Kaptains Of Kozhikode – Exceptional Student, Faculty, Winner Of The ‘Last Man Standing’ Competition – Rohit Sardana – Class of 2016

Kaptains of Kozhikode returns for another season! Meet the stalwarts from the IIM in God’s Own Country.

Meet Rohit Sardana

(To meet other Kaptains of Kozhikode click here)

You were awarded with a merit scholarship for being in the top 5% of your batch at IIM-K. There’s a saying that in a B-school, you need to forgo nearly everything else, and spend all your time studying to be able to achieve that sort of a feat. How much of it do you feel is the truth?

For me, that statement does not hold to be true. I have never been on that side where people just study for marks though many would have thought the opposite for me (smiles). Marks were never a priority for me. On a personal front, a B-school was all about developing a perspective on each and every thing you came across and not about slogging days and nights. You would say developing a perspective is good for discussions and not for marks. That is true. But with discussions your mind becomes more open to new things, gets new ideas and eventually if you are able to put them on paper in the end, marks are just an add-on. Harvard, ISB and many other reputed institutes have a common thing. In each of these institutes, the students have to discuss the cases within their groups and are then only allowed to enter the class. We do not have that culture here. So I just tried reading cases as everyone reads novels or newspapers and develop his/her own viewpoint on that. I did the same. I was more open towards accepting what others had to say though I debated and discussed a lot on those issues before I accepted them. Moreover, for me it has always been about learning new concepts and I used to that in the lectures itself.

We’ve heard that there’s an interesting story behind you winning the ‘Last Man Standing’ competition at SIBM Pune in your first year. Let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth!

It was one of the most memorable moments in the past two years of my PGDM. It was my first competitive event as an IIM K student as I was busy with other committee works till that time. I had always heard about competitions being an important part of B-school life so I wanted to experience that phase. I knew it would take a few competitions before I could get some positive results as there are a lot of big shots existing already in that field. I had been selected for similar competition across three institutes that were having their Management festivals at the same time. So I had to choose. I decided on SIBM as I had heard that it gives an individual one of the best experiences of his/her lifetime. There were 16 students participating from reputed B-Schools all across India shortlisted after three pre-campus rounds. I never expected to win as there were a lot of 2nd years who had more experience in terms of competitions and also more domain knowledge across different functions. It was a gruelling contest spanning across three days with a plethora of events (almost 33-35 tasks) spread across different functions. Started with an Ice breaking session which literally involved breaking the ice with spoons (chuckles) and moved on to other events which included B-plan creation, financial budget presentation, operations strategy game etc. The most interesting event for me was the one in which everyone was left in the city in groups of 4 without any money and was asked to earn money and reach back to the college gate themselves. After every few rounds, 3-4 students were eliminated. Somehow with persistence and god’s grace, I managed to survive till the last Interview round where only two were left. We were interviewed by an eminent personality in front of a crowd of 1500-2000 people where we were grilled to the core. I slept only 55 minutes in total during the 3 days and I assure you it’s not easy to give that last round with a state of mind where your mind just requires some rest. I did not even realise it for a moment that I had won it as I was still pondering over some grilling questions of the interview. I was told by someone there that I was the first one from IIM Kozhikode to ever win it. It was a moment of pride for me. If someone is interested in competitions I recommend you should at least try your hands at this particular event.

You’ve had a stint with an Educational Institute, and even had a fair share of experience as a faculty. Tell us about the stint. How did it happen and how was it like being on the other side?

I was giving a mock CAT PI at a reputed institute where the interviewer who was a faculty in another institute apparently liked me and invited me for taking PDP (personality development program) sessions for students. I am a person who does not like sitting idle and as I had left my previous job and I knew this would help me prepare for my IIM interviews as well so I decided to join. Over the time, they asked me to develop some content for their program which I did. Eventually, I was put in front of students to give a demo session for teaching Quantitative Ability and Logical Reasoning which somehow turned to be successful and I was put in charge as a faculty for their upcoming session. My funda was simple. As a student whenever I had sat in a class I also did not use to like some teachers due to one or the other drawbacks that they had, so I wanted to make sure that I did not bring them in my teaching. Also, there are a lot of students who do not understand concepts quickly so it was also important to involve them in the class. I knew there were many others who were more knowledgeable than me but their teaching styles were different. I just focussed on involving everyone in the class through puzzles, leaving the pens aside and making them think. The word in education spreads pretty fast. Without applying anywhere, I received a few more offers from other educational institutes. I brought on the other side what I had learned and witnessed as a student. And it’s a mere coincidence that I received a call from the institute I worked for, a few days back to join them again for their upcoming session before my job starts (Smiles- though they are also ready to give me a full-time job as well at a pretty decent pay)

