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Warzone to corporate battlefield – an Interview with Col. Rahul Tewari, One year MBA candidate at IIM A

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Col. Tewari has served as Commanding Officer of a 1200 soldier strong regiment in the Indian Army and has commandeered a multi-nation UN peacekeeping force in Sudan. A second generation officer, he was commissioned into Corps of Engineers in 1990 and served in Western, Northern and Southern theaters excelling in varied appointments throughout his career. He has been stationed at high altitude bases at Leh and Kashmir and has also served as Chief Training Coordinator at College Of Military Engineering. He is currently dealing with a different kind of battle – that of graduating the One year full time MBA (PGPX) at IIM A. Oneyearmba.co.in caught up with him to understand his reasons for doing an MBA and his journey so far.

Q. As a student, I remember entering IIM and feeling both a sense of exhilaration at the prospect of picking new skills as well as a sudden loss of the sense of power that comes with managing a department in a company. No matter who you were before you entered B-school, once inside, you are just another student. You have commanded 1200 men in the Indian Army. How does it feel to be back in school?

It feels great actually. See, once one has taken a decision to go back to learning one has to leave one’s baggage behind. In fact it’s not just me, a number of my batch mates were holding very responsible positions before coming to IIM A and it feels wonderful to interact and learn from each other.

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Q. IIMs have been running a two year programme in management for many years now. Teaching graduates fresh out of college is a very different ballgame as opposed to teaching candidates who have ‘been there and done that’. What steps has IIM A taken to effectively address a class with experience?

The faculty at IIM A is of such high order that this is really not an issue.

However many additional steps have been taken at IIM A taking into account the vast experience of the One year MBA class. For instance while the subjects taught in the PGPX programme are similar to those taught in the two year program, the structure of the program is completely different and revolves around candidates with experience.

The first two terms are the building blocks, followed by an international immersion, which is then followed by electives which focus on ‘preparing for top management’. The subjects offered as well as the electives take into account the needs of a class with extensive and varied experience.

Q. At schools abroad, the faculty is ‘ok’ with knowing less than the students in class on certain topics. They in fact see this as a positive factor contributing to the learning gained in class. In India faculty often expects fewer rebuttals and less questioning. As IIMs target a global audience with their One year MBA, this cultural gap can become a huge stumbling block in attracting foreign students who are used to seeing their teachers as friends. Are things evolving at IIM A with an experienced class such as PGPX?

I do not think that this is something that has been an issue at IIM A. Candid questioning and exchange of views on varied topics has been the hall mark at the school and continues to be so,

even more so in the One year MBA programme, because of as you rightly pointed out the greater maturity of candidates in the class.

In fact the faculty encourages students to ask challenging questions and present different points of view as it contributes to the overall learning. And this is not confined to the class room alone – it would be quite a revelation for someone to hear the frank discussions and knowledge sharing that occurs between faculty and students outside the classroom.

Q. Why an MBA now?

That is a good question. Having served for a considerable period of time and having commanded a regiment in the Army, I wanted to push myself in a different direction and look for new vistas. The One year MBA excited and stimulated me. This program is more than an MBA, it’s a great intersection point of learning, knowledge, values, friends and mentors – the gains from the program extends well beyond the degree itself.

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Q. The GMAT doesn’t yet have target practice as a section. How was it dealing with reading comprehension and sentence correction after being away from academics for so many years?

Well, it does require an effort in terms of disciplining oneself into an academic routine. Once that is achieved the rest follows.

Q. Sun Tzu wrote the treatise on combat – Art of War. Many management gurus have subsequently adapted the work as a handbook for managers. Do you see a common thread between war and managing a business or is it a fancy metaphor with little linkage to real life in business?

Remove the actual fighting from War and one begins to see umpteen parallels between war and management – for instance consider the parallels in tasks such as strategizing, planning, goal setting, coordination, logistics and so on.

At their core both war and management are activities designed and executed to overcome a certain set of challenges. I see a lot of similarities between the two.

I remember that while I was pursuing a Masters in Defence Studies and Strategy at Defense Services Staff College, Wellington, we were taught a capsule on management as part of the program. In fact, the Army runs a one year management course for certain mid service level officers. So obviously the Army sees relevance of management principles in war. Conversely, there is no reason why management ideas cannot be adapted from military study.

Q. You served with the UN on a peacekeeping mission in Sudan. You have served as a Colonel in the Indian army.  What does the army teach that B-school can’t? And what does B-school teach that could benefit our troops? 

Leadership. I believe leadership skills are best learnt by doing. Try as one might, they cannot be accurately replicated in an academic environment. The armed forces give you the opportunity to exercise your leadership skills from a very young age. This adds to your confidence and your leadership ability early in life.

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I, for one, was fortunate to have led a United Nations observer team of 45 officers from 22 nationalities in a remote area of Sudan. Such leadership experiences are rare and perhaps it is only organisations like the Army which provide the environment to test your leadership mettle under such conditions.

On the other hand, refinement of collaborative processes and feedback systems is something one can pick up in a B school.

Q. Multiple choice test or Siachen?

Ha ha Siachen definitely. Right now I am struggling with a whole bunch of multiple choice questions.

Have a question you would like to ask Col. Tewari? Stand at ease and jot it down in the comments section below!

