UVA Darden MBAs Converge on India for Hands-on Look at Booming Economy

By Dave Hendrick

University of Virginia Darden School of Business students and faculty dug deep into Indian business culture in January, as students from all three MBA formats came together in India to learn more about one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

As the Global MBA for Executives (GEMBA) Class of 2016 students immersed themselves in their final international residency, they were joined by First and Second Year students from the residential MBA and MBA for Executives (EMBA) engaged in a Global Business Experience (GBE) offered by the Darden Center for Global Initiatives.

The GEMBA cohort, which divided its Indian residencies between Mumbai and Delhi, immersed themselves in the business and cultural life of the country in a number of ways, meeting with corporate executives such as private equity leader Rajan Mehra (MBA ’93), touring factories and taking in some of the country’s best-known sites.

Darden Professors Raj Venkatesan, Robert Carraway, Tim Laseter and Scott Snell taught the GEMBA cohort in India.

GEMBA student David Maruna (Class of 2016) said the cohort saw more of India than he would have thought possible during their two-week residency, and cited interactions with corporate leaders at Coca-Cola and The Times of India as among the highlights.

“In India, we were exposed to many lumps that exist in global business,” Maruna said. “The mazes of local vendors, miles of traffic, complicated distribution networks and cultural disparities in everything from housing to financial inclusion create memories that underscore everything you study in the distance classroom. Similar to how the case study method forces you to think differently, and thereby deepen your learning, adding in the sights, sounds and smells of a foreign land becomes part of the glue that makes insights about global business really stick with you.”

Maruna said the students, which included both GEMBAS and the GBE group, learned about the reintroduction of the Coca-Cola brand in the 1990s following the company’s 17-year absence from the country.

Sumanta Datta, the vice president of operations for Coca-Cola India, led what Maruna called a “phenomenal” Q&A session, with Datta saying the Indian Coke leadership has full authority from Coke’s global headquarters to “do what is right for India.” At the Times, the students learned how the brand is positioning itself and its business model in the 21st century, becoming one of the few print products that still enjoys growth.

As part of a marketing course, the cohort also conducted on-the-ground market research, interviewing locals to gain insight into purchasing habits.

Maruna said the hands-on, local interactions have been a hallmark of the GEMBA program, with case studies typically coming alive with the assistance of the case’s protagonist or executives from companies featured in the case and classroom discussions made clearer by observations on the ground.

The Global Business Experience, led by Professor Casey Lichtendahl, focused on “Big Data & Technology” in India, with students gaining a close-up look at the role information science plays in a rapidly developing nation.

The GBE group spent the first four days of their trip in Bangalore, which is commonly referred to as the “Silicon Valley of India” due to the concentration of tech companies in the fast-growing city of 8.5 million. The Bangalore leg of the trip included meetings with executives from various technology firms, including Amazon, Flipkart, and Ola, as well as a discussion with faculty and students at the Indian Institute of Management.

Megan Vorland (Class of 2016) said the experiences helped make clear the unique opportunities and challenges in the country as it increasingly develops its workforce and builds a startup ecosystem.

“Putting the size of the population into perspective was a key aspect,” Vorland said. “India was a very exciting place to visit right now in its development.”

During a four-day stay in Delhi, the group dissected the role of government and public policy in Indian commerce, engaged with executives from companies such as Yatra.com and Vodafone, and enjoyed an all-day cultural excursion to historic sites, including the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri.

In Delhi, the GBE students met up with the GEMBA cohort for select joint sessions and industry speakers, marking the rare occasion when students from all MBA formats were together on the same international program.

The combined group also met up for a social event welcoming alumni, faculty, admitted students and current students at the family home of businessman VN Dalmia (MBA ’84).

“It was energizing to have students from all three MBA formats together in India — learning together, gaining important insights from dialogue with key business leaders, developing new shared understanding of this important country, and engaging with our alumni and global Darden community,” said Marc Johnson, executive director for global affairs at Darden. “With the largest gathering to-date of Darden students, faculty and alumni in India, this represents another milestone in our increasing engagement with this critical part of the world.”

Darden professors were featured in a number of media stories during the trip, including Venkatesan discussing new frontiers in marketing, Carraway dissecting organizational culture and decision making, and Professor Saras Sarasvathy on how India can become a startup nation.

Asia-Pacific, Fortune 500
About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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