Fall 2011

India rising

Students study this emerging market up close and in person

Feature Image
Students Christian Hall, top, and John Eicher at the Taj Mahal in January 2011.

From the boardrooms of modern Indian commerce to the nooks of a 350- year-old public bazaar, 26 Binghamton School of Management students spent 10 days last January immersed in one of the most important emerging markets in the world. They were participants in the trip to Delhi that is the centerpiece of Assistant Professor Vishal Gupta’s Doing Business in Emerging Markets: India course, and they were fortunate. Demand for the popular course quickly outstripped capacity when it was offered last fall, and enrollment was soon capped.

Gupta was not surprised. Doing Business in Emerging Markets: India was an immediate success when he introduced it two years ago, and students who took it quickly became grassroots advocates.

The course features an innovative curriculum that includes lectures, readings, videos and case studies of corporations and organizations doing business in India. But the big draw — the experiential learning opportunity that builds upon all of the classroom work — is the required 10-day trip during winter break.

“Schools across the U.S. talk about how we need to prepare students to compete in the global world,” Gupta says. “Many purport to introduce students to the dynamics of business in remote markets, but often they only pay lip service to it. At some schools, students study abroad at another university. Sometimes they travel as a group on tour or with an instructor they meet when they arrive at the remote location.

“Our course is different. We recognized that it’s very hard to bring a different country into the classroom just by talking about it. So we use the classroom to prepare students, and then we take them to India ourselves, offering them an opportunity for sustained, involved interaction.”

Digging into the culture

Gupta could not be better qualified to lead the sojourn. Born and raised in Delhi, he returns to his hometown annually and maintains strong connections with family, friends, educational institutions and businesses in and around the Indian capital.

His students benefit from those connections. On the trip last winter they toured seven companies and met with senior executives including Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL, the giant global technology company, who generously spent time talking with them and answering their questions. They also interacted with students from Fostiima Business School, a leading Indian center for business education, and visited many cultural sites including the Taj Mahal, the huge Akshardham Temple Complex and the Kingdom of Dreams, a new tourist attraction that describes itself as the “ultimate entertainment destination.” 

But Gupta is quick to note that the educational experience transcends both the visits to Indian companies and the side trips to cultural sites. The trip is far more than the itinerary would suggest.

A unique feature, key to the educational value of the experience, is the pairing of each Binghamton student with an “e-buddy,” an Indian student with whom he or she begins corresponding well in advance of the trip. Through dialogues, via e-mail and social networking sites, the Binghamton students get a more personal sense of Indian culture and business practices, and the Indian students learn more about America. They also serve as hosts, accompanying the Binghamton students on visits to neighborhoods in Delhi, where they get a deeper taste of Indian culture than any tourist might expect from a more narrowly structured excursion.

Gupta and the other professors who accompany the students — Assistant Professor Danielle Dunne on the first trip and Associate Professor Surinder Kahai on last winter’s — also lead such field trips. A highlight of the experience is the alfresco rooftop dinner Gupta hosts for the students at his family home.

“When our students visit India, they aren’t going to a faceless school,” he points out. “They are going to a place where they already have a friend. There’s a personal connection, so students are not just passive recipients of lectures by me or other professors. They really get to dig into the culture of India.”

Preparing leaders for globalization

Students who’ve taken the course return from India enthusiastic about the experience. Many, Gupta says, express an interest in returning there.

“Foreign countries are often very different from what you see on television,” says Dilafruz Sultanova ’11, a native of Uzbekistan. “When Professor Gupta’s course was offered, I was eager to take it because I wanted to experience India firsthand. Just as I had expected, I discovered a country very different from what is portrayed in the media. I had imagined, for instance, that India was advancing quickly because it was adapting Western management styles and ways of thinking about business. But I came away convinced that while India is learning a lot from the West, Indian business leaders are very circumspect. They want to make sure that Western ideas and products fit within their culture.”

It’s a perception that Rafal Pisarski ’02, MBA ’10, shares. “I’ve worked abroad, and I found Professor Gupta’s course to be especially illuminating,” he says. “When you better understand people from other countries and cultures, you better understand yourself. You expand the ways in which you think and how you view the world. That’s what the Doing Business in Emerging Markets: India course does. It is much more than simply a business course.”

“As we prepare leaders for globalization, the School of Management is committed to preparing students for leadership roles in global business,” says Upinder Dhillon, dean of the School of Management. “Increasingly, what we’ll see is managers working with teams across continents. In order to prepare our students for those opportunities, we must familiarize them with not only the way business is conducted in those regions, but the broader culture, as well. That’s what Professor Gupta’s course achieves.”

The course has arrived at a propitious moment. The University has been building bridges to India for years, and last spring a trio of new engineering-related initiatives aimed at building on that groundwork was announced. The initiatives commit Binghamton to aiding Indian educational institutions in the development of new educational collaborations and a state-of-the-art engineering research center.

“India has become an economic, educational and intellectual powerhouse over the last decade,” Binghamton President C. Peter Magrath said when he introduced the new initiatives. “This is India’s moment, and universities in the United States will be remiss if they are not part of it. Binghamton University is deeply interested in being part of this movement and is developing the kind of collaborative partnerships that unite researchers in New York and India.”

India is not the only emerging powerhouse in the world, though. Gupta believes his course has already proven itself to be a successful model, and he hopes the template can be expanded in the future to focus on other emerging global economies, including China, Brazil and Russia.

“Many of the things we are doing in this course have never been attempted,” he says. “We learn something each time the course is offered, and we get better at it.”