Thoughts on the Indian School of Business [October 2007]

Note: This post was originally set to be published in October 2007.

This past October I had the pleasure of attending a course on Venture Capital at the Indian School of Business (ISB). The six day course served as much as a refresher in finance for me as an opportunity to expand my understanding of the current business environment in India – of course, the networking opportunity was also exceptional.

A World Class Facility

HyderabadI’ve been on several college campuses in India, but none quite compares to the ‘island’ that is ISB. Built about seven years ago, and with as little government intervention as is possible in India, the 260 acre campus is walled off from the rest of Greater Hyderabad. Inside these walls is a fully contained academic campus, including student, faculty, and staff residences. The place has a resort like quality, but it is clearly a temple to modern management as well. Those of us who were students of executive education classes were provided with excellent accommodations at the hotel located inside the gates of the campus. We also had superb dining at the executive cafe. The classrooms, at least those for executive education, are on par with the best amphitheater style classrooms that I’ve seen at the leading American institutions. We had very long days, nights during the class [which was surprisingly rigorous] and we always felt attended to. Even the smallest of requests were fulfilled quickly. For that, the staff at ISB should be commended. [Above picture is from the entrance of the library].

A World Class EducationHyderabad

The VC course was taught by to professors from the London School of Business [LSB], John Mullins and Antony Ross. Both were exceptional, and employed the classic case study method that is the hallmark of many western business schools. ISB was founded on the premise of becoming a globally recognized leader in management education and research. This is reflected in the schools affiliations with LSB, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School. [UPDATE: It looks like that global focus is paying dividends, as ISB has just received a Top 20 ranking by the Financial Times :link to Rashmi Bansal’s story]. While I didn’t get a chance to sit in on the regular courses at ISB, I did have an opportunity to meet with a professor friend who left the United States to join the faculty at ISB. He reiterated the deep focus on establishing the standard bearer for management education in India.

A great experience

The last thing that most people think of when planning a vacation is adding long nights and long days of financial case study into the mix. After spending time at ISB back in October, having the chance to meet some fascinating people, and getting polished on the fundamentals of structured finance, I’m convinced it was the best part of my month in India!

Ginger, nice hotels done right in India

Note: This post was originally scheduled for October 2007.

Ginger HotelsOne of the nice things about business travel in the US is finding a certain level of consistency in places to stay. Yes, the Courtyards and Hampton Inns are not the most exciting places to stay, but you generally know what you are going to get when you stay there. The same can’t be said, however, of the business traveler class of hotels in India until recently. Enter Ginger. One of the many enterprises of the Tata Group, the Ginger hotel chain has begun to spring up throughout India. I spent the night in a Ginger hotel in Pune this past October. It was a nice experience.

Designed for Business Travelers

Right from the modest entrance, equipped with luggage carts and an ATM machine, the Ginger chain of hotels is designed to be lean and efficient. You can check in the traditional way at the desk, or you have the option to use a self service kiosk – a nice touch. The kiosk also prints out local weather forecasts and other items as well. Also, unlike many places in India there is adequate parking and security. The rooms are very clean and equipped with small HDTVs, Air conditioning, and a nice sized desk to work from. The entire hotel is wifi internet enabled, with free wifi – they chose not to charge like many of the American hotels do. Adjacent to the lobby is a small in-house restaurant called ‘The Square Meal’. I didn’t get to sample any food there, but it looked adequate for a quick bite to eat. All this for a one night stay in the Rs.1600-1800 range ($40-$45). Not Bad!Ginger Hotels

Despite the attractive price point, and the quality of amenities, I’ve been told that the hotel chain has yet to catch on with the traveling businessman in India. It could be that they’ve developed a solution for a market that hasn’t arrived yet. Generally, if you have a travel related job in India, you are on two ends of the scale. There are those who are bouncing throughout India with a nice travel budget and only stay at ‘five star’ hotels. These tend to be the private businessmen, MNC employees, or government jobholders. The other end of the scale are the road salesmen, the laboring class travelers who tend to rely on the guest houses near train stations or the like. Ginger, however, is for the middle manager, someone who is traveling for work but is on a strict budget. I think that this group hasn’t yet arrived in India on a large enough scale to matter. The Tatas tend to see trends far ahead of many, so I hope their foray into business travel is given enough time to succeed.

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Mumbai’s new domestic terminal [October 2007]

Note: This post was originally set to be published in October 2007. Several of the following posts are finally making it online, after some technical (and other) issues over the last two months.

I don’t frequent Bombay (Mumbai) that often, I haven’t really avoided the city, rather it’s never been high on my priority list. Obviously, the city is on the cutting edge of all that is happening in India, but it was strictly by chance that I flew into Mumbai from the US this [past] October. My original plans had called for a brief stay in Mumbai, and then to fly directly into Hyderabad to attend a class on Venture Capital at the Indian School of Business. Those plans changed, as I was unable to get several meetings setup in Mumbai for the two days before the jaunt down south. So, after arriving into Mumbai International, I decided that I’d quickly hop on a morning flight to Jaipur and join my wife and her family there for a brief stay.

mumbaiSince most international flights arrive into India around or past midnight, and the earliest domestic flights begin to depart around 6.00am, I did what most wary travelers do, I decided to wait it out at the domestic terminal of the Mumbai Airport. This isn’t the best choice, but trying to get to a hotel in the middle of the night for two or three hours of sleep on a bed isn’t usually worth the hassle. Before reaching the new domestic terminal, I was expecting the usual, filthy, run down, quasi-train station style airport that are the hallmarks of India’s socialist past. When I finally made it over to the domestic terminal, I was pleasantly surprised. The new terminal’s check-in lobby (pictured to the left – picture credit Wikipedia) is very spacious and gives one a feeling of what modern travel should become in a growing India.

The new terminal is an interesting place to spend the night. At 2:30am, most domestic terminals, even in the US, have effectively shut down, they go quiet. Here, however, there are so many weary international travelers that have chosen to rough it out at the airport before their domestic flight that Mumbai’s Domestic terminal has a steady stream of activity. Several of the fast food places are still open, including Cafe Coffee Day – one of India’s upscale coffee chains – and there is a smattering of other airport personnel wandering about. The biggest challenge for us ‘overnighters’ is the total lack of adequate seating. Despite this, the initial arrival experience is much better than the old domestic terminal here, and light years ahead of Delhi’s appalling Palam Domestic airport [Delhi’s IGI is so bad that Foreign Policy rates it as one of the five worst airports in the world].

This was a great start for a visit to India in which I would put more miles in the air than anytime in the past. As some subsequent posts will cover, the rest of India’s airports have a long way to go yet.