Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Final Reflective Paper - Post Cal Poly MBA India Trip

Final Reflective Paper

            During the last 9 months we have read and written reviews of two books, wrote fifty responses on articles about India, and read and reflected on India’s five year economic plan in preparation for the two weeks journey abroad. During our time in India we had thirteen meet-and-greets with leaders of Indian business, some purely Indian companies and others Indian extensions of world-wide corporations. We also accomplished some vital sight-seeing, such as visiting Qutb-Minar, the tallest minar (a tower-monument attached to a Muslim mosque) in India and built around 1200 as a signifier of the beginning of Muslim rule in India. We also saw Akshardham, the largest Hindu temple in the world, built by 3,000 volunteers and 7,000 artisans. Finally, we made the long trek to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal.
            The trip was a highly valuable one personally. I grew to know my classmates better as we shared the unique experiences. We all now have a spiritual connection to a far away place and culture. We also had the privilege of meeting some truly special people that I would not have met outside of Cal Poly. I have made it a point to take away at least one lesson or piece of knowledge from each experience. For example, through the lecture at the Yoga Ashram we received a lesson from an intelligent, passionate, insightful teacher about the path from knowledge to wisdom, the eastern view on the benefits of the destruction of the self, and Yoga’s role in aiding mediation. From Lemon Tree’s Rahul Jagiasi we leaned of the importance of rigorously controlling costs because costs are the one thing management has complete control over. We also learned of the problem of India’s poor attitude hiring the disabled. Those who believe in reincarnation view down upon the disabled because bad deeds committed in a past life have condemned them to their disabilities. Lemon Tree is helping shift that attitude by hiring 6% handicapped workers, to be risen to 10% in the next few years due to their success as productive employees.

            However, I don’t want this paper to ramble on and on like this listing off each experience. Instead I would like to address some of the suggested topics listed in the course syllabus, since I believe what I learned on our trip and our through my preparation is valuable for answering them. To begin, I believe a service that could be very successful is a medical tourism travel agency. Through the book Billions of Entrepreneurs I learned that an American can buy a round trip ticket to India, receive a top notch heart surgery, and spend a week recovering in Goa all for around $10,000 out of pocket. In America, just the surgery can cost $150,000. Why not offer a service that plans a hotel, meals, private transportation, the hospital treatment, a recovery plan, and airfare all for the customer/patient. Even with a 100% profit margin I can charge the customer/patient $30,000 tops for the most complex of surgeries, which is still one-fifth the cost of American healthcare! The big hurdle will be overcoming the stigma that Indian hospitals and doctors are inferior to American facilities, however after a few success stories I believe Americans will be more open to it. Personally, when I was treated for my stomach infection I was a little hesitant to receive an injection, but my care was excellent and I only paid $20 for a doctor’s consultation, injections, and prescription drugs delivered to my hotel room!

            On this trip I was forced out of my comfort zone in many ways. In fact, the furthest I have been out of the country before this trip was Mexico and that was a decade ago. The heat in Agra, the long plane rides, the constant stomach illness, sharing a bedroom, the terribly uncomfortable dress shoes (but that one is my own fault!), the panhandling in Delhi’s open air market all pushed me far outside of my comfort zone. But the worst of all was the train ride. I felt afraid to touch anything, even to sit down at the station. I wasn’t excited to sleep in a cramped bed above complete strangers. And of course the food gave me terrible indigestion forcing me to brave the railway restrooms. What I learned from these experiences is that we cannot grow in comfort. Even when studying in the physical comfort of my home, the library or a cafĂ© the reading, writing, thinking, and memorizing is forcing my mind to extend itself beyond its comfort zone. When we are comfortable we are standing still, absorbing or producing nothing that will push us to the next level of achievement. I think this is the most valuable thing I learned in India.
            So how did I grow from all of this nasty un-comfortableness? That’s a hard question, and I think the full answer will only be seen with more time. I can say that I feel proud of myself for choosing the hard path. As a two-year student I didn’t need take this class for credit to graduate. But I knew that this was too good and too special of an opportunity to pass up. Almost all higher-cost MBA programs have a required trip like this one telling me that this is a vital part of a full MBA education. If I had not taken the trip I would have regretted it, felling that my education was incomplete. Aside from pride, I feel appreciative of my education. Seeing the coolies carrying our water and bags at the train station made me truly believe that education is the key to a better life. I also know that education isn’t everything though; the hunger that Indian’s feel to better themselves and their country is something that complacent Americans can learn from. I know of many Americans who are threatened by China’s growth; instead of fear and hatred, inspiration can be wrought out of China and India’s stories of ambition for a better life. If education is the key ambition is the push that bursts the door wide open.

            What surprised me the most about India is the disparity of the rich and poor. In America the level of inequality in the distribution of wealth is a hot social topic. In Downtown Los Angeles I have walked the streets filled with homeless and only a handful of miles away sat inside the corner offices of the elite law firms, but nothing could have prepared me for the $1 billion single-family monolith standing tall above the city-within-a-city of the slums. Or Delhi’s massive construction projects contrasted with forgotten, decaying street-side ruins. India is a country of agonizing growing pains. It cannot be denied that the last ten years have been beneficial, but not to everyone. 81.1% live on less than $2.50 a day, and 96.9% live below $5 a day.

Being in India is like being in the middle of a fulcrum, with stubborn attitudes and practices of old, refusing to be lost to time, balancing with the growing pressure of modernization and globalization pushing down ever harder. At some point the bad habits that are tragically taken for granted, such at the untrustworthy government and legal system, will become weightless under their obsolescence. And it is India’s private sector that will lead its government towards efficiency. We have seen victories such as strong CSR initiatives coexisting with the financial success of Lemon Tree hotels, competition from the National Stock Exchange cleaning up the inefficiencies of the Bombay Stock Exchange back in 1992, and the success of private hospitals to provide (relatively) inexpensive high quality healthcare. The private sector is forcing the public sector to realize its own glut. The public sector must trim its fat or feel the pain of holding its country behind.

This has been a marvelous experience for me. Reading about India and visiting are two completely different things. I now have a personal connection to this far away land and culture that I did not have before and feel that I can have a meaningful conversation about India with anyone else who has this connection. I got to see the wonders of the Taj Mahal and Akshardham, tasted the street food, contracted Delhi Belly, rode the railway, met the movers and shakers of Indian business, experienced the heat of Delhi and the monsoons of Mumbai, felt the instability of the Rupee, and connected with my classmate on a new level. A trip like this is once in a lifetime and should be required for all MBA students, so it pains me to hear that it will not be offered next year at Cal Poly. I urge the powers to be to bring it back; it’s too good of a thing to let die.