Our last day in New Delhi was an extremely interesting one. The day started very calmly, as the GCP teams prepared for their client presentations in New Delhi (2 teams) and Mumbai (2 teams). After doing a few more practice run-throughs, we prepared for an afternoon of two guest speakers and two client presentations - 4 of them, in fact! The two GCP presentations were terrific, and one especially received terrific feedback from our gracious client. While I was already impressed with my colleagues on the trip, the presentation skills that I saw were nothing short of enviable.
Not only were the presentations interesting, but the guest speakers were really insightful. One speaker was a senior economist for the Indian government who was responsible for import and export policies in the country. With the help of a little bit of math (which was scary for a moment, but was OK in the end :-) he painted a very coherent picture of how India trades with other countries. The economist was followed by the Asia-Pacific Director for Business Processes at American Express, who spoke about how India has come to deliver not just cost-effective business services, but superior ones, too. He really left an impression of not only India's potential as a country, but also a timeless lesson of how cost cannot drive every decision we make. The speakers were followed by an MBA reunion and networking event, where a few members of the ILLINOIS MBA family were able to join and connect with others.
The next day started super early, at 5:15 a.m., as a flight to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) was calling our name. Before we knew it, our Jet Airways flight had delivered us to India's financial hub on the Arabian Sea. We were met at the airport by Kam, our terrific tour guide who has been in the industry for 38 years. Kam drove us around the city, pointing out various sights of interest before we arrived at our lunchtime destination - McDonald's. Every traveler needs to visit a McDonald's in a foreign country, and the spicy fries and McPaneer sandwiches at Indian McDonald's make it worth a visit!
Following lunch, we visited a very interesting currency museum and an early 18th century Anglican church before having a roundtable visit with economists from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). RBI's staff profiled the responsibilities of the central bank in India, and they focused a great deal on how they sought to stimulate knowledge of banking, lending and credit practices among India's poorer citizens. To me, this showed that the RBI really had their fingers on the pulse of India, as the country's quick rate of development will bring about more and more banking customers. The visit left me inspired that in addition to its reasonable monetary policies, the RBI realized the potential that India's 400 million poor could eventually offer. As the next day's activities would highlight, this concern for the poor is extremely urgent.
After a great breakfast at our hotel along the Arabian Sea, our first destination was to Asia's largest slum - a sprawling shanty town of nearly 7 million residents in Mumbai. The trip was incredibly eye opening. The entire "city" is essentially constructed illegally in the city, and its residents span a variety of jobs, from trash pickers to those working in various service jobs in Mumbai. It was certainly tough to see the harsh living conditions that exist in the slums of India, especially since many slum dwellers are rural residents who came to Mumbai seeking a better life. Nonetheless, the community spirit that exists in the slums is apparent, and it was fun to see children waiving to us and some vibrant looks among the people. One can only hope that increasing economic development and continued pushes for transparency in the government could one day eliminate the slums.
Following the tour, we visited a Hari Krishna temple, which is a religious movement that resembles Hinduism, yet which offers some contrasts. The temple looked like a Hindu temple, and was a very peaceful experience despite there being a large number of individuals present. We had an opportunity to speak with one of the priests, who offered an interesting conversation about the peace and unity that Hari Krishna followers seek in the world. Later in the afternoon, we visited Rajiv Gandhi National Park, which was incredible! This sprawling reserve consists of high hills that are virtually untouched and totally take you away from the city. In the hills are some fascinating Buddhist temples that were build in the 1st century AD, and where Buddhist priests would study. After a brisk walk around the area, we headed back to our hotel for another MBA reception and for some of us, an opportunity to experience Mumbai's exciting and growing nightlife!
Our Mumbai adventure continued the next morning when we toured Elephanta Island, a trip that involved a one-hour boat ride from Mumbai. The island was beautiful - A green, verdant spot with some incredible history! On Elephanta Island are a series of caves bearing Hindu sculptures that were created between the 6th and 8th centuries AD. These were fascinating artifacts that unfortunately faced some destruction by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century when they discovered Mumbai. The remainder of the island offered some incredible vistas of the Arabian Sea.
After a jaunt around the island and some opportunities to buy some handcrafts (and practice our negotiation skills), we headed back to the mainland for a walk around the elegant Taj Mahal hotel, which is absolutely one of the most charming hotels in all of India. Beneath the hotel's charm lies a tragedy, as part of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks occurred in the hotel. Near one of the hotel's many beautiful staircases was a touching memorial to all of those who lost their lives one day. It certainly added class to an already classy place.
After the Taj, we headed to an open air laundry in Mumbai. Despite what you might be thinking, this isn't any ordinary laundromat, it's the biggest one in the entire world! Much of middle-class Mumbai sends their laundry to this residential area of the city where over 200,000 garments are washed every day. And, with virtually no technology being part of the process, the laundry is delivered to customers around this city with a tiny error rate. As all of us pointed out, this operation was running with near-Six Sigma quality prior to many global firms were! Later in the day, a few members of our group caught a sunset over the Arabian Sea, while a few others jaunted around Mumbai for some shopping before the next day's events.
Our last day in Mumbai found two GCP teams delivering presentations to a Mumbai-based client, which is a principal corporation in the city. The presentations were held at the client's office, where we were able to meet and chat with senior leadership at the firm. Not only was the opportunity a great way to learn more about our client and simulate the actual experience of being a management consultant, but it also allowed us to learn how senior executives of a billion-dollar corporation were able to climb the ladder. For me, presenting in front of our client really validated my own desire to pursue consulting as my post-MBA career.
The client presentation was a great way to wrap up our time in Mumbai. After a delicious lunch of Indian hamburgers, which are potato-like patties on a bun, we headed to our next destination in India - Chennai. This city in southern India is considerably different than Mumbai. Not only is it more hot and humid, but the Hindi language isn't even spoken here - a southern language called Tamil dominates. Upon arriving in Chennai, we headed to our hotel and chose to eat at a terrific South Indian restaurant across the city for dinner. South Indian food is as spicy and varied as North Indian cuisine, but it also includes a fair amount of seafood, which is no surprise given India's long stretches of coastline.
After eating heartily, we headed back to our hotel for what will prove to be more terrific experiences in Chennai. Another update headed soon!