The Iron Chancellor at HBS

I have had some terrific experiences both inside and outside the classroom during my first three months at HBS. A few months here has been enough to blow away all the myths that are associated with this great institution and the people who make it what it is. I really hope I don’t wake up one day to discover that this amazing experience has all been a dream.

My first memories of childhood are those of growing up in a Steel Plant township. The ubiquitous bells and whistles along with the humming chorus of steel mills are the sounds I woke up to every morning. My schooling began in Chandigarh at St John’s high School, a convent school run by Irish Catholic missionaries. Chandigarh was a great place to grow up. One of independent India’s first planned cities, Chandigarh was clean, quiet, peaceful and, most importantly, not crowded.

If I remember correctly, in my entire ten-year tenure there, I was pretty average. Number one at nothing! Oh yes, it hurt. The only thing for which I was (hopefully) noticed was that I got along pretty well with almost all types of people – trouble makers, egoist spoiled brats, hefty bullies and academic geeks.

Dreaming about the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) occupied most of my time in grades eleven and twelve, but in the end, attending ITT remained a dream. Luckily, providence managed to make me the last guy to be admitted to the metallurgical engineering course at Punjab Engineering College (PEC) in Chandigarh.

Living up to my reputation, I wasn’t a scholar at PEC either, but I soon discovered that public service, management and networking came naturally to me. So, in addition to being a student leader of the university, I served as an Indian Youth Ambassador to the Commonwealth for two years. Four years at PEC went by quickly, and soon the recruiters came knocking.

After college, I chose to take a job at an integrated steel company instead of IBM, and I landed in Toranagallu. If you look up Toranagallu in Google maps you probably won’t find it. The sprawling 3,000 acre steel plant was located in practically the middle of nowhere, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The nearest cosmopolitan city, Bangalore, was 500 kilometers away. By chance tag heuer replica for sale , I mentioned to my HR General Manager that I had seen over 90 big and small steel factories in the last four years, and I landed in the CEO’s office where, after a long interview, I was immediately appointed as Technical Aide to the grand old man himself. After a year in that position, the owner-chairman noticed my work and had me transferred to his office as his Aide in Mumbai. Initially, I had a tough time adjusting to my new boss and just couldn’t manage to morph from my previous “slow and steady” mode of operating to the “hustler” mode that was newly demanded of me; however, I eventually found a middle path and was able to develop a great professional relationship with the chairman. After some time, I decided I wanted to see some front line action, so I left my job and moved to a smaller steel firm just before coming to HBS.

After I was admitted to HBS, I had some exciting experiences. On January 17th, 2008 I received a particularly interesting phone call. The voice over the phone said, “This is the Inspector General of Police speaking. My boy, you’ve made the state proud! Now, I have a favor to ask of you. Can I send my boys over to pick you up from your home? My son is applying [to HBS] next year, and he needs some advice.”

I replied, “That’s very kind of you sir, but please don’t send cops to my house lest my neighbors think I am being arrested. I’ll be right over at your office.”

I think I received nine such calls from heavy weights in India and gosh, I hadn’t even started school yet! That’s what can happen when you’re an HBS admit in a small Indian city. The fact that our current Finance minister is from HBS made matters even more interesting. Local newspapers in Chandigarh hailed me as the next big thing to watch out for. Ah, those were the days!

Several months later, I was on my first flight to America. Thinking about what lay ahead, I was nervous about competing with the best brains in the world, especially the guys from the IITs. I had just finished reading Erich Segal’s best-seller The Class, in which he wrote about the Harvard Class of 1958’s closing ceremony. “And I’ve come to what I think is a profound conclusion. The Class is really not a class. I mean we’re not a brotherhood or anything cohesive for that matter. In fact, the time we spent here was a kind of truce. A ‘cease fire’ in the war for fame and power. And in two more days the guns come out again.” I thought, my God! Is it really going to be like that?

I must say, my fears were put to rest pretty quickly. The warmth and diversity of my analytics group and then my section proved that Segal’s work of fiction was indeed fiction. Harvard Business School is not a congregation of power thirsty grey suit executives competing for command of bigger and bigger portions of the world’s resources. It is a place where bankers, consultants, social workers, artists, lawyers, real estate agents and, yes, even steel men like me come together to learn from each other and make the world a little better than it is today.

Another thing I discovered upon arriving at HBS breitling superocean replica, was that people knew much more about India than I expected. I came across scores of classmates who had either visited India as tourists or had been there on business. However, even though many people were familiar with my country, the Lingua Franca case in LEAD showed me some of the challenges of interacting in a global environment.

For the Lingua Franca case, an innovative software application allowed the section to be transformed into several virtual global teams, each comprised of four members – one CEO and three functional VPs. The goal was to get a particular job done despite communication and language barriers. The catch was that we did not know which sectionmates were the other members of our team. I was the CEO of my virtual global team and was charged with getting the job done in fifteen minutes. I thought I did a pretty good job and was basking in my glory when a few sectionmates started talking about how horrible their CEO’s management style was. On being asked their team number, they said nineteen. Hmm…that number sounds familiar, I thought. Oh my God! They’re talking about me! What I termed a five-star performance was seen in a completely different light by my American friends. That was the first time I realized the subtle complications of global teams. I realized that there are cultural issues underlying managing in a global context that must never be ignored.

I discovered another cultural gap during my first month at HBS when I landed in trouble due to my overly enthusiastic explanation of the Indian Caste system to some of my international friends who were eager to learn about it. A few days later, one of my Indian friends warned me that people might start to think that I am some kind of a racist. I was a little hurt, but I decided I should be more careful in the way I communicate.

On the whole, however, the good experiences have far outnumbered the not so good ones. I still think, although not as frequently as before, that I might wake up in Chandigarh very soon to realize that the whole HBS experience until now has been a dream – that being admitted to HBS was just too good to be true.

November 3, 2008
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