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Lokvani Talks To Melvyn Menezes

Ranjani Saigal

Professor Melvyn Menezes, a faculty member at Boston University, is a management educator, consultant, and former member of the faculty at the Harvard Business School. His primary areas of expertise are marketing strategy, marketing high-tech products, customer and market focus, identification of growth opportunities, strategy, distribution channels, and customer service. He possesses over 25 years of experience as a management educator and consultant. His clients have included General Electric, IBM, Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, Merck, Amgen, DuPont, Mobil, Time Warner, and Sears. Professor Menezes earned his Ph. D. from UCLA.

He is currently the President of the Indian American Forum for Political Education.

You were trained as a Chemical Engineer. What motivated you to pick a career in Marketing?

I graduated from IIT Bombay in Chemical Engineering and immediately joined the Indian Institute of Management at Calcutta for an MBA. It was during my two years at IIM that I became interested in marketing.  The uncertainty in outcomes associated with marketing decision making is what initially fascinated me. The marketing electives that I took a further reinforced my interest.  I looked for a job in marketing and I have been in that field ever since.  I have been enthralled by marketing and have found it to be not only a fun discipline, but one that requires an unusual and interesting combination of qualitative and quantitative skills!

Why did you choose to become a faculty member and teach marketing rather than work for a company?

I did not start out as an academic. After my MBA, I worked for an automotive components company for six years. I worked in market research, product management, and sales management and was the regional manager responsible for Western India. I then came to the US to do a Ph.D. in Marketing with the intention of starting a consulting company in India. It was during the Ph.D. program at UCLA that I was convinced that I should be an academic and not a consultant. I joined the faculty at Harvard Business School and after seven years there I went full time into consulting with Gemini Consulting for four years. At that stage I had spent 6 years in business, 7 years in academia, and 4 years in consulting. On reflection, I realized that I particularly enjoyed two aspects of marketing – consulting and teaching. So I looked for a way to do both!

For the past 14 years I have been able to effectively combine those two interests. I am on the faculty of Boston University School of Management and I have my own consulting practice. This allows me to pursue and combine my two loves of marketing – teaching and consulting!  I continue to enjoy teaching and consulting because in both these activities I work with and influence the minds of people – students and executives respectively. I get a thrill out of helping these people to develop, grow, see things in entirely new ways, and make good marketing decisions.

Has the dramatic economic upheavals affected your course content? Do you see a need for any paradigm shift in management education?

The short answers are yes and yes!  The courses that I teach now feature two additional facets. The first deals with marketing in a recession and the increasing importance of value driven strategies. The second deals with adapting marketing to customers who are increasingly informed, connected, empowered and active. And the challenge is to do this while operating in a highly globalized economy. 

I believe that management education needs a new paradigm that must focus on some new themes. First, Management as a system. Too many management programs focus on improving skills within a given functional area, and too little emphasis is placed on the linkages between the different functional areas.  Second, Developing World. There needs to be a greater emphasis on understanding and teaching models, theories, and frameworks based on what is occurring in the developing world. The remarkable growth of countries like China and India provides a rich background for this. Third, Objectives & Ethics. While profit making is an important objective, the needs of other constituents, apart from stockholders, should be taken much more into consideration. Education based on this broader prism combined with a healthy dose of ethics will in the long run produce more effective managers and better results for society at large.

You are currently the president of Massachusetts Chapter of IAFPE. Can you tell us a little about this organization?

The Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE), known as the FORUM, is an educational and non-profit organization with no affiliation to any political party, and is the oldest and largest Indian American organization for political education in the United States of America. The Forum is a dynamic and growing organization that focuses on raising civic consciousness among the Indian American community, on promoting participation in community affairs and the mainstream political process, and on developing Indian American leaders for our communities. It is nationally recognized for its outstanding work in the political empowerment process for this two-million strong community.
One of the main activities of the Massachusetts Chapter of the FORUM is the Summer Political Internship Program for college students, which provides them a unique opportunity to learn first-hand about the political process and what it takes to get involved. Since 1994, well over 100 students have been placed in various Congressional and Senatorial offices at the state and federal level, at the Office of the Attorney General, the White House, the Indian Embassy, and in various governmental agencies.

Why do you think it is important for Indian Americans to be politically active?

Indian Americans have focused on succeeding in their careers and on providing extremely well for their families. We have achieved great success in a number of areas such as medicine, engineering, business, entrepreneurship, and academia. Indian Americans, however, have a minimal presence in American civic discourse and a minuscule public role in the life of American democracy. Out of the 435 congressional representatives and 100 senators, there is not a single Indian American! If we want to influence the course of our nation, then we must be politically active and get involved in the decision making process.
Taking this to the regional or local level, I believe that it is time for Indian Americans to have a far greater impact on the communities in which we live. One approach is to be actively engaged in community activities, to hold elected office, and to influence the setting and implementation of policies. In this way the special needs of the Indian American community will be heard, considered, and taken care of.

What avenues of political activism are available for Indian Americans?

There are numerous avenues available for Indian Americans to be actively involved in politics. The starting point is to be a registered voter. The next step is to be clear about what your values are and what you stand for. Then join a politically active group whose principles mirror your own. Attend meetings and voice your opinions by speaking up at these meetings, by writing letters to elected officials and to newspaper editors, and by calling radio stations. 

You can also actively support someone who is running for elected office. Volunteering in the campaign and contributing financially will get you increasingly involved. Organizing a fundraiser is another way to get politically active.

The best way is to run for elected office. If you are interested and able to, start by running for some local elected office. Build knowledge and credibility and then run for statewide office and then for national office. I do hope that in my life time, there will be an Indian American in the White House!

Would you encourage young Indian Americans to seek a career in public life? What is the biggest selling point for such a career?

Yes, I do strongly encourage Indian Americans to consider a career in public life. A career in public life is exhilarating because you get to be involved in solving some of the biggest and most serious problems facing society. Whatever issue or cause you’re most passionate about, you can find a job in public life, where you can work on changing the world. Succeeding in public life typically contributes to the public good. 

The best selling point for such a career is the feeling of doing good and making a difference to a large number of people. In addition, there is growing evidence that people who are politically engaged also have a greater sense of personal well-being. Political activism has been found to be associated with feeling more pleasant emotions, reporting greater life satisfaction, and having more experiences of freedom, competence, and connection to others.

Any message for our readers?

I urge your Indian American readers to get increasingly involved in the communities in which we live, to contribute back to the society that supports us, and to begin to have a greater impact on the policies that affect all of us.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

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