GIP India: Leaders Big and Small

          Dalai Lama

You know it’s going to be a good day when within the first 30 minutes of being up you’ve “run into” the Dalai Lama.

THURSDAY morning we got up extra early because we were leaving at 8 AM to travel 2 hours on the outskirts of Delhi to visit Navjyoti India Foundation, an NGO which runs a grades 1 – 5 education program for children in the area. The mission of the day was to visit the school and for each of us to guest teach a class in small groups, keeping in mind the leadership principles we had been studying earlier in the week.

It seemed an appropriate omen for the day then that as we were wrapping up breakfast and preparing to get on the bus we learned that the Dalai Lama would be walking through our hotel in the next few minutes. We went to the lobby to catch a glimpse of his holiness and thought something like this photograph would be the best photo opportunity we would have (keep reading to the end to find out how the above image happened!)

Dalai Lama - LobbyDalai Lama in the lobby. Photo courtesy of Amy Kwan ‘15

Shining a “New Light” on India at Navjyoti

Navjyoti EntranceNavjyoti Child Education Program entrance

Until our visit to Navjyoti (which means “New Light” in Hindi) we had spent most of our days in one of the most upscale areas of New Delhi. Our visit to Navjyoti’s school was the reality check we needed to better understand some of the issues India is facing.

Navjyoti was formally established in 1988 by the legendary Kiran Bedi and 16 of her fellow Delhi Police Officers. The foundation was the brainchild of Bedi who throughout her law enforcement career and beyond has been an advocate for criminal rehabilitation and crime prevention programs (such as education of street children, vocational skills for female drug peddlers, and detox programs for drug addicts) as the most effective methods for reducing crime.

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GIP India: Becoming Coaches

It’s been a JAM-PACKED week so far for the CBS crew traveling on the GIP India and there’s a lot to share about the work our group has been up to. Let’s go!

Getting oriented

For those of us who arrived into New Delhi on Sunday morning, we were able to spend the first part of the day on a guided tour of some of the Delhi’s biggest tourist attractions, including India Gate, Humayun’s Tomb, and the president’s house. That evening the whole class had our welcome dinner at a delicious restaurant in New Delhi called Bukhara. At dinner we had a chance to meet some of the people who would be joining us at various events during the week, including Professor Wadhwa’s wife and daughter which was a treat!

Time to meet our “coachees”

MONDAY it was down to business. After a morning at the hotel discussing some course material, we were on our way to finally meet our AbsolutData “coachees” face-to-face!

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GIP India: The Inaugural Trip!

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching”–  Gandhi

I loved my experience in “Personal Leadership” with Professor Hitendra Wadhwa back in August. When I learned he would be leading a new Global Immersion trip to India in the Spring I knew I had to enroll.

While “Personal Leadership” focuses on developing self-awareness and connection to one’s own life purpose, the “Leading Others from the Inside Out” India GIP promises a kind of “next level” journey looking at how personal insight, development of ones strengths, and certain techniques enhance our ability to be effective leaders of other people.

But why do we need to visit India to “look inside” ourselves?

The unique backdrop of India connects the course to a nation considering its own place among the leading countries of the world – a developing country in the midst of great change and rapid development while also possessing a strong spiritual tradition and home to one of the greatest leaders of all time – Mahatma Gandhi.

The course promises a way for us to explore our own leadership development as well as learn about the business culture in India by covering material in a novel way for a business school course. During our week in India we will work with a marketing analytics and research firm based outside of New Delhi called AbsolutData. CBS students will work one-on-one as coaches to managers at AbsolutData, helping them to explore their own leadership goals while practicing our own skills in bringing out the potential in others. We have already conducted Skype conversations and email exchanges with our “coachees” to get to know them and can’t wait to meet them in person tomorrow!

In addition to working with AbsolutData we will have the chance to meet several other Indian business leaders and discuss the opportunities and challenges they are facing. More details to come on this later in the week!

