01 Jun 2015

Learning from Global Immersion Experiences

Re: Anjali Raina (AMP 174); Ajay Piramal (AMP 110); Anand Mahindra (MBA 1981); Anthony Mayo


When ‘Business As Usual’ Is Anything But

HBS students conduct field research at an optical store in Istanbul.

“The logistical challenges are enormous. Everyone involved in FIELD is deeply invested in anticipating and solving problems before they happen.”

Tony Mayo, Thomas S. Murphy Senior Lecturer of Business Administration


The wisdom of the Turkish proverb, “A tribulation is better than a hundred warnings,” was not lost on the HBS students who traveled to Istanbul this year as part of the required, yearlong FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) course.

FIELD 2, the second module of the three-part course, sends all 900-plus first-year MBAs across the globe in January to work on projects with partner organizations in emerging markets. “The logistical challenges are enormous,” says course head Tony Mayo, the Thomas S. Murphy Senior Lecturer of Business Administration. “Everyone involved in FIELD is deeply invested in anticipating and solving problems before they happen. But sometimes—as was the case this year in Istanbul—the greatest opportunities for students to build cultural intelligence are associated with events beyond our control.”

The trip unfolded against a backdrop of unusually sobering geopolitical events, including the attack on Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris and a suicide bombing at a police station in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet quarter, not far from the area where the students planned to conduct market research for their Turkish partner companies. “Both crises had a huge impact on the students,” says Mayo, who teaches all three modules of FIELD and traveled with the Istanbul team. “Of course, the tragedies themselves were horrendous and anxiety-producing, but they also drove home the increased uncertainty of doing business in a global arena.”

Although security concerns limited students’ ability to move freely at several points in their stay, some were able to work around restrictions by involving hotel workers in their market research and, despite a freak snowstorm, surveying passersby in the area outside their hotel. “There was a difference between how we experienced these disruptions and the attitude of our Turkish business partners,” says Mayo. “To them, unexpected adversity is often just business as usual.”

The value of this kind of immersive learning is underscored by David Rubenstein, who made a leadership gift to help launch the FIELD 2 program. “The world has changed,” says Rubenstein, a member of the HBS Board of Dean’s Advisors and cofounder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group.

“To prepare for 21st-century business realities, you have to understand global economies.”

Rubenstein, who is chairing The Campaign for Harvard Kennedy School, was so pleased with the innovative course that he doubled his commitment.

Mayo notes another unexpected incident during the stay—a labor protest that, in part, targeted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attempts to increase autocratic control. It resonated with a case the students had discussed in Boston in preparation for the immersion. “As a market, Turkey seems quite ‘emerged,’” he observes, “but when you’re there, you see fractures with security, openness, and authoritarianism. That up-close perspective leaves a lasting impression on students whose careers will cross international borders.”

India Research Center: Connecting HBS to South Asia

Ajay Piramal (AMP 110, 1992), Rahul Bajaj (MBA 1964), and Dr. Swati Piramal (MPH 1992) visit the India Research Center offices.

“The India Research Center is like an embassy. We bring the best of South Asia—not just India—to HBS and the best of HBS to the region.”

Anjali Raina (AMP 174, 2008), Executive Director of HBS’s India Research Center


With the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund predicting that India will overtake China as the fastest-growing major economy within two years, HBS’s presence in this dynamic South Asian country has become critical to furthering the global understanding of the School’s students and faculty members. HBS opened the India Research Center (IRC) in Mumbai in 2006. It is one of nine Global Research Centers that expand the School’s intellectual footprint, benefiting faculty members and students, as well as alumni and other leaders in the region.

“The India Research Center is like an embassy,” says Anjali Raina (AMP 174, 2008), the center’s executive director. “We bring the best of South Asia—not just India—to HBS and the best of HBS to the region through research, Executive Education, and other programs and activities.”

Thanks to the generosity of Ajay Piramal (AMP 110, 1992), chairman of the Piramal Group, and his wife, Dr. Swati Piramal (MPH 1992), the IRC has a new home in Mumbai’s Piramal Tower. The 4,000-square-foot office accommodates 24 staff members, including representatives from HBS Publishing and Executive Education. Previously, the IRC was located in Mahindra Towers, courtesy of Anand Mahindra (MBA 1981), chairman of the Mahindra Group.

The responsibilities of the IRC’s staff have evolved through the years, as have those at the other centers. Their original focus was to facilitate research throughout South Asia, working with HBS faculty to lay the groundwork for cases and new course development. Now, staff members also help the MBA Admissions team meet with prospective students and work with Career and Professional Development staff to advance the career objectives of students and alumni. And with the introduction of the FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) course in 2011, the IRC has been developing partner relationships with local organizations to create opportunities for first-year MBA students to gain hands-on experience in this emerging market. This has had the unexpected benefit of strengthening HBS’s connections to the business community.

More broadly, through the “Best of Harvard in India” series of events, the IRC fosters dialogue among HBS faculty, alumni, business leaders, government officials, and academics around topics of relevance to South Asia.

“Borrowing from what Dean Nitin Nohria has said, the problems of the world are so interconnected and so large that the solutions can no longer be the responsibility of only one country or one person,” says Raina. “We need to work together to effect change.”

Learn more about HBS’s Global Research Centers at alumni.hbs.edu/global-research-centers


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