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



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, [pullquote]I believe leadership skills are best learnt by doing. Try as one might, they cannot be accurately replicated in an academic environment[/pullquote]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.[pullquote]At their core both war and management are activities designed and executed to overcome a certain set of challenges[/pullquote]

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.


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!