For Internship, A Spill Is No Setback

"I have always enjoyed challenges, especially when people say it is not going to be easy"

With the temperature close to 100F, we stopped at a gas station to pick up something to drink. Since I don't drink soda, I settled for a glass of cranberry juice. Phil, my boss, cautioned it was important to keep ourselves adequately hydrated in the hot, humid weather of Texas. When I got into the passenger seat of Phil's open-roof, six-speed limited-edition Honda S2000 Roadster—a sleek two-seater that made most eyes turn wherever it zoomed past—I had this nagging doubt regarding my drink. Should I drink at my usual pace—nursing it the way I usually do and risk possible spillage—or should I just gulp it down? Before I could make my decision, we were on Sam Houston Parkway West cruising at the speed limit.

This was my first day on the job at my internship for Phillip Townsend Associates, a management consulting firm in Houston. Earlier, Phil had dropped into my office and asked me to accompany him on a reconnaissance mission that would turn out to be almost 200 miles. He wanted to find some heavy equipment for his latest venture, a buffalo and wild hog meat processing plant that he was helping to set up for his daughter. He mentioned he would use the time to talk about what he wanted me to be doing during the summer. Since it was my first day at my job, I had taken care to dress appropriately. Hence my concern over the glass in my hand that came close to breaking free every time we changed gears.

I finally decided I needed to put my drink behind—or should I say, inside—me. As I brought the bottle to my lips in one smooth and delicate maneuver to finish off the balance of the juice, the car in front of us suddenly braked. Before I knew it, red liquid was all over my face and, of course, my formerly sparkling white shirt.

Tough to Track Down

So much for my first impression on my first civilian boss. (My previous career was in the military.) But if I had any concerns about this "fiasco," they were entirely misplaced. Phil is a highly evolved person who has seen it all. Such things do not perturb him. And the next three months proved it beyond all doubt.

I had the privilege of working directly under Phil's guidance and tutelage. One of my challenges was to get hold of him during his rather busy schedule. He is the chairman of Phillip Townsend Associates, which he started while attending his doctoral program at Harvard Business School and which is now the premier performance benchmarking firm for the chemicals, plastics, and other industries. His other titles include CEO of Townsend Polymer Services & Information, a sister company company founded to provide consulting, market research, publications, and conference services to the plastics industry; founder/mentor for Wild Phil's Buffalo Ranch, which raises bison and processes them into Texas Natural meats in the grasslands of Milam County, Tex.; and a director of Townsend Tree Service, a family-owned utility services company in 23 states in the U.S.

At any given time, Phil is also involved in many projects at various stages of evolution. Given his preoccupations, I learned to organize my projects and compete for his scarce time.

Technology and Analytics Provide an Edge

I really couldn't have asked for a better experience. I have always enjoyed challenges, especially when people say it is not going to be easy. During my three months at Townsend, I not only learned a lot about the plastics industry but also realized the connection between academic learning and real-world experiences. Companies more than ever need the power of technology and analytics to understand the core issues that drive their businesses. Companies that are doing this effectively are at the leading edge in staying competitive and profitable. Those that are not are on their way to extinction.

So whether it was lessons from my cost accounting or strategy or operations management classes, I found myself researching across and drawing upon a cornucopia of integrated, yet diverse, disciplines and functions. A couple of journal entries earlier, I mentioned how I was facing a challenge in relating my armed forces background to the business world. Here, my background in electronics and military intelligence not only came in handy but also provided me with insights that helped me do my current business intelligence-related job better.

Toward the end of summer we made client presentations outside of Texas and even got an approval from a major client to carry out a pilot project with them. As a result, I continue to carry my internship into my academic year.

The Internship Vindicated My MBA Decision

Based on my summer experience, I have decided to take courses that focus on strategy and operations. Now, the classes make much more sense than they initially did. This semester, I am taking Management Consulting with Michael May, a consulting veteran with more than 30 years' industry experience that included jobs as global managing partner of strategy business and senior global partner for thought leadership and innovation at Accenture ACN. I am also taking Marketing High-Tech Products with Anirudh Dhebar, a graduate of IIT and IIM, two premier technology and business schools in India. Going by sheer statistics, they say it is easier to get into MIT or Harvard than to get into IIT and IIM. Dhebar has a PhD from Stanford and taught at Harvard and MIT…whew!!! But hey, I'm not supposed to talk about my second year in this journal entry. I'll reserve it for my next one. So hang on!

Coming back to my summer, the opportunity to work as an intern was one of the reasons why I chose a full-fledged two-year MBA program, even though many of my friends and well-wishers suggested that, given my rather wide and extensive work experience, I go for an Executive MBA or an evening MBA option.

This has special relevance for those who are planning to switch careers. I have heard it far too often from far too many people who matter far too much that in order for anyone to start fresh you need to let go of your past and fill up your slate with new experiences that come close to what you are seeking in your future career path. An internship promises to provide exactly that. And, typically, only a two-year MBA allows for full-time internship opportunity.

I Even Got a New T-Shirt

As I look back and reflect on my days with Townsend, I have some rather beautiful and pleasant memories… my experience was fulfilling, my stay was interesting, the job was challenging, and the people were extremely nice and friendly.

Could I have asked for anything more? Maybe not. And by the way, even though I didn't ask him to, Phil had the graciousness to stop at a superstore on that hot, humid, and wet morning in the beginning of my summer internship assignment and buy me a new T-shirt so that I could change into something drier and less "colorful."

Cheers and God bless!


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