People gravitate to brands. Disney, Pepsi, Tiffany: The attraction is the same. Consumers connect with their brands’ stories, values, and missions. These brands can evoke memories or convey identities. They can stoke passions or provide comfort. At their core, these brand associations provide a stamp of approval —and a ticket into select communities.
That’s true in academia too. The top business schools represent proven brand value and consistent delivery, a sense of security that the cost and sacrifice will pay dividends. That’s a huge selling point for the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad — or IIMA. Anand Kewlani, a current IIMA PGPX student, describes the program as “the destination for the aspirant who wants to be branded for life.” On the surface, IIMA’s brand is attached to terms like academic rigor and case teaching excellence. However, the program’s biggest differentiator remains leadership training.
“CULTURE OF DEBATES…AND DATA-BACKED DECISION-MAKING”
Look no further than the program’s MBA-equivalent alumni list. Start with Ajay Banga, executive chairman of Mastercard. Beyond Banga, the IIMA brand is attached to Harsha Bhogle (“The Voice of Indian Cricket”), Raghuram Rajan (Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and Former Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund), and Sanjeev Bikhchandani (Founder of Naukri). You’ll even find IIMA graduates at the highest levels of business education as two deans — Harvard Business School’s Srikant Datar and NYU Stern’s Raghu Sundaram — call themselves proud alumni.
“I think of my time at Ahmedabad as among the most memorable of my life,” Datar says in a 2018 interview. “First, of course, was the educational experience. It was powerful. It was very deep. It was a completely different pedagogy than what I had seen before. I remember it because it was so engaging. It’s amazing how many cases from that period I still remember and still think about even to this day…It made me who I am today.”
Now, the PGPX Class of 2022 is following in these leaders’ footsteps. Make no mistake: Ahmedabad has lived up to its brand reputation since classes began in April. Shubham Dang, an analytics head from Allahabad, describes IIMA as the “cradle of leadership.” Thus far, he has been impressed with the school’s General Management approach that fosters a “culture of debates, discussions, and data-backed decision-making.”
“I came to IIMA not just to learn the subtle art of management, but more importantly to understand the “what and how” of becoming an effective leader,” Dang tells P&Q. “The case study-based pedagogy simulates an environment where students take and own their decisions. In fact, decision-making under uncertainty is one of the first things that is taught here and then applied throughout the rest of the year.”
EARNING THE RIGHT TO MAKE DECISIONS
At IIMA, the first lesson is that leadership is uncomfortable. Many times, decisions are based on flawed and incomplete data. Ultimately, leaders must stitch together compromises whose success may not be readily apparent. That’s exactly what Ahmedabad MBA students face in an effort to make them more proactive and conscientious.
“Every day, multiple decisions need to be made on the fly and the PGPX course structure has pushed me to learn the art of optimizing decisions and managing trade-offs,” explains Sarvesh Patel, a renewable energy entrepreneur. “Wise words from the Director of IIM Ahmedabad, Professor Errol D’Souza, at the PGPX inaugural speech come to mind: “People should take ownership of the decisions that they make. It’s only when you’re vested in facing the consequences of the decisions you make that you have the right to make it.”
All of this, Patel adds, has only enriched his experience and prepared himself for life after business school. “PGPX challenges one to the face the fear of unknown and prepares the participants to cope with failure. This has made me find the best version of myself day in and day out. Overall, on a personal and professional front, I see accelerated transformation in myself and I find myself better equipped to navigate through challenges enabling me to add value to my business.”
THE “NEVER GIVE UP” SPIRIT
Kaumudi Tiwari, a marketing manager with Lufthansa German Airlines, describes IIMA as a “buffet” — a place with an array of diverse choices. The same could be said about the PGPX Class of 2022. Ajay Antony, for one, is a trained rocket scientist. Before IIMA, he was an aerospace project manager for helicopters and commercial aircraft. His classmate, Manish Kumar Pandey, spent over 16 years in the Indian Air Force and Army before retiring as a Major.
