So What Exactly Do You Do?

25 Nov

One of the first questions we ask people we meet (right after “howdydo?” & “wass-ur-name?”) is “So what do you do?” This has some hilarious variants to be sure. I’ve been asked (in India & UK):

“Do you work?” (No, I dress in a suit for my morning bus rides to nowhere!)

“Are you employed?” (No, living on the dole is so much fun, isn’t it?)

“Which company, beta?” (I could be self-employed, you know!)

“Where do you work?” (Anywhere but the kitchen!)

But one way or the other what you are being asked is your profession. And sooner or later, you are supposed to give a serious, non-trivial reply (not an easy task for me at all!)

“I’m a Management Accountant”

(it’s always a He, the “She”s typically come up with different ones along the lines of “are you married”? šŸ˜‰

“Interesting!”…(pause)…”So, you are in Accounts”

“Ummm…no” (Why does this always happen to me?!)


“I handle financial planning, things like budgeting, pricing & financial analysis”

“Woowww” …(pause)…(small smile)… “So tell me which shares should I buy?”

“Ummm…sorry, but I don’t usually deal too much with shares”

“But you said you were an analyst”

“Uhhh… (God, how did I get into this again?) I look at these things inside the company, not from outside”

“Ohhh” (disappointed sigh)…”So, what exactly do you do?”

“(Ok you asked for it!) You know a company is like an aeroplane. You know you want to get from Mumbai to New York via London. However, the external conditions change. The temperature outside rises or drops. If you go high, you can fly faster because of less air resistance, but your visibility could be poorer. If you take a longer route, you could ride the currents, but you would consume more fuel. Moreover, at every step you need to look at the instruments, and make course corrections. You need information to weigh your decisions with, to make sure you are making the most optimal choices. So that you actually get to London when you say you will…”

(…He starts looking here & there, but now I’ve got him! I’m avenging the multitudes of MBAs who’ve been asked these questions…the analogy is a poor one, and fairly inaccurate, but I’m still being nice, trying not to confuse him too much!)

“…so you need to have good instruments which will give you the right data. But also, which will display the consequences of your decisions before & after you take them. I am the instrument dashboard for the company…”

(…fairly grandiose, and not totally accurate, I’m afraid…but he’s not gonna know…especially when his focus is on getting away…)

“So, let’s look at your business…you have an objective, whether it’s serving the society, making money, desktop on every desk, world’s information on everyone’s fingertips, etc…you need to plan out your next few steps. So you make a 3/5-year plan. Then you detail out what you’ll be doing through the next year. That’s your budget. And then you measure yourself on your decided metrics quarterly, monthly, weekly…that’s where I come in…”

(…he’s probably going to go home & beat his wife, kick the dog, and blow up the neighbourhood….but hey, you know what! I am on a roll baby, and the larger issues of the world are of no consequence!)

“A lot of people say that Budgets are obsolete. The external world changes so fast that you can’t predict where you are going to be next month, forget a year! I think it’s a valid criticism to some extent. However, the reality is you still need an idea of where you want to get to. If you don’t know where you are going, no road will get you there (apologies to the ghost of Lewis Carroll)…and dynamic budgets supported by rolling forecasts might just be the key. It is also important to focus on non-financial metrics. However, most organisations just tack these on top of the financial metrics they are looking at, making life difficult for themselves. Human brains can focus on 5 things at a time at most, and organisations need to make sure that firstly there is a connection between the larger organisational goals, and individual goals, and secondly, each individual focuses on not more than 4-5 objectives at a time.”

“uhhh..i really got to go”

“Arrey, this is interesting! (No you don’t! You can’t get away that easily) Most organisations get their metrics systems upside down. In very few of them is Performance deployed downwards to ensure tight linkages, and eliminate the Strategy Gap. It’s a fascinating subject. I like it that you are so interested in it (!!!) Most businesspeople aren’t bothered. I’ll probably mail you a few papers, and register your email id on a few egroups, etc (time for you to change your email id!)”

“Uhhh…I really don’t get time to read, and anyway this is too technical”

“Oh, the technical part is no issue…it’s really simple after the first couple of years(!) And most papers are only about 25 pages”

“Ok” (sad smile…probably cursing his fate)… “so are you an MBA? IIM?”


“I was thinking of getting my son to do an MBA. Which IIM is the best…”


(Inspired by Peter Donnelly’s speech at TED, and KHAL’s blogpost)


Posted by on November 25, 2006 in Biz/Tech, Career, Humor


2 responses to “So What Exactly Do You Do?

  1. Deepak Shenoy

    November 26, 2006 at 10:54 am

    You could have continued of course. “IIM choices can be based on multiple factors – Cost, Salary ratios, Student Experience Averages, Research, Longitude, Latitude and attitude. For each factor there must be a margin which is 16.5% for IIM-A and 21.12% for IIM-K, though the Axiometric Obsolescence factor is perhaps an inverse co-efficient of the Reverse polarity matrix.”


  2. Just Mohit

    November 26, 2006 at 11:25 am

    Deepak: Heh. Usually I give up at this point, because I discover that the said son is either a good-for-nothing, or still in the first year of college! Anyway the question of which IIM is best should only be asked (if ever) when they’ve got admission to all of them!


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