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My MBA Journey: IIM L – PGPSM

It was back in the 2015-16 season, if I remember correctly, that Sachin first managed to track me down by leaving a comment on my blog. I was handling the IMS business in Chennai, he was a student of IMS based out of Kolkata and he wanted some advice on quitting his job and taking another shot at the CAT. The thing with really mature students is that they need guidance only at a  really broad level, the rest they customize themselves (and there is the blog, anyway) and Sachin is one such individual.

He went on to secure admission into the relatively new Sustainability Management Program launched by IIM-L. Since then he has been doing quite well and has even played a part in helping an administration out during the pandemic. If you read his post you will find he had all the ingredients that a student joining a new or baby IIM or a new program needs —  this post.

Here is his journey in his own words.

From back of the envelope estimation to looking ahead

Disclaimer: The article is supposed to give you a sneak peek to the course primarily through what all I could do while I was a student of PGPSM. You would have read articles from people (some alums, some anons), and read the course brochure all of which have highlighted what the course is about and so I would not mention those aspects in greater details.

It has been long, approximately 2 years, since Tony sir (I like sir-ing him for the role he has played in my life in my tryst(s) with the feline and that too when he was more than 1,700 km away from where I was) asked me to come up with a writeup on my journey at the PGP in Sustainable Management (PGPSM) course of IIM Lucknow. The major reason behind the reminders from sir, as I understand, was the “lack of sufficient information” pertaining to this course which led to the questions of the students remaining unanswered and it also, to a large extent, didn’t let the students do a scenario analysis before joining the course. Thanks to the push from sir over a fantastic WhatsApp message today (the message could be considered a classic example in persuasive communication lessons) I have decided to write about my experience.

It is very important to mention here that I would not be making any recommendations in favour of or against joining the course more so because I have heard and read opinions on both sides – support and against – of about what this course has meant to students. What you will read below is a resultant of what all resources and constraints I possessed, the different corners I tried to cover while I was making choices (before, during and post PGPSM), the set of expectations I had made up before joining the course and the steps I undertook to rationalize my decision and to meet my expectations. In addition, I have also tried to draw your attention (at the end of this article) towards some more thought points that could emerge in the mind of someone joining this course during this pandemic.

I have structured the post into 4 timelines, to better highlight my version (and certainly not the version) of the proceedings –

  1. Pre PGPSM – the times of back of the envelope estimations
  2. During PGPSM – focusing on quantity and quality
  3. Post PGPSM – looking back
  4. During Corona times – looking ahead

Pre PGPSM – the times of back of the envelope estimations

After getting rejected by XLRI (PGDHRM) and TISS (MA-HRM&LR) in 2016, it was time for a re-calibration of strategy and/or goals. The interviews were not only my first few B-School interviews but also one of the first instances of my success in an MBA entrance exam.

In May 2016, I decided to quit my job from a reputed (& common) IT service organization to focus wholeheartedly at one last attempt.

I had heard in one of MS Dhoni’s interviews where he had told that while deciding whether to persevere for achieving an unmet goal or not, it is not only important for you to feel that you are good enough but more important for a neutral mentor/guru/expert to feel that you are indeed good enough.

I met some of my mentors and had honest (and even almost humiliating) discussions with them and thankfully they suggested that I should be taking at least one more wholehearted attempt.

While I prepared for the attempt, I was also working as a freelance facilitator where I was training students of a reputed engineering college of Kolkata as a part of their campus recruitment training initiative. Come December 2016, I took the CAT and managed to secure the 98.9th percentile. Although I was not convinced with my performance in QA (a shy 89.26th percentile), it was all that I had.

My profile was one with an average academics (82% in Xth standard, 76% in XIIth standard and 79.4% in Btech in IT), a pretty ordinary work-ex of 35 months in a mainstream IT firm and a decent set of extracurriculars (especially PoRs). When the calls started flowing in, I had shortlisted from MDI (G), IIM L (PGPSM), all new IIMs, IIM Ranchi (HRM), and all baby IIMs (missed NITIE due to my stellar scores in QA 😊).

The PI sessions began with those of new and baby IIMs followed by the one for MDI (G) and concluded with the one for IIM Lucknow (PGPSM). While the one for new & baby IIMs was a humiliating one, the other 2 started making me feel of a sureshot convert.

The interview panel for IIM Lucknow had Prof. Sushil Kumar (who was then chairing PGPSM) who has been a mentor and a guide for me ever since the interview happened. The interview traversed through the budget, India’s posturing on issues of climate change and multiple aspects on impact of environment and social issues on businesses.

Once the PI results started pouring in, I had managed to convert all my calls except the PGDM call from IIM Ranchi. Based on my initial research and my understanding, I was sure of choosing between MDI (HRM) and IIM L (PGPSM). To make the final choice, I started a deeper research – from speaking to alums to searching on Quora. I also wrote to Prof Sushil Kumar (yes, I had searched the IIM L website to identify the proffs who had interviewed me) and reminded him of my interview experience in his panel and sought his guidance. He responded at the end of that day stating that he did remember me and then he called me, and we spoke for over an hour discussing the several facets of the programme – job profiles, course structure, future prospects. Meanwhile, I had also had phone calls with Tony sir and with several friends and alums of different colleges (had befriended a lot of helpful souls as a result of my engagement on Pagalguy) to understand their views on my decisions.