Was the transition to being a student difficult or easier post that experience? Also, drawing from your experience as a faculty and as a student in India, as well as your experience at the EDHEC Business School in France, do you feel there are gaps in the Indian Education system (or in general) that need to be bridged?

The transition for me was not that difficult. I am a person who has always believed that a young mind is impressionable and should be willing to take up every opportunity that it gets to learn. Even when you are a faculty you learn every day from your students and improve yourself everyday so whatever side you are on it does not matter much.

Gaining exposure across different cultures through their education system was an enriching experience. If I compare the B-School education system here and at EDHEC there was a lot of difference. Most of the faculties/professors there are brought in directly from the industry and are not permanent members of EDHEC. Most of our courses were like this in which an eminent person from an industry used to come, give us some of their live problems, form groups, discuss and finish the course in an average of 3 days. A course there is not spread over an entire trimester like here. It gets finished in 3-4days. The people from industry give a different perspective which includes whatever they do while solving a problem for their organisation, what all points were brought to the table while they solved, how did they eliminate some and how did they chose some solutions. Here more focus is on the theoretical aspect which somewhat limits an individual. In India, if I am not wrong it is only ISB and some other IIMs may be where there is a culture of bringing in people directly from the industry. (Yes the students in France are not that good with numbers but they are much better conceptually). So I guess there should be me more corporate-industry-institute interaction per se to improve the quality of output and efficiency as these people from the industry would be able to provide a better knowledge in terms of the requirements that suit the present needs of the economy

You’ve worked in various sectors (Power, Automobile, Education, Administrative, Finance). Tell us about the learning achieved and the differences in working in such diverse sectors? Was it always part of the plan?

I am a person who has always believed in putting hands into new and different things and learning at least the conceptual part of it. A “Jack of all trades, master of none”, for me if I need to reach the top spot in the organisation I work for, I need to have knowledge about different functions. The growth path of an individual who has had experience in different domains is much swift than those involved in only one domain throughout their lives. This is majorly because a person who has had experience in different domains is able to evaluate the decisions he or she makes from multiple perspectives which is not the case with others. Yes, some might disagree with me but it has worked for me till now. Though I have not reached any high position yet but I have been able to use my past experiences in making day to day decisions whether it be in projects, internship or even my personal life.

It was a part of the plan always but I never executed it myself, most of it happened by itself. Leaving NTPC was not an option for me as I took up different roles over there itself whether it be project management, financial auditing etc. but due to a health issue I had to switch which made me move to another domain. Deciding to leave for further studies eventually made me experience the ups and downs of education sector itself. With an interest in Finance but a profile which favoured a general management role landed me up at TAS during the internship. So it was a fight to enter the field of Finance which I somehow secured eventually. Though a part of the plan was about experiencing different functions, it was not about moving from one organisation to another. That happened itself and it was a blessing in disguise for me as it allowed me to witness work across different sectors.

Any piece of advice that you’d like to share with the students of PGP-19 and the prospective students at IIM-K?

Come with an open mind. Time passes by pretty quickly in a B-school. You will be exposed to a lot of information in a very short span of time, it’s on you to decide how you assimilate that information for your own good. Some people do not realise how quickly the time has passed by and they have done nothing significant except getting a job (which for some is the main target in an MBA). You will get a job for sure at one or the other place. What is important is to chase your dreams and live this experience. Feel proud to be a part of one of the reputed B-schools in India.

I have always followed a phrase by Benjamin Franklin which might be followed by many of you too-

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”

 To meet other Kaptains of Kozhikode click here