The course officially kicks off with a welcome dinner this evening, but I arrived a few days earlier along with a number of other CBS-ers to explore the fantastical city of Jaipur. In just two days we got to explore many areas of the city, thanks in large part to the phenomenal Amy Kwan ’15 who organized a mini-Chazen tour for all of us. #ChazenAmy

IMG_0956 (2)

The group visiting City Palace in Jaipur, India

In addition to having the chance to ride elephants up to the top of the Amber Fort (so cool!), my favorite experience in Jaipur was attending a cooking class at an adorable boutique hotel called Ikaki Niwas. We were warmly greeted with tea and conversation by the hotel owners Jaideo and Devika before our cooking demonstration with Devika where she instructed us in classic preparations of Papad Curry (a vegetarian dish), Halwa (a yummy dessert best served with ice cream), Indian breads, and delicious Masala Chai. Afterwards we had dinner with Devika and had a chance to eat the food we had just made. We also received copies of the recipes to use as inspiration for our (inevitable!) GIP reunion!

image1Cooking class ingredients – so many spices!

It has been an amazing few days so far and I am looking forward to sharing more with you this week about this journey!

– Sophie Hutson, MBA ‘15

India – Reflections on the Study Tour

“India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”

-Mark Twain, American author

It’s been a couple weeks since Chazen India officially ended, but the memories and the spirit live on till this day. There’s not a day that I don’t think about my study tour experience in India.  In the morning, I drink my masala chai tea that I brought back as a souvenir from my travels in India.  However, the subway to and from school is vastly different from the elephant ride up and down the mountain to Amber Fort.

When asked by other students on how the Chazen India study tour was, I am at a loss of words.  What do I respond with?  In my experience, India challenged, surprised, shocked, and almost broke me….but most of all, the country changed me for the better. A new appreciation for Bollywood films, better negotiation skills for bartering BATNA/ZOPA/RP), stronger stomach for spicy foods (fyi – everything is spicy in India), and respect for Tata Sons and Dabbawalas for creating a company culture that has proved financially and personally rewarding are some of my key takeaways from the trip.

However, the visibility of income inequality was pervading: beggars and homeless people parked right outside grand opulent hotels, children walking around barefoot while tourists snap pictures of historical landmarks, civilians working and living in the slums because they have no other other opportunity, etc. At least the government and CEOs are acknowledging this vicious problem: over and over again throughout our business meetings, there is an underlying theme and understanding that there needs to be more investing in infrastructure, education, and healthcare.  It seems that everyone in each industry is doing the best they can to boost the Indian economy through foreign direct investment, tourism, and job creation. We shall see in the upcoming years whether these changes have helped the Indian society for the better.

Chazen India T-shirt with all the names of the participants

The best part of this trip was getting to know 40 other MBA students in this study tour.  The questions asked by my peers during the discussions with business executives opened my eyes to different business cultures contexts and subtexts and gave me better insight into other people’s views of the country and the economy.  The organizers welcomed us with open arms to their home country and showed us the best that their country had to offer.  Before this trip, I barely knew a handful of individuals who were on the tour.  Now, when I walk among the hallways of Uris, I see friendly faces and we joke about our time in the country.  A reunion is in the works (the best Indian restaurant in UWS for dinner and then a Bollywood movie right afterwards) IF we can find a time that syncs up with 40 busy Columbia Business School first-year and second-year students.

New Year’s Eve at the Palladium in Mumbai (Photo credit: Sarah Nabahani, MBA 2015)

Going on this study tour through the Chazen Institute added a lot of value to my MBA experience that I wouldn’t have received otherwise through other international travel trips in business school (i.e. cluster trips, club treks).  The inside access provided by the Chazen Institute to CEOs and executives of multi-billion organizations and conglomerates and high ranking government officials were a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I won’t take for granted.

Photo Credit: Jan Bucher MBA 2015


A big thanks to the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business, the student organizers and consulting organizers Kushal Sanghrajka (MBA 2015), Surabhi Shastri (MBA 2015), Mimi Vavilala (MBA 2015), Karan Ahuja (MBA 2015), Divya Goenka (MBA 2016), Anuja Mehta (MBA 2015), the faculty members Vince Ponzo and Professor Suresh Sundaresan for leading and organizing such an amazing and life-changing trip to India!  I had the opportunity to see the country from the organizer’s own eyes and immerse myself with this diverse and different culture. The business meetings in various types of industry were enriching and insightful and I learned so much from these leaders who care so much about their companies and their country.

