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The best MBA Leadership and Management lessons outside the classroom

Apart from the MBA leadership and management lessons taught in a business school classroom, there’s another opportunity that most students overlook. It involves interacting with real thought leaders (as opposed to using our leadership quotes generator).

Sudershan ‘Suds’ Tirumala, Regional Director at Tuck School of Business (Dartmouth), writes about how it can transform your learning experience.

Thought Leaders and You

MBA Leadership and Management lessons outside the classroom

Top 10 MBA Admissions Officer - SudsTypically, MBA applicants pay lip service in their applications to thought leading faculty resident at the business schools they’re targeting. Their comments more often than not take the shape of, “I look forward to taking the course so and so under Prof. X who is the world renowned expert in his field.” And it may extend by one more sentence but that’s where it ends.

Once they get to business school, students get caught up in the recruiting rigmarole. Yes, they do take courses that are taught by the thought leading faculty they had referred to in their essays, but how many of them really end up developing a close relationship with them? Close enough to go have lunch at their place? Close enough to invite them home for a sumptuous dinner? Close enough to meet with them at length and get engrossed in intellectually stimulating discussions regarding the topics that are top-of-mind in their research?

Does it seem too ideal? Impossible to make happen? Who would ever have time to do this kind of stuff when you’re in the rat race of competing with so many other fellow MBA students to get that coveted job?

A while ago, I had written a blog about the factors you should consider when picking a business school – evaluating “fit” in a business school and its community – in which I made a fleeting reference to faculty. Let’s evaluate that a little bit more. It stands to reason that my examples below will be predominantly Tuck-focused since that’s where I studied, but such interactions are possible in any school that has a collaborative, tight-knit, and inclusive community embedded in its DNA.

Take for example, Prof. Vijay Govindarajan or VG as he is fondly called. His article on Engineering Reverse Innovations won the McKinsey Award in March 2015 as the best article to be published in HBR in 2015. [here’s a related post on MCB: Interview with Vijay Govindarajan on Reverse Innovation]

He has worked with many of the Fortune 500 CEOs in the world. He’s been a perennial member of the Thinker’s 50 list of top management thinkers in the world and is rated as the #1 Indian Management Guru. The link at the beginning of this paragraph should give you pretty much everything on this fantastic teacher and mentor. So approachable is he that he even publishes his cell phone number on his site and personally handles any and every email he ever gets. He has no assistants and does his own travel planning. That’s the way he prefers it.

I’ve had the privilege of chatting with him on multiple occasions in leisure (including in late March in his office at Tuck) and earlier this year when he was in India in January. We exchange emails on a frequent basis and he is always giving of his time. Hearing him speak is as philosophical an experience as it is intellectual – so thoughtful and so enriching are the conversations with him. I’ll share with you, one instance of how empathetic he is.

When he visited India in 2015, I was trying to coordinate with a group in Chennai to have VG address a mega-gathering at IIT Madras. The people who were supposed to organize the event totally dropped the ball, and as a result, the event had to be canceled at the very last minute. VG was already there at the venue, and so was a group of Tuck admitted students and prospective applicants. These admitted students and prospective applicants had traveled from all over India to get to Chennai that day and were obviously disappointed when they realized they wouldn’t have the opportunity to hear from him.

Imagine their reaction when VG graciously agreed to have dinner with this group later that evening. Forget about hearing his lecture in an audience of 400-500 people. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies vie with one another to get a few minutes of his time. And here he is, having dinner with potential applicants and recent admitted students, none of whom had been toTuck yet, and there they were, having a round table discussion with VG over dinner that lasted for four hours! The applicants and admitted students couldn’t stop raving about this unprecedented learning experience.

Another amazing teacher I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know personally is Prof. Sydney Finkelstein. Syd, as he’s referred to, is also on the Thinker’s 50 list of top management thinkers in the world. He is the faculty director of Tuck’s Center for Leadership and teaches both core and elective courses at Tuck. CEOs are thrilled to be on his list of “Best CEOs of the Year” as much as they shudder at the thought of being on his “Worst CEOs of the Year” list. His seminal work “Superbosses” draws on a decade of research across diverse industries from restaurants to fashion to real estate to music, and is earning rave reviews from business leaders the world over, even as I type. He consults with leading corporations to help them think through leadership and strategy issues.

