As I sit on a train en route to the Taj Mahal, I finally have a moment to reflect on the roller coaster of emotions my fellow classmates and I experienced in Mumbai. On 31 March, a group of 75 London Business School MBA students from over 50 countries landed in Mumbai, India for the Global Business Experience (GBE).
The GBE is a week-long compulsory academic trip recently introduced into London Business School’s core curriculum. This business-immersion experience was the highlight of our two years at London Business School and one of the most memorable trips of my lifetime. The opportunity to view India through a variety of lenses gave me and my classmates insights far removed from common recreational visits.
A memorable moment involved a guided visit through Dharavi - the largest slum in Asia by density. Our preconceptions on urban poverty were immediately challenged as our first glance of the community involved a thriving high street and businesses operating at maximum capacity. Despite the issues of overcrowding, all necessary elements of a thriving community were present - commerce, health centres, housing, recreation, etc. As one of our speakers during the week pointed out, Dharavi is not a case study for urban poverty but rather a successful example of community-based solutions to overcome it.
As part of our cultural immersion we also had the opportunity to participate in the festival of Holi. Well-armed with coloured powders and fully clad in white clothing we walked out to the esplanade in front of the Gateway of India. An explosion of colours followed. Students and local children alike smiled as a full colour palette flew through the air and painted our clothing. For a couple of minutes a crowd of MBA students painted from head to toe in yellow, green, blue, red became the hottest attraction in town as locals and tourists alike snapped pictures by the hundreds.
The most powerful moment of our trip focused on a much more serious matter involving our host venue, The Taj Mahal Palace. While a century of luminaries have paraded the rooms of the hotel (Churchill and Lennon, to name a few), the hotel is better remembered for the hostage crisis it suffered five years ago. The group CEO and the hotel manager openly told their stories of those solemn 72 hours.
While most of us had to fight back the tears while viewing footage of the horrific events, our lasting memory will not be of acts of terrorism, but rather of the heroic staff of the Taj. Over 500 employees worked at the hotel at the start of the attack and not a single one fled the premises. Rather employees stayed inside the premises to help guests to safety. To interact with these heroes and hear their stories was a privilege.
The stories could go on and on. Suffice it to say that London Business School’s Global Business Experience program was truly the academic highlight of my MBA programme. The opportunity to understand the second largest country in the world from a variety of business, cultural, and political angles will no doubt mark all 75 of us for years to come.