Until next time,

Iris Chen ’15

Lessons Learned from Business Meetings (Part 2 – Delhi)

Iris Chen ’15

Fortis Healthcare

Our first visit in Delhi was with Fortis Hospital in Gurgaon, the highest accredited hospital in the country.  We met with the COO of the hospital who gave us a presentation on the healthcare landscape in India.  Some statistics that I learned include:

  • India has 17% of the world’s population but 20% of the world’s disease burden, 7% of world’s doctors, and 5% of hospital beds
  • India’s healthcare market is projected to grow at a rate of 18%, significantly faster than the Western markets at 4%
  • Overall, India has 1.3 hospital beds per 1,000 people. The World Health Organization recommends 3.5. In comparison, the U.S. has 6-7 hospital beds per 1,000 people.
  • As a % of GDP, USA’s spend on healthcare is 4x compared to India’s
  • India has 0.7 doctors per 1,000 people; the recommended amount is 25
  • India has 60,000 hospitals; only 1% of them has 200 beds or more

The Indian healthcare market has many challenges ahead to catch up to the rest of the world. One of the issues noted is the huge imbalance of doctors in urban areas vs. rural areas.  It’s difficult for rural areas to attract doctors when the salary and standards of living are better for doctors in the cities.  And this fact is most unfortunate because the rural areas are in need of the most medical attention.

While there are improvements to be made in the healthcare system, there are a lot of advantages of Indian healthcare.  For example, India has significant advantage compared to other countries in terms of competitive pricing and higher productivity.  It costs $5k for a heart surgery in India (in the U.S., it is $100k).  A cardiac surgeon in India earns $200K per year doing 100 surgeries/month. U.S. cardiac surgeons earn $1.2M/year doing 25 surgeries/month.  With the significant low cost, medical tourism is growing in India.  I also learned about the medical operating system process standardization for Fortis where the hospital was able to optimize various internal processes to become even more efficient.

Standardization of processes at Fortis hospital


After the presentation, we did a tour of the facilities.  Since the bulk of the healthcare cost of the hospital is private (80% of people pay for healthcare out of pocket), you can definitely see where the financing went for the hospital. There was a relaxing/quiet area for patients before/after surgeries with comfortable seats, a food court, and even a movie theater that plays a couple of movies a day. It was like stepping into a 5-star resort for your hospital stay!


Lobby of Fortis Hospital
Fortis Hospital


Meeting with COO of Fortis Hospital



Our next meeting was with MakeMyTrip CEO and Founder, Rajesh Magow.  He talked about founding and growing the company in a time where the internet was just starting to boom in 2000.  In 2005, the company entered into a high growth phase and five years later in 2010, MakeMyTrip was made public.  MakeMyTrip has been the market leader for online travel since the very beginning and currently has a 47% market share in the online travel agency. 1 in 8 domestic travelers in India use MakeMyTrip to plan and buy their tickets to hotels, flights, trains, buses, and packages.  Currently, 35-40% of traffic comes from mobile as the Indian population buys more smartphones than any other device.  In his talk, Mr. Rajesh Magow truly believes that mobile will change the game in the future.

CBS Students at MakeMyTrip Headquarters with CEO Rajesh Magow

Meeting with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman
Our last meeting in the Chazen India Study Tour was with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of the Republic of India. Mr. Ahluwalia spoke about the past public policies of the government during his time in the Planning Commission.  Takeaways from his talk: Indian government’s priority of use of funds should be invested in education and healthcare.  Government should be pushing for public and private partnerships.  Initially, the government had a 40% subsidy and businesses would bid on the contract.  However, Mr. Ahluwalia believe that private businesses and the government should work together to help fuel the Indian economy. In terms of a reasonable growth rate of India, Mr. Ahulawalia believes that a 7.5-8% growth rate was reasonable for the future.  The Indian economy grew at a rate of 8.3% for several years before it slowed down.  However, there is still the big issue of income inequality in the country: median incomes have not grown for awhile and the gap between the rich and the poor is growing significantly.

Overall, this meeting was a great recap of what we learned throughout all our company meetings in India.  Investing in infrastructure, education, and healthcare are among the top concerns of all businesses and the government while still maintaining a healthy growth rate for the Indian economy.  There is still much to be done about the income disparity in the country, but at least the government acknowledges that this is a growing problem and it will be interesting to see how the new government party deals with this issue.

