05 Feb 2019
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The First Five Years: Karan Shah (MBA 2016)

Karan Shah on building a team, and what it’s like working for not one, but two family businesses (spoiler: dinnertime is a great time to talk shop)

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Karan Shah (MBA 2016)

Karan Shah (MBA 2016) is executive director of Precision Camshafts Limited, a large precision manufacturing company in Solapur, India, and a partner in MAYU, a luxury goods startup.

What’s a typical work day like at Precision Camshafts Limited?

“Precision Camshafts Limited (PCL) was founded by my father, Yatin Shah, 25 years ago in a small, 100-square-meter shed. In the beginning, the company manufactured 600 camshafts a month. Today, PCL is listed on the Indian stock exchange, manufactures over 10 million camshaft per year, and has emerged as one of the largest camshaft manufacturers in the world, serving marquee customers like GM, Ford, Daimler, Porsche, Toyota, and others.

“In the two years that I have been at PCL—first as a business development executive and now as executive director—there has been no ‘typical’ work day—which is something I cherish and enjoy! My job involves bringing in new customers, retaining and growing business with current customers, leading new projects, developing new products, spearheading new technology drives, meeting investors and stakeholders, building a strong management team, and working aggressively on our growth strategy to diversify the business portfolio. One of my key responsibilities is to ensure that everything we do has a well-documented system and process. A day at work could involve any or all of the activities I mentioned above!

“In the last 12 months, I have led PCL’s inorganic growth strategy and we have successfully acquired three companies. MEMCO (India) and MFT (Germany) have not only expanded our geographical footprint but also diversified our product range and customer list. In addition to camshafts, PCL group now is a leading supplier of critical injector components, balancer shafts, and other niche prismatic parts. We have also acquired a majority stake in EMOSS in the Netherlands—a complete end-to-end solution provider of electric drivelines for commercial vehicles. This marks our entry into the EV space, which allows us to hedge the risk of electrification of vehicles in the long term.”

What are your short- and long-term goals for this work?

“In the short term, I am working on integrating our latest acquisitions into the PCL group, introducing new products into our existing setup, establishing new systems in our operations to make it less human-dependent and more digitized, and creating the next line of leadership for the company that can take it forward for the next 15-20 years.

“I see our company being a leading global precision engineering company in the next five to seven years and this journey will involve growth of all our group companies and further acquisitions to take PCL to the next level! With the ever-changing industry that we operate in, I look forward to the new challenges along this journey.”

Can you tell us about MAYU and what motivated you and your wife to launch it?

“My wife, Mayura, and I are both avid travellers and enjoy exploring new places around the world! A few years ago, we were both in Iceland chasing auroras when Mayura discovered a rare kind of leather that is up-cycled from fish skin that would otherwise be discarded at a fish processing unit. The exotic and luxurious look and feel of the leather, along with the fact that it is sustainable and eco-friendly, immediately struck a chord with her, and the idea to create a luxury brand was born! After two years of research and hard work, we officially launched MAYU in November 2018.

“Fashion and design have always been a passion for Mayura, who is also a mechanical engineer. With no design background, she has integrated her love of design, engineering, travel, and sustainability all into MAYU. We’re really excited to see where this venture goes!”

Karan with his wife, Mayura

What’s it like working for two seemingly different companies—one focused on manufacturing and one focused on fashion?

“It’s refreshing in many ways! I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work in two very different industries. While there might not be much common between the two, I feel that the ‘way of doing business’ can often be applied horizontally. Many of the systems at PCL can be an inspiration to MAYU as the business grows. My experiences at PCL in sourcing/purchasing, logistics, import and export, taxation, and legal will definitely help when building MAYU.

“PCL is a medium-sized listed company with global operations, whereas MAYU is a three-person startup based out of our home. The difference in size and scale is often challenging, but is training me to compartmentalize my head space, wear different hats, and stay grounded!

“While the PCL group is expanding borders and products very rapidly, MAYU is definitely expanding my fashion quotient quickly!”

How do you use what you learned at HBS in your work at PCL?

“Given that my role involves working extensively in strategy and growth, what I learned in my classes on finance, negotiations, strategy, B2B sales, and operations helps me tremendously. I often refer back to cases and frameworks from the BSSE class, as they are applicable in almost all situations in our business. My involvement in the HBS Family Business Club as copresident has also been very helpful as I got a chance to interact with people with similar experiences in their workplaces. Our workshop with Professor John Davis is still fresh in my mind and I often use it to reflect on certain decisions.”