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23 Comments

  1. Dear col. Tiwari,
    Hats of you. I really appreciate your zeal and enthusiasm both at war front and management front. May I know, what difference you find while applying your leadership skills in defence and corporate world. Because war front and corporate are two extremely different domains with different characteristics.

    • Dear Mr Monga
      All I can say is that eventually leadership is about people, and leaders are those who can take people along to fulfill a certain objective -whether in the military, corporate, social or political sphere. Profesional militaries worldwide have some things in common – leadership is based on a certain value system, leadership development is well institutionalised and they have a strong leadership pipeline. I am sure you would agree that a corporate entity with such characterictics should also invariably thrive.

      Yes, frontline leadership at the point of contact with the ‘enemy’ is something that is unique to military forces. Here I believe, it is an intangible mix of personal heroism, bravery, ethos and value systems, ‘regimental spirit’ of the army and high standards of training which come together in a heady concoction resulting in feats by a team of men well beyond the ordinary.

  2. Hats off Rahul, it shows your thirst for knowledge. Your dedication and enthusiasm is amply clear and forthcoming in your interview, you will do exceptionally well in the corporate sector as well. Wishing you all the best for the future. Keep firing.

  3. Nice to see a colonel blending well in the civvy street and comprehending the nuances and intricacies of civil and army . Hope u do well . My best wishes with u colonel Rahul

  4. Pingback: The basics of One year full time MBA in India #7 - One year MBA vs two year pgp | Oneyearmba.co.in

  5. I feel happy that we have such people joining MBA
    It not only adds diversity but people like Col. Tiwari would definitely add diversity to class but also the knowledge and experience factor military persons bring will be altogether a different experience for other students as well

    With people with so much experience and knowledge , class would feel more like discussion and interaction among like minded and highly experienced veterans

  6. Rahul Sir,
    I am a signaller who has just done 20 years and taken premature retirement. I have secured admission to the one year program at IIM L. The cost of the course, need to sustain the family during the period and notional loss of salary during the period are being cited as reasons to dissuade me from going for the course. I am being advised to grab any job that comes my way at the earliest and try building my career in the tech stream, instead of a one year break for the MBA.
    May I request for your opinion ?

    • Hie rajesh

      i believe the core of the answer lies in what expectations one sets for oneself if one decides to do the program. a lot if us want to avail the program purely from the placement prespective. however a recuiter looking at a candidate with 20 years experience would obviously focus more on what skill sets the person has displayed at work through so many years and less on what he / she has done in a few months at the mba. hence one can be disappointed.

      having said that, there is immense learning which adds value to your work post the program and it definitely embelleshes your cv for future roles.

      at the end of it rajesh, this is a very personal decision you need to take with due deliberation. if outcome expectations are balanced its well worth the tine and effort!

  7. Indranil Dhar on

    Sir, im an infantryman and am quitting at 15.5 yrs after doing my dssc n staff due to personal reasons. I am giving my gmat soon and am looking for the ex pgme in IIMA or IIMB. May i request you to share your insights into the prep needed for the GMAT and subsequently cracking the admission quagmire satisfactorily, Thanks.

  8. aneesh mamgain on

    Dear Col Rahul, I am an engr offr myself and had served in both sudan and south sudan, Being an engr offr , there is no way u can comd a str of 1200 in a UN msn…….Even a CO from INDBATT does not get to do it….So obviously u have faked it all and are now giving gyaan after having been there and having done it all….pl do not place on record any false facts because u r also representing the indian army while earning ur dollars today….dear sir, u must have been a MILOB or a SO…..How can u comd tps in these appts?????JAI HIND….

    • I agree, he wears the rk of a Lt Col while at UN as seen in the piic and claims to be Comd 1200 tps….that too multi national….what a fantasy…..Fake……..

      • Hi Anirudh, your inputs are welcome but our servers show that Anirudh and Aneesh are are the same people! Why not wait for Col. Tewari to reply ? 🙂

    • Dear Aneesh
      This is Col Tewari. Pretty surprised you have used such strong words with out even reading the article properly. I stand by every word of this article. I do not need to display my service profile on the net but I am 90 batch and you can check my credentials from anybody around that batch. Once you have done that I am sure you will be wiser and hopefully apologetic!

      Warm regards

      Col Rahul Tewari (retd)

  9. @aneesh mam gain, anirudh. I would request that you must read the article again before making any comments. It is no where written that Col Tewari commanded 1200 men in a UN msn. One should refrain from making such invaluable comments which you made, which are insulting and doubt the integrity of such a highly decorated officer.

  10. Col Tewari Sir…very interesting and educative article indeed. I am 95 batch and I have been seriously thinking of taking the same course as yours may be by next year. I will certainly need your guidance. may I therefore request you to share your E mail ID or contact no with me. My E Mail ID is [email protected]. Thanks.
    – Colonel Vikrant Desai, SM

  11. Dear Sir, I came across the above post while going through certain articles regarding armed forces veterans in the corporate.Since the article is some 5 yrs old and the latest comment is also of 2016, I may not get a reply to my query.Regardless i will try my luck. I am a woman officer with 20 yrs service, planning to do 1 yr MBA at ISB/IIM. Need some clarity of vision regarding the role and industry in which I would be interested/suited for post my MBA,not only from essay and interview angle but also for my own understanding and introspection. May I request your contact details with suitable time to call.Mine is [email protected]

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