Last meeting with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman



Lessons Learned from Business Meetings (Part 1 – Mumbai)

Iris Chen ’15


Our first Chazen meeting was with Deepak Parekh, the Chairman of HDFC Bank Limited. HDFC is the fifth largest bank in India by assets and largest private sector bank in India by market capitalization.  Mr. Parekh is a trusted advisor of the government and the head of  a huge and well respected corporation (side note: in India, you are supposed to address officials as Mr. and Ms. as part of business etiquette).  I expected our meeting with Mr. Parekh to be very formal and conservative, but I was pleasantly surprised about how open and honest he was.  As an advisor to the government, he talked about the recent government change in the last few months and the given first budget coming up from the full government.  There is a Make in India initiative–manufacturing used to be 30-40% of GDP and now it is 12%, which is the reason why the Indian government is pushing manufacturing to improve jobs in India.  Mr. Parekh emphasized investing and manufacturing, and expects more foreign direct investments from the U.S. (especially in defense) over the next couple of years.  It was fascinating to hear the viewpoints of such a prominent figure in the Indian government.

CBS students with Deepak Parekh, Chairman of HDFC

Future Group

Future Group is a private Indian conglomerate that focuses on retail stores, fashion, food manufacturing, and CPG.  While CEO Kishore Biyani could not make it due to a family emergency, we still met with the VP of strategy and communications who gave us the history of Future Group and the way the company expanded from a small shopping mall in 1999 in Mumbai to a a huge conglomerate of consumer products.  Future Group learned to integrate the look, touch, and feel of Indian bazaars with that of modern retail.  For example, customers prefer buying some products loose like grains of rice and the company implemented the same shopping technique into its stores.  Through this presentation, I learned that it is very challenging for any company to understand all consumers in India. There are so many cultures, religions, languages, income levels in the country and in order to be successful, a company has to match all these requirements.  Future Group learned to overcome these challenges in many ways–for example, the company celebrates 72 festivals every year since every festival in India is an opportunity for consumption. Before this meeting, I didn’t understand the many problems that Indian businesses faced when trying to expand throughout the country.


All Future Group locations in India


Tata Sons

I was very excited about our meeting with Tata Sons.  I had heard and read so much about the conglomerate Tata Group, but never had the opportunity to experience any products or services firsthand.  We met with R. Gopalakrishnan, the Director of Tata Sons, at the Taj President Hotel, which, not-surprisingly, is owned by Tata.  So to all the readers out there who don’t know what Tata is all about (I had never heard about the company before business school), Tata Group is an Indian multinational conglomerate with seven business sectors: communications and information technology, engineering, materials , services, energy, consumer products and chemicals.  It is also the most trusted company in India and is family-owned. The company is also highly philanthropic with many endowments and philanthropic trusts and is very well respected in the business community.  The meeting was very enlightening and it was wonderful to hear R. Gopalakrishnan talk about the business from when it was founded in 1868 to present time.  I learned that while Tata is in a lot of industries, it will not invest in alcohol, beer, movies, or defense (making bombs or guns) because these sectors are not part of their philosophy.  Throughout the Chazen India study tour, I noticed that the Tata logo was everywhere from the water and masala tea I drank ever morning (Himalayan Water and Tetley Sons), to the automobiles on the street (manufactured by Tata), to the hospitals we toured in India.

IMG_5834 IMG_5836


CBS Chazen India MBA students meeting with R. Gopalakrishnan, Director of Tata Sons

“At Tata, it’s not what you speak but what you do.” – R. Gopalakrishnan

Unilazer Ventures and UTV Media

We had a last minute meeting with Ronnie Screwvala, Founder of Unilazer Ventures, a private equity company, and UTV Media, a media and entertainment company owned by The Walt Disney Company. Ronnie spoke about his successes and failures as an early entrepreneur in India, and the challenges of finding a media company and growing it substantially to be eventually bought by Disney.

CBS students with Ronnie Screwvala, Founder of Unilazer Ventures and UTV Media


Tata Memorial Hospital

Our meeting at Tata Memorial Hospital was with Dr. Shastri, the head of the oncology department at the hospital and one of the Chazen organizer’s family members.  Tata Memorial Hospital is a specialist treatment center for cancer and is regarded as one of the leading cancer centers in India.  Dr. Shastri explained one of the cases that was conducted in the hospital–the hospital conducted cost effective cervical cancer screening by “visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA)” test.  The test was effective in reducing cervical cancer mortality rate to low income women.  I was very impressed by the numerous cost effective methods that this hospital invented to treat low-income patients.



