, I have to say the biggest thing I have learned this year is that no matter how new you are to an organisation, your voice still matters. You bring fresh thinking to the table, so learning not to be afraid of “the big dogs” and voicing my ideas is probably my biggest takeaway.
What has been your most memorable moment so far?
Staring down partners from top private equity firms and a strategy consulting house across a board room table with the CEO turning to me to settle the argument with some sweet, sweet analysis.
What advice would you give to anyone contemplating of joining this year’s NEF programme?
If you ever even think you want to become an entrepreneur, do it. You will not get another chance to have this kind of responsibility, independence and guidance! Even if you have a great grad job waiting for you, defer it and try this first! I did, and I don’t regret it.
You have a place secured for you on the McKinsey’s Business Analyst Programme starting October 2012, what are you looking to learn from the programme and most importantly why did you decide this is the next step for you after NEF?
I think that while NEF gives me in-depth exposure to running a business in a particular industry, McKinsey will give me a similar, if slightly more withdrawn, impression of numerous companies and industries across many countries, while still staying at that senior level of exposure, and for someone like me that variety and international experience is a big thing and vital for deciding where you want to play in the modern, connected, multi-polar world. I am also really interested in the business of renewable energy (science nerd side coming out!) and McKinsey are one of the world’s foremost organisations when it comes to sustainability and renewables strategy.
What advice would you give to 1st year students at university, especially in Oxford?
University is really short, especially at Oxford where the average course is only (3 x 8 x 3 =)72 weeks long! Your degree is going to be hard, but unless you want to do a PhD or be a barrister, or it’s something you really, really want, don’t worry about getting a First, but make the most of the time you have. Especially in first year, utilise some of that Fresher stamina to throw yourself into as much as possible – go on an international exchange, try dancesport, be in a play, maybe even do an Enternship (you’re welcome, Raj...). Find your niche and discover your passions and then just go for it – “If you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still land among the stars”.