April 5, 2013

Our trip to India: Graduate Business Conference 2013


In February, we (Ranjith Ramachandran and Jessica Lehmann) were elected Executive Vice President and President, respectively, of the Graduate Business Student Association at Weatherhead School of Management. Soon after, we were informed that we would have the opportunity to participate in the 2013 Graduate Business Conference being hosted by the Indian School of Business, in Hyderabad, India. This annual conference brings together outgoing and incoming student government representatives from across the globe to discuss best practices and hear from keynote speakers on prevalent issues in the global business community. This year, delegates from every continent, except Antarctica, were present, and many of the keynote talks discussed conducting business in emerging markets.

The experience was unforgettable, and the opportunity to network with MBA students from all over the world was a great privilege. We made a lot of new friends and became particularly close with students from: University of Washington, the Norwegian School of Economics, Manchester Business School, McGill University in Japan, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Rochester. Each of the five days of the conference consisted of a best practices discussion among delegates, a keynote speaker, a panel discussion and an Indian-themed dinner and event in the evening.

Best practices discussions were quite fruitful, with many other student governments facing similar issues as ours, some of which were: how to create a culture of leadership at school; how to implement institutional memory; how to breakdown silos among departments; and how to use social media to engage the student body. We would brainstorm with other delegates who had similar issues as us, then discuss our ideas with the entire group. If other delegates’ institutions had already developed working solutions for these issues, they would then offer their advice. Ultimately, we developed a living document to share best practices and ideas throughout our terms of service.

The keynote speakers were world-renowned, including: Harish Manwani, the COO of Unilever; Dr. Mohan Reddy of Reddy Laboratories; and Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, a leadership consultant and mythologist. Dr. Pattanaik discussed the necessity of understanding cultures different than one’s own when trying to do business within them: “The easiest way to understand human beings is to understand the stories they tell.” He also deliberated on how trust affects business interactions: “In business, we’re constantly wondering: ‘Is he genuine, or is he strategic?’ You never know if a person is good.” All keynote speakers were very thought-provoking.

Panel discussion topics included “Surviving and Growing in Emerging Markets” and “Affordable Innovations”. In the first discussion, panelists discussed India’s emerging market, and that business leaders in these economies need to understand that consumers are not aggregates. In the second discussion, Dr. Harish Iver (seated far left) relayed that the consumer base that businesses should gear their product developments toward are those of underdeveloped, emerging markets, e.g., Africa, India and China—in that order. He further conveyed that innovations geared toward emerging markets should focus on the needs and wants of the people, rather than the desires and aspirations of the people.

The evening dinners and celebrations put on by ISB were second-to-none and so fun! One evening, there was an outdoor setup mirroring an Indian bazaar, where one could get Mehndi put on her hand, watch a puppet show, have a fortune read or smoke a hookah. Another night had the delegates attending an outdoor comedy show featuring Indian comedian Sorabh Pant. This was followed by an outdoor Bollywood Night with billboards from Bollywood films surrounding a dance floor and Bollywood DJ. One night, an Indian dance troupe performed an amazing routine where they played brass plates with their feet.

Ranjith Ramachandran, MBA '14
Jessica Lehmann, MBA '14


The traffic in India is the epitome of organized chaos. There are very few traffic lights, and any semblance of lane designations is ignored. People honk almost non-stop. I have never seen anything like it. I ask Ranjith “How do you know when it’s your turn?” “Instinct,” he replies. After thirty-six hours of travel, we finally arrive in Hyderabad and ride in a Tata car to ISB. It is spring, almost summer, here, and I smell fresh flowers lining the road as we leave the airport. ISB is the most securitized university I have ever been to. Our cab is stopped at the gate, and it’s a good fifteen minutes of Ranjith speaking with two uniformed officers, and them making multiple calls before we are told that we need to go to the Infosys campus, and not ISB, for our check-in.

Infosys is a software engineering company with a beautiful campus just down the road from ISB. Infosys’s security is even tighter than ISB’s. Once in, the dorms are beautiful, and I go to bed (at 8 am local time!). When we wake up, I tell Ranjith that I want the real Indian experience. Previously, Ranjith had worked in Hyderabad for eight months and knows the city. We proceed to take three different autos (tuk tuk’s/tiny tiny cabs/rickshaws, etc.) to a nearby mall. The auto rides are amazing fun with up to six people cramming into one little vehicle that should, engineering-wise, probably not hold more than four people at a time. Legs and arms stick out of the sides of the auto, and at times, I wondered if the over-weighted car would make it up even a slight incline. Over the next few days, jet lag is a real issue: I’m waking up at 3 am, midnight, 4 pm, etc.

ISB has a beautiful, sprawling campus with large patches of green, various locations to have outdoor assemblies and buildings with impressive architecture. Peacocks, cobras and bats are all common sightings there. The ISB students are extremely hospitable and invite our large group of about one hundred back to their dorms for after-parties almost every night. Hyderabad itself is full of tech companies: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Tata Consulting, Infosys, Deloitte, etc. all have their Indian headquarters based in Hyderabad. The food is phenomenal, and I eat vegetarian, authentic Indian cuisine daily (good for me that I love Indian food). Ranjith takes me to Paradise, an infamous restaurant with the best Biryani in the country. Yes, it’s amazing! Hyderabad is very rich in its culture and architecture. We tour Golkonda Fort (built ~1,200 A.D.) and Hussain Sagar Lake, home to the second largest statue of Buddha in the world.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed India and its culture. I am applying for an internship there this summer, so if all goes well, I may have more stories to relay!

Jessica Lehmann, MBA '14