Business students inspired by a passage to India

Widget Finn reports on a self-funded trip to study innovation and enterprise

India is, for some, the new Silicon Valley. When a group of MBA students at Cambridge Judge Business School was offered the opportunity to learn first hand about innovation, they chose to study emerging markets in India rather than the more familiar high-tech industries of California.

The 17-strong group had to plan and fund the trip themselves. "That was part of the deal," says Dr Shailendra Vyakarnam, director of the school's Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning. "Organising it was a useful entrepreneurial experience, and they invested a huge amount of energy in the project."

Vyakarnam provided the underpinning of academic learning which made the trip more than just an interesting week away. "I wanted them to understand entrepreneurship in a different environment, get a feel for the pace, and observe high growth in a marketplace where there's constantly something new and different."

Ankur Bisen, who worked for the Tata Group in India for 10 years, led the trip with fellow MBA student Stephanie Leung, identifying and contacting business leaders in small and medium-sized enterprises which had innovative business models. "We wanted to meet the founders of these organisations," says Bisen, "and targeted companies which had started in different decades over 40 years in a range of sectors including hospitality, media, banking, outsourcing and retail."

The students researched in pairs a founder chief executive and their company, then presented their findings to the class and to Anil Verma from the High Commission of India, London. "Mr Verma contributed comments and analysis, and pushed us to ask even more relevant questions when we met the founders. Doing our research before arriving in India gave us a head start in understanding their viewpoint," says Bisen.

Leung describes the experience of India as overwhelming. "You're hit by the sheer volume of people in India – a society of 1.1 billion people trying to function. We observed that the founder CEOs not only see the individual opportunities for growth in a fast-changing and heavily populated society, but also have a unique ability to see the big picture."

The students agree that the most important lesson of the trip was discovering that the textbook way of doing things doesn't always apply to real life – particularly in a developing marketplace. Moyosola Okoye, formerly Procter & Gamble's head of marketing for Southern and Eastern Africa, found contradictions in the two approaches.

"In the classroom, we were taught an exit strategy was essential when writing a business plan. In India, there isn't necessarily a plan at all, and the norm is to keep your business in the family, passing it on to the next generation. We were also taught that planned growth should be a key part of strategy, but many Indians are content to create employment for themselves and their family, without moving up to the next stage of expansion. Business school showed us the advanced way of doing things, India showed us a practical and low-tech approach."

Why were the chief executives prepared to spend up to three hours with a group of students from the UK? William Bissell, managing director and son of the founder of Fabindia, a home furnishing and fashion retailer, says he enjoys meeting students. "I find their questions stimulating, and feel we have a responsibility to show them an alternative way of doing things.

"Fabindia was established 50 years ago to sell products made by rural craftsman using traditional techniques. We have developed a business model of inclusive capitalism through community-owned companies where the producers own a minimum of 26 per cent of the company's shares."

Patu Keswani, founder and chairman of Lemon Tree Hotels, was keen to talk to the students about opportunities for entrepren-eurs in India. "Often it is the culture which enables entrepreneurship. Our economy has become an enabling environment and is conducive to creating new businesses. By visiting our country, students get the sights, smells and sounds of how India does business – it's a sensual experience."

Keswani identified a classic gap in the market – middle-priced hotels with high standards of service and comfort. Basing his business on asking what customers wanted, he has established a leading hotel chain catering for business and holiday clients.

The research which the Judge students put in ahead of their trip paid dividends. At Fabindia, Leung asked Bissell detailed questions about the challenges of running a family-based business, and explored with the founder of Lemon Tree Hotels how his company grew so quickly and successfully, ahead of competitors.

"The hotel group is slick and corporate, Fabindia is strong on ethics, and the two entrepreneurs contrasted strongly in their visions of growth, market and what they wanted for their company in the long term," she says. "Though so different, they are both visionaries who are respected as leading entrepreneurs in India, and their organisations reflect their own personalities and values."

Bissell has a message for business students from the West who are choosing India, China and other emerging markets as a real-life study option. "India is flavour of the month, and ticks the current business boxes, but some students aren't coming to see what we're really good at, which is innovating at low cost. Frugal innovation should be the focus of their visits. To get the most out of their trip, students should study a particular company beforehand, as the Judge group did, and start to understand the issues."

Bisen claims the tour was the most rewarding experience of the Judge MBA programme. "We were given a unique insight into nine successful and innovative companies, and made invaluable contacts. Some of our students were from emerging economies and will take back what they learnt to apply it in practical situations."

For Vyakarnam, such tours can expand career options. "Visiting students see the many issues that need solving, and high-calibre informed MBA graduates can contribute a huge amount to the future of these emerging markets."

'Our visit fired me up to try out new ideas'

Angharad Parry, a London-based barrister working in commercial arbitration, has long been interested in business.

"I decided to do an MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School to understand my clients' interests and to expand my own law practice as a successful business," she says.

Many of her clients are based in the Middle East and the Far East, so she jumped at the chance to be part of the student group from Judge which travelled to India.

"The goodwill among our hosts was fantastic. My CV mentioned I was a lawyer, and when we visited The Sona Group the head of the legal department was brought in specifically to talk to me."

At a meeting with Dr Prannoy Roy, chairman of NDTV, Parry was impressed by his innovative approach. "He explained the linguistic class divisions which favour news media in English for middle-class viewers to bring in higher advertising revenue. Dr Roy is developing news channels in local languages which will reshape the media landscape in India.

"Our visit fired me up to try out new ideas."

Sport
Louis van Gaal
football
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Recruitment Consultant (Trainee / Experienced)

£18000 - £27000 per annum + doe OTE £45K: SThree: SThree are always looking fo...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Graphic Designer

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Largest Independent Motor D...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own