Our last meeting in Mumbai was with the Dabbawalas in Mumbai.  They came to the Tata Memorial Hospital to present and as I mentioned in my previous post, I was most excited to visit the Dabbawalas.  I was most interesting in learning how the company is able to acheive six sigma efficiency through their everyday delivery. We met with a spokesperson from the organization as well as three actual dabbawalas. Through this meeting, I learned that there is standard pricing for all meals irrespective of weight, distance, and shape of each meal.  Dabbawalas earn around 7,000-8,000 INR ($113-$129 USD) per month. There has also been zero strikes in the company since each dabbawala is a shareholder of the company.  I learned that each dabbawala group is like family; they eat together everyday (no one starts eating their lunch until all members of the group are present), work together, and if one person makes a mistake, then the entire team must join together and take ownership of the mistake.  Most of these dabbawalas are illiterate and come from low income backgrounds, but they are committed and passionate about working as a dabbawala.

I asked the question, “Are there any female Dabbawalas?” The answer surprised me since there are female dabbawalas. While the work is very laborious, if the weight is too heavy, other members of the team will help the other team members.  The same goes for older Dabbawalas who can’t carry too much weight.

I came into the meeting with Dabbawalas with questions and curiosities.  I left the meeting with much more respect and understanding.

Management Principles of Dabbawalas
CBS students with the Dabbawalas


Mumbai, and Jaipur, and Agra! Oh My!

Iris Chen ’15

Greetings from Agra, home of the magnificent Taj Mahal and one of the seven wonders of the world!  It’s been a little less than a week since my arrival in India, and I can’t believe that I have experienced so much of the country already from both business executive meetings and cultural tourism experiences. This blog post will concentrate on the cultural learnings of India, while my next post will dive deeper into the business meetings at Mumbai and Delhi.


This morning, we took a 4 hour bus ride from Jaipur to Agra where we watched the Bollywood historical drama film “Jodhaa Akbar“, which talks about the 16th century marriage alliance between the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar and the Hindu Rajput princess Jodhaa. While the film did contain overdramatic acting and a drawn out interaction between the two main characters, Jodhaa Akbar did teach me a valuable history lesson about the rule of the Mughal emperor: he tolerated of all religions in Hindustan, helping shape the acceptance of all religions in modern day India.  There are so many Islamic and Hindu influences throughout the country of India and it is fascinating to see two different religions portrayed in a somewhat accurate historical film. One of the organizers informed me Bollywood movies are such an integral part of Indian culture; people from all income levels all over the country will go see the latest Bollywood film in the movie theater.  Even if the citizens make little money, they will still save up just to see a Bollywood film.  Now I can see why–the movies are such a feel-good and entertaining distraction from real life!

After we arrived in the Taj Mahal, our tour guide explained that the mausoleum was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, grandson of Akbar, to commemorate the death of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal during the birth of their 14th child.  Her dying wish?  For the emperor to build something to remember her. He did just that, and apparently it took 22 years to complete the Taj Mahal.

CBS Chazen India at the Taj Mahal (photo cred: Jaime Rodriguez Macias)



On our first night in Jaipur, we went to eat at the Garden Restaurant at the Heritage Hotel.  Once we arrived, we were escorted to this beautiful outdoor seating area that was lighted by fire pits.  There was a stage for dancers and on the side, a tent set up for a puppet show.  One of our very own was drafted by the host to come up to the stage and dance.  He even agreed to put on the horse costume and blow the horn while other lady volunteers spun bowls on their head. We feasted on chicken tandoori that was made fresh off the outside grill.  Overall, a fun first night in Jaipur.

Photo featuring Jon Ragins


Yesterday, we went sightseeing around the city Jaipur, the capital of the Indian state Rajasthan. We started off the day with visiting Amer Fort, a structure situated high up in the mountain. There is a serpentine staircase that leads up to the entrance of the fort, and the mode of transportation available to us was to ride the elephants!

Outside view of Amer Fort

Video credit: Cailin Bigham

Our tour guide explained to us the history of the Amer Fort (also known as Amer Palace) – it was used by the Rajput Maharajas as residences for themselves and for their families. Amer Fort is known for its artistic and architectural style of Hindu elements and influences.  In the movie Jodhaa Akbar, the princess is from Amer Fort in Rajput and practices the Hindu religion.  The fort itself is a work of wonder with so many intricacies in its design and craftsmanship.


CBS in front of the Ganesh Pol, or the entrances to the private palaces of the Maharajas
Maharaja courtyard
Cobra snake charmers outside Amer Fort

In the afternoon, we toured Jantar Mantar, a site with 13 architectural astronomy instruments/sundials.  These devices were built in the 17th century and apparently, the world’s largest sundial is located at the cultural site!


