Shyam Nambiar didn’t exactly fit the definition of the typical MBA applicant. However, what his profile lacked in terms of conventional attributes, he more than made up for it with his razor sharp career planning and dollops of confidence.
Shyam not only got into several top MBA programs in USA, Canada and India after 40, he also managed a complete career change at 43. Here’s his amazing story from the Navy to Amazon.
I joined the Indian Navy as a Cadet on my 18th birthday, and then spent close to a quarter of a century in whites, hanging up the uniform as a Commander in March 2016. While in the Navy, I completed my BTech and then a Post Grad at IIT Delhi.
I then worked for close to 16 years across ship building, ship Repair, in the Navy’s largest Warship Acquisition Project (Russia), two stints at Naval Headquarters and also did a year completing MSc in Defence & Strategic Studies at the multinational Defence Services Staff College at Wellington, near Ooty.
I am a complete extrovert, an outdoor guy and a ‘people person’, comfortable with diversity, languages and geographical locations. I have dabbled with 8 different adventure sports in water, land and air, including horse riding, SCUBA diving and para gliding, and completed my first half marathon when I was 38! I still run and swim long-distance and play football and volleyball.
Most risk-averse people I met before I quit told me it was a risky thing to throw a secure, respected and well-paying job, to pursue my corporate dreams. But those who knew me well agreed with the decision; not that it impacted my call in any way!
In India, there was only one choice for a full-time MBA for me, and that was ISB. I wanted to, apart from the B-School learning, interact with the large, diverse and very young class, so that it would help me run organizations better in my post ISB jobs.
I had no doubt regarding being able to fit in, having always been comfortable with diversity and people and the only doubt was whether I could manage academic scores to my real satisfaction after 17 years of not having seen a real textbook.
I took dedicated weekend classes for GMAT and managed a score of 710, which was well more than what I had targeted, and thus ticked one box of the application package beautifully.
I discussed with an ex-Navy colleague who had completed his MBA in a top business school and took his guidance to refine my application package. I applied to Schulich and UNC Kenan Flagler and got through both. Rotman offered me a seat in their Executive MBA with a scholarship but that did not interest me.
Then I got the ISB admission – so the decision was quite simple, based on the one year absence from work and pay, business school rankings, class diversity, availability of a dedicated Career Services department and best ROI.
I did not look at European B Schools due to the current market there and since an ISB MBA would get me better jobs in India than a European one, if I did not get a work visa post a European MBA (high possibility).
My interview for ISB was at Delhi and the interview was a breeze, after having myself recruited engineers for the Navy from IITs and other engineering colleges. It lasted about 30 minutes and was mostly to check if I would be able to fit in with the younger class and be open to group work with younger, inexperienced classmates.
Then there were a couple of situation reaction checks, to assess my overall negotiation and interpersonal skills, and how I dealt with conflict situations. I had no doubt that I would get the admit, post the interview, so I wasn’t really surprised when it finally came.
I came to ISB with a clear goal of getting through the Pathways programme at Amazon, and had been tracking everything to do with the company since 2015. So my goal was clear and my research and depth on the company assured me that I would convert it.
Being elected by the largest ever B School class (620) to be their President further put a stamp on my resume that my leadership skills were transferable and equally effective outside the military environment.
During the course, I made sure to read the pre-reads and stay completely awake and alert in every class, as also not miss any classes. This got me a CGPA to be in top one third of the 908-strongclass at graduation.
Along with this, I attended industry workshop sessions, Pre-placement talks and deep dive interactions of all companies in my chosen sector(s).
I also refined my resume through almost 25 iterations and then prepared 3 different versions to suit different profiles that would be offered. This saved me a lot of time while applying, and I could send out applications in under an hour when jobs were posted.
I sent serious applications to one other company other than Amazon for Day 1 and got a direct interview with the founder of a major Logistics Start-up. However due to disagreements on the remuneration package, that did not go through.
I got placed on Day 1 at Amazon, and in the Pathways programme which I had targeted. In addition, I had a very brief interaction with the Chairman of one of the biggest IT MNCs who had come to ISB’s Leadership Summit. On his way out he made me an offer to join the company, but after several rounds of deliberations, that job (I was anyway not too keen on relocating to Delhi when my daughter would start her 10th and on a Sales job with the Military and other uniformed services) did not materialize (much to my family’s delight!).
Being the ISB Graduate Student Board (GSB) President, I was totally involved with getting the largest ever class placed and worked very closely with our CAS department and GSB President from Mohali towards that.
Adaptability, communication skills and confidence were, in my view, the biggest factors that got me where I am today and in accomplishing whatever I set out to (and more, since the GSB President thing was totally unintended when I walked into ISB, and completely courtesy my friends in class who had the confidence in me!).
Background domain makes no difference if one is willing to work hard, learn, adapt and quickly deliver, I would say.
If I could do it at 43, anybody can at an age lesser than that – age is just a random number that the world sticks to the back of your head!
For those looking at a career change, it is vital to write down (yes!) what your goals are (not the application variety, but your real and personal ones) and how the MBA fits in and facilitates the change and boost. If you find real utility, then invest in the MBA. And if you are looking at a one year (Tier 1) MBA, there is really no alternative than ISB in India.
While making the big decision to make a career switch, one book that really showed me the picture, albeit in a humorous light, was “Beyond The MBA Hype” – a must read for anyone contemplating whether or not to invest in an MBA. I did, and the rest, as they say, is (my) history!
Good Luck and Go Conquer, but stay grounded!
– Shyam Nambiar
Image credits: Shyam Nambiar