“I was able move my career from being a technician in Indian Air Force to an officer in the Indian Army and now a student of management in the best B-school in India for three reasons: sheer passion for growth, the ability to use the resources available in an efficient manner to maximize results, and an indomitable spirit to never to give up.”
Vanya Mishra carries that same spirit into the PGPX program. Her determination eventually led her to the world of pageants, where she won the Miss India World competition at 20. She went on to finish among the runners-up later that year in the Miss World.
“The win always stays special because of my upbringing and how my mother,” Mishra explains. “She is a single parent who had inspired me to think and dream big and achieve whatever I ever desired for, even if I felt I don’t have adequate resources to achieve it. By now, I have built this in my professional DNA, and no number of constraints could limit my goals ever. I believe if you truly want something, you can always find a way out.”
A MOVE TO ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Since then, Mishra has earned a degree in Electrical Engineering, earning her school’s Most Distinguished Student Award along the way. Now, she is channeling the passion that made her a global name into something entirely different.
“[I have been] running my own startup when I was 22 years old. I began my entrepreneurial journey right after graduation sans any business background or massive capital. As a first-gen female founder, I realized starting-up was 5 times harder. I still feel glad despite all the roadblocks, I took that step and have not looked back ever since.”
Parul Vashist really hasn’t had time to look back. A self-described “fashion-tech extrovert and a fitness junkie,” Vashist worked as the deputy director of Myntra India, a fashion ecommerce platform operated by Walmart. It was a role that took her to 15 countries between Europe and East Asia. Her portfolio, worth $35 million dollars, covered brands like Polo Ralph Lauren, Guess, and Mango. Even in the face of COVID, she managed to beat her sales by 170%.
With a resume like that, why would Vashist step away to join IIMA’s PGPX program? “Over the last seven years, I have developed expertise within the online fashion industry,” she tells P&Q. “As I looked towards solving bigger business problems within fashion econ and retail in general, I realized I needed a holistic set of skills to continue making a bigger impact. This realization motivated me to pursue an MBA program that could help me drive disruptions in fashion tech in the near future.”
Thanks to business school, Vashist is now weighing alternative means for making that happen. “Before joining IIMA, I was always inclined towards a corporate life, driving challenges across cross-functions to deliver the firm’s overall objective,” she adds. “Within a few weeks of the program’s commencement, the global view and rigor offered by the school helped me discover my entrepreneurial outlook. Having the thought of moving from a corporate setup to a startup is the biggest accomplishment from the past three months spent at IIMA.”
PAYING IT FORWARD
It hasn’t been an easy journey for the Class of 2022. Starting in April and concluding next March, the PGPX program launched virtually due to COVID but moved on campus in June. Here, IIMA broke the class into two 70-member sections. In each section, 35 students learned in-person, while the other 35 students logged in virtually from their dorms. That, coupled with the uncertainty of COVID and high academic demands, made the transition to business school rocky for some students at the start.
“I feel my biggest accomplishment so far is adapting to the course and curriculum,” admits Vanya Mishra. “We all started our journey amidst a second wave, where I personally saw lots of friends and family suffer. It was challenging mentally and emotionally! Also, I come from a diverse background and have had exposure in broad areas, from Bollywood, to entrepreneurial world. Even at Jio, work was highly consumer-facing and high-stakes. So adapting into a rigorous curriculum and environment was challenging, but I am glad I fared well, beyond my expectations.”
These shared demands also accelerated the community-building process in the Class of 2022. Ajay Antony participated in a joint-student-alumni “Pay-It-Forward” mentorship program designed to impact populations far beyond the Ahmedabad campus.
“This pro-bono initiative gave admissions and preparatory guidance to MBA aspirants in exchange for a purely voluntary donation to a charity or cause of their choice,” Antony writes. “Although we did not have any target in mind, our expectations were fairly modest. I beam with pride at having contributed to this cause that helped over 500 MBA aspirants and several non-profits tackle social challenges across the country.”
Page 2: Interview with Ram Kartha.
Page 3: Profiles of 12 IIMA PGPX Students.