World’s Largest Sundial

Lastly, we ended the day of sightseeing at City Palace, a palace complex that was used by the Maharaja of Jaipur.  Currently, the palace houses a museum that features artifacts from the age of the Maharajas.

City Palace


It’s been a fun couple of days of sightseeing in India!  From this trip alone, I learned so much about the history of India.  It’s been such an exhilarating trip of a lifetime thus far, and I’m so blessed to spend it with my classmates at Columbia Business School. Almost all of us have never been to India before, and we are experiencing this new and different culture for the first time, together as a group.  It’s nice to compare our interactions with the locals (some of the locals and fascinated by and tend to want a picture with the blondes and the red-heads in our group), our negotiation skills with bartering in the bazaars (BATNA anyone?), and the tastes of each local food (be careful: you are what you eat).  Tomorrow, we are off to Delhi for a couple of days of business meetings and networking events before the Chazen tour officially ends!

Getting Ready for Chazen India

Iris Chen ’15

What do you get when you combine 37 CBS students, 2 faculty members, and 7 organizers?  A trip of a lifetime to India!  Exactly three months ago on September 23rd, 2014, I found out that I was going to India over winter break through the Chazen International Study Tour program.  India has been one of the top places I’ve been wanting to visit, and I’m so excited for this opportunity through Columbia Business School.

I’ve had three months to prepare for my trip through health assessments, vaccines, pre-departure meetings, and applying for my visa.  On my travel assessment, I received a Hepatitis A shot, my 10-year tetanus booster, typhoid pills, malaria pills, and antibiotics.  Safe to say, I’m ready (health-wise) for my trip to start!

Chazen India takes place from Saturday December 27th, 2014 and ends on Wednesday January 7th, 2015.  We will start in the south of India in Mumbai and then we will fly north to Jaipur, drive to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and will officially end in Delhi.  My trip will end in Delhi, but many students will continue their journey to Goa, a Western city known for its beaches, places of worship, and world heritage architecture.

The following is a list of companies we’ll be visiting on our trip:

HDFC Bank Limited, the fifth largest Indian banking and financial services company by assets headquartered in Mumbai.

MakeMyTrip Inc., an online travel company headquartered in Gurgaon, Haryana that provides online travel services including flight tickets, domestic and international holiday packages, hotel reservations, rail and bus tickets.

Zomato is an online restaurant discovery guide providing information on home delivery, dining-out, cafes and nightlife in major cities.


I am most looking forward to the visit to the Dabbawalas office to learn about the delivery system of hundreds of thousands of meals per day in Mumbai.  A dabbawala is a person in India, most commonly in Mumbai, who is part of a delivery system that collects hot food in lunch boxes from the residences of workers in the late morning, delivers the lunches to the workplace utilizing various modes of transport, and returns the empty boxes to the customer’s residence that afternoon.  I first learned about the Dabbawalas from Professor Singh’s Operations Strategy class. Here’s a video that explains the Dabbawala’s vastly complex operation:

Fortis Healthcare Limited (FHL) is a leading, pan Asia-Pacific, integrated healthcare delivery provider.

Tata Group is a family-owned Indian multinational conglomerate company founded in 1868 and headquartered in Mumbai.  It encompasses seven business sectors: communications and information technology, engineering, materials, services, energy, consumer products and chemicals.  It has over 100 operating companies, each running independently, in more than 80 countries across six continents.

A couple of weeks ago, we had our final pre-departure meeting with the Chazen organizers (see picture below).  We learned about travel precautions, expectations, business etiquette, dress code, and several local phrases including the traditional “namaste” greeting.  The organizers did a wonderful job planning every aspect of the study tour, including the New Year’s Eve party in Mumbai!  It will be very exciting to tour India through both the local and global perspective.  I’m so lucky that I have classmates around the world who can plan these amazing trips in their home countries, and hope that I can learn a lot more about their culture once I’m there.

Chazen India Organizers from L to R: Mimi Vavilala, Karan Ahuja, Kusha Sanghrajka, and Surabhi Shastri (not pictured: Divya Goenka and Anuja Mehta)
Chazen India Organizers from L to R: Mimi Vavilala, Karan Ahuja, Kushal Sanghrajka, and Surabhi Shastri (not pictured: Divya Goenka, Anuja Mehta, and Amber Liang)

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for more blog updates!

