Megha Malagatti (L12) went from a Scheduled Caste in India to the Executive Committee of S.T. Dupont in France in just a few years. She tells us how she changed the course of her destiny.
ESSEC Alumni: Where do Dalits stand in India nowadays?
Megha Malagatti: We have come a long way, but nothing has changed much. Dalits still perform the most menial and degrading jobs. Some may perform important jobs, but society does not recognise them. If a higher caste Hindu is touched by an untouchable or even had their shadow across them, they literally consider themselves to be polluted and have to go through a rigorous series of rituals to be cleansed. Many Dalits neither get to vote nor to access public places in rural areas; they have to bring lawsuits against government employees who should be protecting them but run afoul of their rights instead.
There are approximately 240 million Dalits in India. This means that in the 21st century, in a country where everybody is supposed to have equal rights and opportunities, 1 out of 5 citizens is doomed to endure discrimination and to rebel unceasingly, to rise up and to question an oppressive social system despite the reservations and support of the law.
EA: How did you manage to become an engineer in that context?
M. Malagatti: I was lucky enough to have parents who managed to complete their studies in their own days while many others did not have this opportunity. Hence, I was schooled in a convent with science as my major subject, which gave me an opportunity to pursue a career in engineering. I worked for six years in tech companies. I learnt a lot, especially when I was the team lead to develop the PAN India Telemedicine with Cisco Systems and Apollo Hospitals, the largest hospital chain in India. We connected urban doctors and patients in villages via cutting-edge technologies.
EA: Why did you end up switching to the luxury business?
M. Malagatti: My childhood dream was either to become a cardiologist or a fashion designer. I loved watching Miss World and Miss Universe as much as I enjoyed biology and science. I learnt a lot as an engineer, but I couldn’t help but feel that I belonged somewhere else. It took me some time to summon the courage to apply for an MBA at ESSEC, with the aim of transitioning to the luxury business.
EA: Why did you leave India for France?
M. Malagatti: The first thing that comes to your mind when you want to work in the fashion industry is Paris! Also, I had just broken up with my husband, and there are not many options for divorced women in India. We are still much oppressed. So it seemed quite wise for me to go to France!
EA: It can’t be easy to change countries and careers when you are 28…
M. Malagatti: Nothing comes easy in this world. It took a lot of courage, self-confidence, resilience, commitment and focus. It was tough, as I did not have much support from my family at the beginning. I had to sell my jewellery to pay my tuition fees, and I remember eating pasta with butter and salt for many months. All I had was emotional support from a few friends back in India. Eventually though, I received a scholarship from ESSEC, and my father finally came to helping me out.
EA: How did you adjust to your new life in France?
M. Malagatti: I still remember the very first day I set foot in Paris 7 years ago. I was positively intimidated by how beautiful the city is. It seemed like a movie set. I had a mixed bag of emotions that came over me – I was excited, I was scared, I had chills running through my skin. And I was totally alone. Thankfully, a wise person had once told me that when you arrive in a different country, it is you who have to adapt and not the other way around. This stuck in my head and I followed this advice. I learnt French, which helped me integrating and finding my first job, which I could not even have dreamt of. Now I can say that I love France and that France loves me, as it allowed me to make a new life for myself – a better one.
EA: What are the differences between your life in France and your life in India?
M. Malagatti: Even though I was born in India, I discovered my true self in Paris. An international experience always changes you as an individual. As you get exposed to different cultures, work ethics, food, and many more, you uncover new facets of your personality, which makes you a better team player. I really do feel that moving to France made me a better person, both in my personal and professional life. In India, you live your life for others. You have to please many people, from your parents to your friends, to your family members, and even to the friends of your family. You are never yourself and I believe you do not get a chance to understand who you really are. Coming to Paris, I had the opportunity to focus on what I am good at, and that made me more confident, more responsible, and stronger.
EA: Upon graduating, you joined S.T. Dupont and quickly entered the company’s executive committee. How did you get there so fast?
M. Malagatti: My path at S.T. Dupont has been an exceptional journey for me. I was first in charge of restructuring the Haute Creation division, then I opened India as a market and managed the United Stated region, and then I took on the Limited Editions and Partnerships division. There, I made an effort to promote the brand’s know-how through product placements in James Bond and Disney movies, and develop innovative items through collaborations with brands and experts. I must say that having an engineering background was of great help when I had to launch the first ever levitating writing instrument and the first ever lighter that had both a soft flame and a torch flame! Anyhow, I eventually got promoted as Marketing Director in charge of products and communication globally, just 5 years after being hired.
EA: Can you imagine ever going back to India?
M. Malagatti: Not in the short term, as I would like to have other experiences abroad and discover more countries, cultures, and ways of living. In the far future though, why not! India seems set to become one of the leading economies in the world and I would like to be a part of that.
EA: What is your advice to young professionals wishing to leave their country and work abroad?
M. Malagatti: First, discover who you are and who you want to be tomorrow; take all the time you need to think and talk about it with your teachers, mentors, classmates and alumni. Second, be focused on your objectives and goals; learn how to recognize and build opportunities, identify what you are good at and where you can add value. This will help your employer to set you on the right track and to make you grow.
Interview by Louis Armengaud Wurmser (E10), Content Manager at ESSEC Alumni