‘The AMP I did had triple impact’
There are periods in every person’s life when it takes an event to change its trajectory. For me personally, the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School was clearly one of the best.
It all started at the beginning of 2007 when I had completed six years as CEO of Zensar Technologies Limited. It had been a tough turnaround in the early part of the decade when I took on the reins of a struggling small company and slowly, but surely built a credible dual shore software services business. The Zensar team had chosen a strong people focus and a unique approach to innovation to differentiate ourselves from the pack of struggling, aspiring software companies and managed to grab business from some of the best American and Asian majors. A year earlier, we had divisionalised the company for the first time and created the Innovative Technology Solutions division as a separate profit centre to complement the steadily growing custom build applications and package applications business, and the employee count was touching 3000.
My personal career and academic growth had been fairly steady at that point. Having been pitchforked into a CEO role at APTECH at the age of 33 and then becoming Vice-Chairman and CEO at Zensar Technologies in 2001, I found the time to start and complete a PhD in Knowledge Management at IIT Bombay (1999-2004). Frequent lectures at leading Indian and global business schools and close affiliations with CII and NASSCOM meant enough opportunities to learn from peers and students, which I thoroughly relished. But then came the opportunity that would define my own individual growth and the success of my organization for the next decade. My employer, Harsh Goenka, at the RPG Group suggested I spend ten weeks at Harvard Business School and do their Advanced Management Program; and in October 2007, I was enjoying the fall colours of Boston and waiting to be re-educated.
And what a re-education it would turn out to be. From the initial exhortations at the Finance Boot Camp to ‘never run out of cash’ to learning new ways of marketing with case studies as varied as Real Madrid and Johnson & Johnson to courses in strategy, negotiations, international policy, leadership, and innovation all taught through the trademark case method, the program was all that I could have asked for and more. I can proudly say that in spite of some great living group mates and a CXO fraternity from over thirty countries and the opportunity to be in high spirits all the time, I did not miss a single class and frequently had my hand up to ask a question. The AMP classroom was so invigorating that after journeying through three institutions—BIT Ranchi, NITIE Mumbai, and IIT Bombay, I finally got the inkling of what outstanding educational content and pedagogy was all about.
Even more exciting than the active participation in class was the after-class participation. Professor Nitin Nohria, a friend for many years and who was destined to become the next Dean at HBS was a source of continuing inspiration, and interactions with AMP faculty members David Garvin and Michael Tushman were to lead in later years to two excellent case productions about Zensar. And the ability to hob nob with global celebrity academics and practitioners including Michael Porter, Clayton Christiansen, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and Bill George made this one of the most remarkable ten weeks of my life.
Returning enriched with all the learnings at HBS, I was quick to apply the Tushman core concept of ambidextrous innovation to the Innovative Technology Solutions business we had pioneered at Zensar. We had kept this group as an independent profit centre to give it the chance to spread its wings globally, but the concept of operating leverage and the opportunity to use the common marketing force of Zensar to sell innovation-embedded solutions made us change course and embark on a new organization design. Tushman later published a case on this approach and referred to Zensar and me generously in his recent book on innovation.
Another guru-shishya relationship that started on campus and has grown stronger over a decade is with a person who I would rank as one of the top thinkers and teachers of this generation, David Garvin. Professor Garvin has justifiably been ranked among the topmost at the School by batches of executives and students over decades, and his approach to ‘general management in action’ thoroughly resonated with my own bias for ‘getting stuff done’. Discussions with him helped to put a structure to our bottom-up strategy formation and collaborative implementation approach that we called ‘Vision Communities’ at Zensar; the wonderful case he wrote a couple of years later is still taught regularly to multiple second-year classes by a galaxy of eminent professors and has also found its way to being taught at New York’s Stern School and our very own Indian School of Business.
The AMP I did at Harvard Business School had triple impact. First, it encouraged us to send many more of our leadership teams to Wharton, Harvard, IMD Lausanne, IIM Ahmedabad, and ISB. Second, it generated over fifty million dollars of business in three years just because of the relationships built and fostered with classmates who went on to lead organisations in UK, the Europe, and Asia. And last but certainly not least, the work we did thereafter and the cases written about Zensar enabled us to pull out all the stops and build unique strategies for global success. In the period 2010-2015, Zensar’s market value grew at an astounding 45% CAGR, one of the highest across all companies across all sectors in India! No further justification needed surely to embrace high-quality management development in all business corporations. ■