Lessons in Reverse Innovation


Visit to Bharti Airtel

The theme of this year’s Chazen India trip is “reverse innovation,” and prior to our trip, the class spent time researching innovative products and solutions developed in India for possible export to the US market, as well as participating in a design simulation workshop. While in Mumbai and Bangalore, we’ve had the opportunity to visit senior leaders at roughly a dozen companies to learn about their approaches to innovation. I’ll highlight a few of those visits here.

We began our visits at a division of Monitor/Deloitte called Monitor Inclusive Markets, a mission-driven group with the goal to make market-based solutions work in areas such as affordable housing, mobile payment systems, and clean cookstoves. In terms of housing, a huge number of people are moving from rural to urban India and this presents a large opportunity for developers – as well as a challenge to provide homes that provide people with what they aspire to have, at an affordable price, and with appropriate financing options. In terms of marketing clean and safe cookstoves, the cultural context provides a wrinkle in that the wife’s health often isn’t prioritized; successful ads have instead included depictions of sons suffering from the pollution from a traditional stove. (To note: gender relations have come a long way from issues such as the banned practice of sati, in which a recently widowed woman would immolate herself on her husband’s funeral pyre). One of Monitor’s many insights was that in the social enterprise space, people typically think about products, but “it takes a lot more than a great product to scale” because you have to contend with entrenched customer behaviors. They’ve found that “innovation is about the business model, and scaling it.”

Probably no visit to India is complete without a visit to Tata Group. The Tata Nano, with its claim to fame as the cheapest car in the world, has been the subject of business school case studies, and I was lucky enough to meet Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata when he visited Columbia this past fall. In terms of a few takeaways from this visit, I found it particularly interesting that the cross-functional teams working to develop the Nano were 28 years old on average – the company was conscious that “past experience of older employees would have to be unlearned.” Some additional insights from the Nano’s mixed success were that in retrospect, the car’s development maybe should have been quieter – while the hype put Tata on the map, they encountered significant delays before they could start selling to their target customers. Additionally, they learned to modify their original brand positioning to portray a more “fun” car, as India is a very aspirational society. Consumers didn’t want to feel that the car was cheap (vs. affordable) and perhaps “incomplete.”


Latest Nano ads (source: company website)

We went to Godrej Industries to learn about the Chotukool, a low-cost refrigerator. Their philosophy starts with “a noble mind: 80% of families can’t afford refrigerators in India, but they aspire to have a cooling solution to meet their specific and different needs.” The team shared how they have developed and tweaked the product over the years, and a lesson that we took away from that visit were that when creating a disruptive innovation you have to keep away from a “features” mindset; they’ve been very frugal in their developments and make sure that any features that they add are necessary, as opposed to “nice to have.” For instance, the product is a bit heavy, but they decided not to add wheels due to the additional cost that they would have to pass on to the consumer. Additionally, the company had a significant business breakthrough in their public-private partnership with the India Post, which provides them with an excellent distribution system.


Demonstration of the Chotukool refrigerator


A small group of us interested in innovations in wind energy met with Suzlon Energy

We met with Harsh Mariwala, CEO of Marico, which is a CPG company focused on providing select products (such as hair oils) in locations where they can be profitable and hold a market leadership position. Their approach seems highly pragmatic in an industry that has a lot of global players and tends to be low margin. Mariwala emphasized the importance of culture building; theirs is “very open, equal, transparent, participatory, and empowering,” and he strongly attributes the company’s success to this. He shared about one of their innovations, which was to create a plastic container for their coconut oils, which had up to this point been kept in more expensive metal containers to keep away mice. Distributors initially balked when Marico wanted to move to a plastic container, but the Marico team tested different plastic bottles in a mouse cage, found a design that worked, and today 100% of the market players use plastic bottles.


Tiny 2-rupee bottles of hair oil targeted at low-income customers

We later met with Manish Sabharwal, CEO of HR services TeamLease, to learn about his work within “the agony and ecstasy of India’s labor market.” Corporate India has been lowering its hiring standards, so this gives many new people access to the labor force, but opportunities are not available in every location or due to family status. Given the large population increase and demographic transitions (people moving from farms to non-farm living, schools to work, rural to urban, and subsistence to surplus, etc.) there is a growing population of young people who have little chance of finding a job. TeamLease provides solutions, for instance, in that it offers low-cost, basic training to make people more employable for temporary jobs, which could turn into full-time opportunities. The benefit for the companies is that they can test out employees.

