MBA Students learn a humbling lesson on Business Tour to India

In February 2012 a group of  Brunel MBA students embarked on an inaugural overseas business trip – this time to Mumbai, India. This tour, supported by AICAR Business School Mumbai, complemented other School-wide MBA company visits in the UK and aborad as part of Brunel’s Business Life Employability Programme.

Brunel MBA Director, Prof Amir Sharif said:

Brunel’s MBA programme seeks to enable students to understand, learn and ultimately, share experience with their fellow colleagues from around the world.  Our Business Tour to Mumbai in India, seeks to deepen these experiences by exposing them to the vibrant and dynamic nature of one of the leading BRIC economies first hand over an intensive and rewarding 5 day visit. Accompanied by Brunel Business School faculty, and facilitated by a Mumbai-based business school,  the tour focuses on learning about the growing Indian economy. As such, the tour provides an exhilarating and professionally focussed series of visits and meetings with senior executives from a range of national and multinational companies and organisations. These companies range from sectors as diverse as financial services, fast moving consumer goods / food and social and micro-enterprises. In 2012, these include well known global brands such as Merrill Lynch, Cadburys, McDonalds; as well as social enterprises local to Mumbai such as Eureka Forbes and Shanti Avedna Sadan. The MBA Business Tour is an excellent chance for students to expand their overseas knowledge and experience in a business context.

Student Diary of the Tour:

Arrival: After a 10-hour flight, the group along with Prof. Ashley Braganza, Director of Executive Education and Alumni, and Dr. Francesco Moscone, Reader at Brunel Business School, were met by Dr Buril (Dean of the Faculty, AICAR), Thomas (Head of General Administration) and a driver of a yellow mini bus, our major means of transport during the entire trip. After nearly 4 hours in the mini bus, we stopped to have our first meal in India – spicy McDonald’s veggie burgers, a variety that is unique to India. It was a deliberate decision partially because McDonald’s was one of the companies we were going to visit with spicy veggie burgers being one of the factors contributing to their localisation success; partially because Ashley didn’t want to give our digestive systems too big a cultural shock. In a land of heat, noise and dust, that particular local McDonald’s felt like an oasis with its clean interior, comfort seating and air-conditioned atmosphere. Despite the deceptively familiar signage and layout, the fiery treatment to our taste buds brought about by eating those spice veggie burgers soon made us realise we were well and truly in India. 

MBA Students at the Gateway of India

MBA Students at the Gateway of India

AICAR Business School: At around 5pm local time, we arrived at our destination: AICAR Business School.  Located in an idyllic rural setting at the foothills of Matheran surrounded by unspoiled green landscape, AICAR is a Business School set up in 2003. The reception they prepared for us was spectacular. With colourful horse-drawn carriages, fireworks, drums, traditional Indian rituals, and ubiquitous banners, we felt like local celebrities.  Before we were shown to our individual en-suit room, we were given personalised diaries and a few other necessities as a token of good will. Later on, we had our first dinner at AICAR’s canteen and interacted with students and faculty who were eager to compare their MBA experiences with ours.

Sunday 11th Feb 2012: We started the day by participating in a guided traditional Indian meditation. With our minds cleared and spirit purified, we listened attentively to Prof Guru Prasad’s presentation on Indian economy with the title “The Wow Factor.” After lunch, we were invited to watch AICAR students playing cricket and had a go throwing and batting ourselves. It didn’t seem that any of us had the talent for playing cricket, especially the girls, but it was great fun nonetheless.

In the afternoon, after a presentation on Eurika Forbes Project, an initiative to manufacture products that are specifically designed for poor villagers who often don’t have clean drinking water or reliable electricity supply, we visited four villages nearby.

Monday 12th Feb 2012: Today we experienced the opulent side of India. Located in one of the elegant-looking modern office buildings in central Mumbai, office of Merrill Lynch India is tastefully decorated. From its grand entrance to its glittering golden logos on many walls, all artefacts suggested the abundance of wealth – a sharp contrast to the poor villages we visited the day before. We were received by Mr. Anand Khatau, MD of Investment Division, and Mr Vijay Gaba, a strategist who delivered the presentation and answered our questions. We were shown how investment options were assessed from a macroeconomic viewpoint. Perhaps not so surprisingly, Vijay Gaba turned out to be not only an expert in investment, but also well versed in many historical and cultural issues. It was fascinating to listen to his take on the complicated Indian caste and class systems, the so-called “agricultural mentality” and why the changing social demographics holds the key for a better future.

Brunel MBA Students at Merrill Lynch

Brunel MBA Students at Merrill Lynch, India

Later that afternoon, we visited the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. What magnificent architectural landmarks they both are, with the Gateway being a reminder of India’s close relationship with the British Empire and Taj Mahal Hotel the symbol of national pride. Inside the hotel, we saw the sites where the recent shooting took place. Although hardly any trace of that tragic event was left, it was not difficult to imagine the shock and horror people must have felt at that time.

Tuesday 13th Feb 2012: McDonald’s head office is housed in a modest building in a leafy area of Mumbai. The presentation was delivered by the Head of McDonalds India who told an engaging story of introducing McDonald’s to India – a challenging and yet rewarding process started 10 years ago. In order to succeed, they worked really hard to change people’s perception of McDonald’s as a chain of Western restaurants to a place where Indian families can afford to go. They also overcame issues such as developing their own supply chain and adjusting to local taste without compromising brand identity. When the question of McDonald’s health credentials was raised, we learned that, interesting enough, the primary concern of McDonald’s India is not obesity, but malnutrition. After the meeting, we were treated to a McDonald’s lunch and sampled all of their newly localised burgers, milkshakes and ice cream – all in the name of market research of course. Some of us even went into the kitchen and experienced the operations of the restaurant first hand. 

