01 Dec 2012
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Sunny's MBA


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In 1986, as a 26-year-old with a degree in agricultural management and little business experience, Sunny Verghese (AMP 115, 1994) was newly employed by a venerable Indian conglomerate to oversee a textile mill in Nigeria.

A foreign exchange crisis was making it very difficult to procure raw materials, so Verghese resolved to grow the cotton locally. He soon found himself operating one of the largest cotton plantations in Africa. Now, as CEO of his own trading company, Singapore-based Olam International Ltd., Verghese makes sure that all the company's young executives have a similar back-country experience—"a rite of passage," Verghese calls it. For their part, Olam executives have dubbed it "Sunny's MBA."

"Spending time in a tough geography, up in the bush, actually managing the risks firsthand, not learning about them in a classroom," is critical, Verghese told the Financial Times (August 19, 2012). With some 400,000 hectares worldwide, Olam is unusual for a commodities trading firm because, rather than avoid the risks of farming, it is extensively involved in its own agricultural ventures.

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