The challenge in all of this work? It’s kind of illegal. Sabharwal spends 30% of his time working with public policy leaders to effect change in India’s labor laws and noted that there are hundreds of lawsuits against him, but he is clearly very passionate about the work he is doing.

This meeting was one of the most fun visits because Sabharwal is a fantastic storyteller. Some of his best lines:

“As an entrepreneur, there are two kinds of companies you can create: a baby and a dwarf. (The difference being that the former can grow)

“Entrepreneurship is the art of staying alive long enough to get lucky.”

“The biggest challenge in public policy is when everyone agrees with you.”

“India doesn’t have an ideas deficit; it has an execution deficit.”

All useful things to ponder.


TeamLease office


Visit to Innovation Alchemy

Our last visit was with the founders of TutorVista, impressive entrepreneurs who have had several successful exits. (It’s safe to say that we were all paying very close attention to them!) TutorVista is an online tutoring service in which Indian teachers with masters’ or PhD degrees teach students in the US who can’t afford private tutoring, at a flat rate of $100/month. Sounds straightforward, and there are definitely other companies in this space, but their competitors tend to target the lucrative but much smaller market for wealthy and struggling students, whereas TutorVista’s disruption is that they “ensure that everyone can be their customer.” Indeed, the company is even working with US schools that need to comply with the No Child Left Behind act, and they’ve carefully thought through issues such as disintermediation. I was lucky to grow up with an identical twin – e.g. instant study buddy – but I could picture myself taking advantage of such an easy-to-use tutoring service growing up, had it been available.

There is so much more that I could include here, but I’ll leave it at that before this blog becomes too long. The company visits were a valuable opportunity to learn more about innovation in India, and there’s a large stack of follow-up reading I’d like to do in this subject area if the time permits! I’ll post another blog later this week with impressions of Mumbai, Bangalore, and the trip experience as a whole.

Krista Sande-Kerback ‘14

Preparing for Chazen India

I’m Krista Sande-Kerback ’14, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to blog for this year’s Chazen Global Immersion class to India!  I arrived in Mumbai late last night after close to 24 hours of travel, and after months of anticipating this trip, I am grateful to be here.

Columbia’s business school curriculum offers a significant number of case studies on companies’ strategies in India, and I’ve personally done some business with Indian companies and volunteer organizations over the years (consulting for outsourcing/offshoring projects and running the regional chapters for a global professional women’s network).  This is my first time visiting the country itself, however, as is the case for most of the students in the group.  I know that we are all looking forward to taking everything in, from sightseeing and experiencing the local culture in Mumbai and Bangalore, to participating in a dozen company visits, to sampling the cuisine, and more.

Our 30-person class has done extensive preparation in advance of our trip: applying for visas, obtaining shots and malaria pills, and participating in classes and group research leading up to our week-long in-country immersion.  We’ve been on semester break for the last month and some students arrived in India early to travel to other regions, so it will be great to exchange stories tonight over dinner.  The topic guiding the course itself is “reverse innovation.” The concept is that innovations can and may increasingly be adopted first in a cash-constrained, entrepreneurial environment in the developing world and then migrate to wealthier countries, as opposed to the “traditional” trajectory which works the other way around.   In our first three sessions, we heard from practitioners implementing these solutions in industries such as healthcare, and participated in a design simulation.  A major takeaway was that although it’s often believed that free, open, unconstrained solutions produce the most creativity, research shows that sometimes constraints lead to the most creative and success results.

Through group research projects, we’re exploring successful Indian innovations that could be adapted for the US market.  Our work expands on what we learned in the Marketing core curriculum, in that we need to dig deep to understand what drives success in the Indian market, determine what segment(s) of the US could be profitably targeted, and then figure out how to market to these consumers.

Our first group activity, a tour of the massive Dharavi slum (which features prominently in a number of films such as “Slumdog Millionaire”), will start in about an hour.  I’ve just spent the past week on campus immersed in another block week course on the “marketing of luxury products,” which featured meetings with executives from some of the most exclusive global brands.  I’m sure that experience will provide a fascinating juxtaposition to what we’re about to encounter in this country known for its huge contrasts.

More to come very soon!

Krista Sande-Kerback ‘14