MBA Students in the McDonals HQ in India

MBA Students in the McDonals HQ in India

In the afternoon, we visited the Orbit Mall, one of Mumbai’s modern Shopping Malls. There, western designer brands could be seen next door to upper market Indian brands – yet another different aspect of Indian urban existence.

Wednesday 14th Feb 2012: After a meeting with the Chairman of Cadbury’s India, we attended a presentation by their HR Director, who explained comprehensively how Cadbury’s has become a household name and why it holds such an important place in Indian consumers’ heart. She spoke also about its marketing strategy and the impacts of Kraft’s acquisition of Cadburys on corporate strategies and human resource management. As far as snacks were concerned, we were treated to a generous amount of chocolates during the presentation followed by a bag full of Cadbury’s sweets assortment each to take away.

Dinner with Brunel Alumni at the Hyatt Hotel in Mumbai was yet another memorable experience. We had a good time chatting with our alumni and exchanging views about our lecturers and our shared experiences of being Brunel MBA students – a great sense of nostalgia was clearly felt.

Thursday 15th Feb 2012: Today we visited Shanti Avedna Ashram, the largest hospice in the world for cancer patients that accepts only those who has absolutely no chance of ever being cured. It was a beautiful place, full of colourful flowers and lively trees. It looked more like a hotel than a hospice. The wards for the terminally ill all have a sea view too. 

As Hindu tradition favours dying at home, most of the patients are those who are too poor to die at home. It was heart-warming to see that how, after a lifetime of hardship, those terminally ill could have their physical, social, financial and spiritual needs taken care of by the hospice at no cost to them or their family at all. Amazingly, it is completely funded by donations. Using the chief oncologist’s words, “We’ve outsourced fund raising to God, and he has never let us down.”

Regardless of their financial, cultural or religious background, all patients are treated equally and have the opportunity to enjoy love, care and peace towards the end of their lives. It was a profoundly moving and humbling lesson.

At our request, Walter Saldanha, owner and chairman of the AICAR Business School and a patron of the hospice, gave us a lecture on entrepreneurship in one of the rooms at the hospice following the visit. His story was captivating. We learned that he started as a typist without any formal academic training, but went on to make his fortune in advertising through sheer determination, confidence, patience and lots lots of work. “It’s not hard,” he told us, “because I’ve always enjoyed what I do.” Though successful and well connected, he is utterly unassuming and down to earth. At age 83, Walter is still physically active and mentally sharp, and works 10-14 hours daily. He accompanied us on all our business trips and touched every one of us deeply with his extraordinary humility.

Friday 16th Feb 2012: After breakfast, we spent a few hours in AICAR’s meditation centre, an open circular space with nothing but a roof on the top, reflecting on our learning so far. Later, we attended a fascinating lecture by Mr. Anand Kurian on “Reality Plus”, a term he coined to describe a marketing concept where a perception of a product created by advertisement is more real than the actual good itself.

In the afternoon, we walked along rail tracks leading to the Matheran Hill Station. Whilst appreciating local communities’ simple and natural way of life, we were also impressed by the natural beauty of Matheran Mountain and had fun photographing another type of its residents – monkeys.

Enjoying the simple life in India

Enjoying the simple life in India

Before our farewell dinner, we watched the final of AICAR student cricket tournament. As guest of honour, Prof. Ashley Braganza, Dr. Francesco Moscone and 5 MBA students gave out medals and trophies to groups of very excited students. After dinner, we presented AICAR faculties our gifts of appreciation on behalf of Brunel Business School.

Final Reflection: From the warm welcome we received upon arrival at AICAR Business School, to our farewell dinner seven days later and many visits and activities in-between, we learned so much about Indian economy, culture, social demographics, and in particular its complicated and yet fascinating caste and class systems. We saw extreme poverty and awe-inspiring elegant opulence, we experienced tranquillity of the rural village and the deafening noise of urban environment, we investigated modern shopping malls with Western designer brands and bargain stalls on the pavement of streets set against the backdrop of a “seemingly organised” chaotic traffic system… Whilst India is a country full of sharp contrasts, it also strikes us as a nation that is highly vibrant, dynamic, aspiring and extremely colourful.

What an experience that was, full of exhilarating and unforgettable moments. It has indeed deepened and enriched our understanding of one of the BRIC economies and strengthened us physically and psychologically through surviving many challenges posed by the business trip. As normal daily routine resumes back in the UK and busy studying schedule takes dominance, our memory of the trip may fade a little. However, the bond forged there is likely to have much longer lasting effects on all of us.

Acknowledgement : We would like to thank Prof. Ashley Braganza for organising and leading the eye-opening business trip and Dr. Francesco Moscone for looking after us. We would also like to thank Mr. Saldanha, Dr. Buril, Thomas, Prof. Kutty, Prof. Guruprasad, Dr. Menon, Mr. Kurian, Mr. Nair and all other faculty and students of AICAR for the warm welcome we received and for trying their best to make our trip memorable, enjoyable and meaningful.

This report has been provided by Elizabeth Huang and Funmilayo Obileye – Brunel MBA Ambassadors

4 thoughts on “MBA Students learn a humbling lesson on Business Tour to India

  1. An inspiring commentary which demonstrates the critical importance of gaining consumer behaviour and business insights in an international setting. Thank you all for sharing your experiences. Jon T (MBA Marketing Tutor)

  2. Great to see the Brunelians on tour….from a very recent lecture….”we need to get noticed” and this is one way of doing it…. Thanks folks for flying the flag!….trust you all learned a lot too!

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