How busy must he be? Pretty busy you would think, and you’re right. He’s teaching at Tuck, touching students’ lives year in and year out as they become general managers in their own right, meeting with CEOs of companies who want his opinion, traveling around the world for research as well as to give talks to leadership teams of companies, while also teaching in the Executive Education program at Tuck. And yet, he makes it a point to get to know his students very well, is available for them to meet and discuss whatever they have in mind.

I hadn’t visited Tuck in four years, and more than a thousand students had walked the hallways in the intervening time. I was excited to be back that morning, walked through the main entrance into Tuck Hall and who do I see in front of me? Prof. Finkelstein, who happened to be walking by right that minute. Before I can say even one word, he looks at me and says, “Hi Suds! How are you? It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.” Imagine the shock and awe that coursed through my veins at that point. He hadn’t seen me in so many years, yet here he was, one of the most respected Management Gurus in the world, speaking to his former student as if he was continuing the conversation from where we left off, and without a split-second thought such as “I’ve seen him somewhere. Seems vaguely familiar. What’s his name, I wonder?”

Stories like this are the norm at Tuck. Such as the time when the Associate Dean for the MBA Program, Prof. Praveen Kopalle, PK as he’s known, who is a thought leader in his own right on all things Big Data and Data Analytics, invited students over to his place so we can all watch the World Cup Cricket Final along with his family. Talk about making connections for a lifetime.

And when you have experiences like these, they make you appreciate what it means to be in a tight-knit community. It makes you realize – and rightly so – that building lasting relationships can only happen when you’re surrounded by people who are genuinely interested in getting to know you.

Now-a-days, people view the MBA simply as a career enhancing tool. Instead, if you treat career as a by-product, and use the two years in business school to actually get to know the fantastic people that make the community what it is, you will have a much more fulfilling and exciting MBA experience that will also result in the career enhancement you’re seeking!

Also read How MBA Programs help with personality development and Skills acquired in MBA.

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Sudershan Tirumala
About Sudershan Tirumala
Suds' association with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (an Ivy League university) as Regional Director has given him rich & unique insights about international & Indian applicants that very few admissions officers have. In an exclusive series for MBA Crystal Ball, he writes on a wide range of topics from MBA admissions to careers.

3 thoughts on “The best MBA Leadership and Management lessons outside the classroom”

  1. Hi Sir,

    First and foremost great article.All your articles have really helped in aligning my goals and thought process. As i am planning to do an MBA in Supply Chain Management, which schools have good SCM program. I have scored a 650 on the GMAT but plan to give another attempt.

    • Mitul,

      Thanks for your note and for the query. It’s good to see you already have a target sector from a career point-of-view. I encourage you to not get super-focused on the specificity of the program (MBA in Supply Chain Management). MBA is a degree that will prepare you to tackle whatever business problem that you’re facing. That being the case, you should look to put yourself in a position where you’re able to handle areas that are innately connected to SCM – operations, finance, production, purchasing, and the like.

      Which program fits you is something you’ll no doubt arrive at based on research – I’m simply giving you some broader things to think about when going about the “which schools” question. Maybe you should consider programs that place a bit more emphasis on manufacturing as an industry and hone your research from there. As always, you should connect with the alumni and current students at these schools to get a feel for their own experiences so you can gain valuable insights into how you should conduct yourself when you enter the school as a student.

      Hope that helps. Good luck with your endeavors!


      • Hi Sir,
        Yes definitely fit is a very important aspect. My main reason for asking the question was to narrow the field and see which college would be the best fit because everywhere I have read is that college should align to your goals and not the other way round.

        Yes, I agree connecting with the current students would help a lot in getting acquainted with the college curriculum and provide me with vital information.

        Thank you for your advice really appreciate it.


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