As a busy student, Apoorva Choudhary (MBA '08) knows that if he’s going to spend spring break traveling halfway around the world, there is no margin for wasted time in his schedule as he nears graduation.
So when he helped to organize the Tepper School’s first MBA trek to India, Choudhary was a man on a mission: to create exceptional networking opportunities with high-level executives that would allow his peers unparalleled access to the power brokers of a major emerging world economy.
“India is here to stay. It will continue to have an important place in the world business scenario,” explains Choudhary, former president of the South Asian Business Association (SABA), who was driven by a desire to discover what he calls “the real India,” and to be on the ground with the decision makers who are shaping the future of a country that has captured global attention.
The group of 11 MBA students, who were accompanied by Associate Professor of Accounting Zhaoyang Gu, met with both the current and former Ministers of Finance of India; the chief executive officer of Indian Railways, a massive industry employing 1.6 million people that underwent a complete turnaround in less than five years; and the chief operating officer of Indigo Airlines, among others senior officials. They also attended lectures at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, which arranged a customized presentation for the Tepper School aimed at providing an MBA executive education program.
“The guiding principle for our team was: We learn finance [at the Tepper School], we learn marketing here, we learn operations here. Whatever we have learned at Tepper, how is it directly applicable in a place like India, and how much of it has to be modified? And how do you modify it?” says Choudhary.
Following the model advocated by the school, the trip was conceived, designed, and executed completely by the students. They leveraged their own personal networks, as well as those of faculty, staff, alumni, and other Tepper resources to create an agenda that struck the best balance of education and recreation.
For Miguel Guzman-Betancourt, the more thorough understanding of India that he gained on the trip will serve him well when he returns to Mexico after graduation to resume his career in business planning.
“It’s not a culture that is close to us, but it’s a culture that I thought was very relevant,” he says. “I couldn’t help but notice that they are undergoing the same sort of rapid development that Mexico had in the middle of the 20th century. It will be interesting to see if they are able to avoid some of the mistakes that we made.”
Guzman-Betancourt was impressed by the reception the students received. Many visits with top-level people lasted 90 minutes to two hours; at Indian Railways, the group was treated to an elaborate luncheon reception. At the Ministry of Finance, everyone in the outer corridor stood to acknowledge the students as they walked in.
“The name Carnegie Mellon has a very big pull in India,” notes Subu Narayanan, an MBA 2009 candidate who also helped plan the trip. “People were very accommodating.”
Narayanan, who is a board member of the SABA, which organized the trip, says the motives of those who met with the students were not purely altruistic. Rather, they saw the opportunity to meet with some future leaders from the Tepper School who could carry India’s message back to the U.S.
“When we explained the purpose of this trip, they saw MBAs who have the potential to shape the world tomorrow and could potentially come to India and take on leadership positions. These served as very good incentives for them to give us time,” he notes. “The world is a global village; it’s shrinking every day. So we need global players in every one of these economies.”
First-year students plan to return to India in December, to allow more time and even greater access to government officials, who are busier in March because the nation’s budget is announced in late February.
“It’s pretty difficult to have a career nowadays and ignore a country like India,” he says, pointing out that many of this year’s graduates are likely to manage a team there, or have Indian customers. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from there or have those touch points. How India grows in the future will have an impact on your career.”