How do you use what you learned at HBS in your work at MAYU?

“My wife is the heart and brains behind MAYU, as she oversees the design, sourcing, manufacturing, public relations, sales, and the retail parts of the business. I help her with MAYU’s financials, commercials, fund raising, etc. A lot of what I do for MAYU stems from my learnings from classes like TEM, FMSF, and the more generic finance classes from the RC year. It is indeed very different from that way I look at things at PCL.”

As someone who’s working with not one, but two family business at the same time, what advice do you have for fellow alumni planning to join the family business?

“I would highly recommend anyone joining the family business to 1) be qualified to hold a position in the organization (this is something that my mother always told me), and 2) work outside the family business for at least a few years. Working outside of your comfort zone with a ‘real’ boss who is not a family member is an experience that I benefitted greatly from. The ‘outside’ job can help bring in a professional mindset into a family business.

“Once you have entered the family business, it is important that you clearly understand your role in the organization and have a clear separation of responsibilities from other family members. However, at the end of the day, there needs to be only one person to ‘captain the ship,’ as my father always says. There can’t be multiple people making decisions that conflict with each other.

“While most people would recommend not bringing business to the dinner table, I personally believe that the two businesses––the one with my parents and the one with my wife––are what bind us, as these are things that we are passionate about and that we can’t avoid discussing!”

What are the best parts of working for a family business? And what do you find most challenging?

“Working as a promoter of a family business means that you get to wear all the hats! This gives me tremendous opportunity to learn as the business grows. Outlining the overall trajectory of the business, creating long- and short-term goals, and leading a committed team are just some of the perks of being part of a family business.

“Working with members of the family can be the best or the most challenging part of work. Luckily for me, both my mother and father are great bosses to work for, and we share a very good working relationship! All of our roles are clearly defined and separated, wherein we don’t step on each other’s toes but still steer the ship together! I must give all the credit to my father, who has created a brilliant team around him that allows us to function very professionally. My father has always made an intense effort to ensure structured governance of the company and also that there is no nepotism or family conflict intersecting with business. These can be the biggest challenges of a family business.”

What is your favorite HBS case and why?

“One of my favorite cases is about the re-emergence of the Swiss watch industry. The case discussed the near collapse of the industry after failing to adapt to Japanese competition from battery-powered quartz technology. Jean-Claude Biver, who helped revive Omega and Blancpain and then Hublot, was present in the classroom and his energy, passion, and curiosity for new things made this case study a special experience. While Biver had been a harsh and complex leader, his vision and drive built fierce loyalty within his team, which helped revive the brands. His quote in class still inspires me: ‘Swim against the current. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.’”

Did you have a favorite HBS professor?

“My favorite was Joshua Margolis, my professor for LEAD. His passion for teaching was evident in every case we discussed and he taught us how to look at the world through a different lens. On our last day of class, Professor Margolis gave us his 11 bits of advice, which I still remember vividly.

  1. Be tough-minded and soft-hearted.
  2. You get paid for finishing not starting.
  3. Get your ‘walk-away money’ together fast.
  4. Serve others before yourself.
  5. If it makes you anxious or defensive, approach and learn.
  6. Nothing is worth prolonged misery, but learning can be painful.
  7. Are you chasing the rabbit… are you dodging the stretch?
  8. Don’t treat home as a pit stop—spend quality time with family!
  9. Put the electronics away.
  10. Create sacred time (for yourself and with loved ones).
  11. Turn in the direction of the skid—and skill yourself up for it.”

What did you like to do when you weren’t studying?

“Definitely traveling! I had a great set of friends at HBS who shared the same passion for travel and we planned many trips to places near and far! Besides travel, I really enjoyed getting to know my classmates, who are now some of my closest friends. Our intense conversations on a variety of subjects that I never even thought of before HBS were some of the most intellectually stimulating experiences I had as a student.”

Can you finish this statement, “My HBS experience was…”

“Transformative! In many ways, the world I knew before HBS revolved around engineering and the automotive industry and most conversations would be about these topics, as all my friends did the same thing as me. The classes at HBS truly opened my eyes up to a world of people who had a different perspective on everything I knew and didn’t know.

“HBS taught me to make a point and defend it against 90 other people who were much smarter than me! I don’t think there will be another time in my life when I am surrounded by such a group of people at once.”

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2016, Section B

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