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How university skills transformed my business: Warwick Economics alumnus and entrepreneur reflects on his economics degree

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How university skills transformed my business: Warwick Economics alumnus and entrepreneur reflects on his economics degree

We all recognise that what we learn at university can have a long-lasting effect on our lives, shape our careers and have a wider impact on society. But it can also teach us a range of practical skills beyond our expectation, skills that can empower us to make different choices and apply them successfully to problem solving in a business context.

Meet Shishir Garg, Warwick Economics graduate of class 2018 and second-generation entrepreneur based in India, who reflects on how his degree course in economics transformed him and his ability to apply economic knowledge in real life situations. After graduating with a BSc in Economics from Warwick, with an Examiners’ Prize for Best Performance in Research in Applied Economics, Shishir stayed on at Warwick as a Research Assistant for Professor Thiemo Fetzer who had been his personal tutor and dissertation supervisor. Before moving back to India, Shishir undertook an MPhil in Economics and Finance at Cambridge and then became a consultant at the World Bank.

Now Shishir runs R.P Poly Plast Ltd, a leading manufacturing company in the city of Kanpur, India. Shishir attributes the success of his business to his ability to implement economic techniques he learnt during his time at Warwick and Cambridge.

We ask Shishir a series of questions about his enterprise and how he perceives the connection between academia and business.

Could you tell us more about your business and the economic impact it is having in Kanpur and the surrounding region?

Our business interests include manufacturing edible oils (such as rice bran oil and soyabean oil), high density Polyethylene based tarpaulin and Polypropylene based woven sacks and fabric. Our most recent venture is to manufacture expanded polyethylene sheets and rolls which are used in mattresses, packaging, furniture, and consumer goods. This new manufacturing unit will provide employment for about a hundred people who come from rural backgrounds and live under extreme poverty.

How is it possible for an economics graduate to run a manufacturing business without a scientific or science technology background?

I strongly believe that if you are provided with the right skills or tools, you can solve any problem that comes your way. I have come to observe and appreciate how my experience, at world class universities under top professors, equipped me to handle problems, implement novel techniques and put theories into practice. These skills are especially hard to come by in my part of the world, so I can truly say that my university education has had a huge positive influence on my life.

What were the most important lessons you learned during your time at Warwick?

My undergraduate tutor at Warwick, Professor Thiemo Fetzer, always taught me to think differently and to approach the unique challenges that each research paper brings in a structured way. The challenge can be anything: from considering how proxies can be used if there is not enough data available to deciding which economic technique would be most suitable to apply.

This was especially liberating as sometimes in undergraduate study things are structured in such a way that you have to find answers in quite a defined and rigid manner. But in practice, you get a lot of curveballs and there are no set answers. Professor Fetzer really taught me how textbook economics is deployed in real life through his work and the research I did for him.

I especially learnt a lot from him while I was working on my undergraduate dissertation, under his tutelage, for which I was awarded the Department prize. During that time, I got a good grasp of what a research paper looks like and the importance of finding the mechanisms through which changes are taking place. Previously my understanding of research was based on preconceived notions such as finding a result by running regressions in Stata and finding the significance of a variable by looking at the p-value, rather than considering the wider context and economic theory.

How have you applied your economics skills to improve your business practices?

After I graduated I worked as a research assistant for Professor Fetzer for four years. I got to work on some amazing projects and learn about the best research methods and economic techniques. The skills I learnt have helped me immensely to transform the business. For instance, there are lot a of manufacturing steps involved in refining edible oils. A small change in temperature or pressure at any step may lead to a huge change in the yield and quality of oil. Virtually no data on this was being documented before. However, since I joined the business, we have implemented a variety of novel data collection techniques using various instruments and field experiments to isolate how a change in one variable affects the final product.

Through such techniques, we have developed an unparalleled understanding of the mechanisms and variables which alter the composition of oil. This, in turn, has significantly reduced our costs while enhancing the quality of our oils. These changes would certainly not have been possible without the knowledge of economic techniques gained during my time at university.

Could you tell us more about the sustainability initiatives that your business invests in?

Our new manufacturing unit is unique due to a plethora of factors. Foremost, half of the energy consumption will come from the grid-connected 250 KW Solar rooftop installed on our plant (pictured above). It was installed in collaboration with Tata Power, the premier solar manufacturer in India. This is especially important given that India meets most of its power needs by burning fossil fuels such as coal. Given the fact that heatwaves are becoming common in India, this will help tackle climate change in a small way. This programme is just the tip of the iceberg as we plan to generate 1 MW of solar energy in house at our manufacturing units.

Secondly, all the waste generated in the manufacturing process will be recycled through a first-of-its-kind recycling machine whereby the recycled product can again be reused to make the sheets and rolls. Moreover, there will be zero water discharge as water used in the manufacturing process will be recycled and reused again.

Shishir Garg, BSc Economics 2018