Some key aspects which came out of my conversations during the month of May in 2017, were –

  • PGPSM being a new course will need a lot of contribution from my side – be it in processes, or in placements or in anything in general
  • PGPSM could NOT be considered as a “backdoor entry” to IIM Lucknow – as far as placements were concerned
  • MDI (HRM) was a natural choice suggested by a lot of people – secure placements, no separate campus, and my liking for HRM as a subject.
  • Sustainability related roles seemed to be too specialised
  • … and several others (anecdotes from the previous batches’ students, biases of students on both sides etc.)

On the placements’ front, I started to speak to IIM L alums from PGPM, PGPABM as well as PGPSM and got a sense of the ‘numbers’ being close to the then known average at MDI (HRM) and also around the mid to front end of the ‘numbers’ at the other campuses whose calls I had converted. Of course, the roles which had been offered to the students of PGPSM were more towards sustainability and comparatively less towards other business function. Overall, I was not deterred looking at whatever numbers and the kind of roles that reached me and the other fellow call-getters.

Another important factor, that I had been researching about was the possibility of moving from sustainability roles, if need be, to general management and the other business functions. I was pleased to know of alums who went for fin roles, general management roles and these few examples along with discussions with senior alums from IIM L (PGP) gave me a perspective that the shifting to other profiles although possible is not only a factor of my MBA major but several other such variables – previous workex, certifications, network, and, above all, tenacity!

On the academic front, I came to know that some of the most revered proffs of IIM L took classes for PGPSM students and the fact that all the students had more than 2 years of workex brought life to the discussions in the classroom – as was told by proffs and several alums.

As you would have understood, I had started drifting towards PGPSM in terms of my decision making and was all set to enter campus with some targets in my mind, which I had not only listed down for myself but had also gotten them vetted by Prof Sushil and Tony sir –

  • To win some case competitions
  • Utilise the Noida location to work with organisations (provision of live project in the course helped)
  • Become an active member of committees
  • Make connections with some Proffs
  • … and of course, make lifelong connections

That year, PGPSM had also invited the final call getters for an interaction session and my desire only strengthened after I went for the session when I met proffs, students and alums. The call getters asked their queries and the proffs and alums shared their views based on what was happening at the world level and also tried to establish its connection with the course’s offerings.

During PGPSM – focusing on quantity and quality

The classes on the first day began with Prof Archana Shukla (present Director of IIM L) taking the course on Behaviour in Organisations (BIO). The courses on financial, economics, operations, marketing and quantitative application in management were taught to ingrain the fundamentals of businesses alongside the courses such as principles of sustainability, sustainability reporting to maintain the balance between learning the fundamentals of business and adding to it the understanding of society and the environment. Apart from the several full-credit and half-credit courses on business sustainability, a lot of core courses too had case studies and modules owing to the application of sustainability-related concepts along with that subject’s concepts.

As the courses began running in full flow, I was inducted into one of the most talked about committees, of any MBA programme. I have also made some of my closest friends from this committee. The senior committee members were the fun lot who gave a lot of gyaan and inducted us well, after the official induction into the programme. Also, meeting a few seniors and batchmates who had chosen PGPSM over the regular PGP at IIM L gave a different perspective.

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In the first month of joining, the notification for Hindustan Unilever’s Lessons in Marketing Excellence (LIME) arrived and I asked my friends – Pankaj and Amogh – whether they would be interested to team up and we started working on the first assignment in no time. We were less hopeful as we didn’t know the fundamentals of Marketing back then and were only thinking from first principles. Luckily, we got selected for the campus finals for which we went to the main campus and had an amazing time meeting friends and prepping for the finals. After 2 rounds of presentations and a grilling Q&A, we were declared as the IIM Lucknow campus winners for LIME amidst the applause of the audience (largely PGP and PGP ABM batchmates). We were told that not only were we the first winners of such a reputed case competition from PGPSM but were also among the few 1st year teams to have won the campus rounds across colleges in the nine editions of LIME. Although we didn’t win the National finals, which was ably won by a friend’s team from IIM Indore, we had gained loads of confidence to propel us.

The summers went well for me, with me getting into a desirable role at one of the oldest philanthropic institutions in India (even before joining the course, I was targeting the organization and was lucky enough to get a convert). My batchmates too got through roles in consulting, finance, marketing, sustainability among others. It is also important to mention here that there were a few friends who somehow, despite their knowledge and preparation, had difficulty in converting several interviews and some also had to accept offers at stipends lesser than they deserved. After the summer placements, we went to the main campus to have a gala time during the fest (MV, as we know it). I participated in a competition organized by the Government of UP on Skill development and my team was declared as the national winner at the end of the rounds.

In the following term, the non-academic work was all about the final placements of my seniors’ batch which demanded a lot of hard work since it was the 2nd batch of PGPSM and we had a lot of ground to cover in terms of getting newer firms for recruitment. Once the placements got underway, I had some time at my disposal which I used to advise a standup comedian about his international go-to market strategy and also helped him strategise for creating a brand name out of his on-stage name. It was a fun experience and paid me handsomely too 😊.

The summer internship turned out to be 2 months of absolute revelations and learning and I also got a flavour of the government advisory landscape. This internship also gave me an opportunity to better value the courses I had been learning and also its application at the ground level. My project was about tribal education and hence the People part of the triple bottom line and its interlinkage with operations and human resource during my 2 months’ project brought me a clearer perspective on the relevance of my learning (doing a reality check helps!).

Once we returned from the summer internship, I had gotten myself a paid live project with one of the Big 3 (MBB) firm’s social initiative where I worked on their project operations. It was an amazing experience and I was working under the VP, Operations. Meanwhile, we went for a 2-week sojourn to Stockholm and Vaxjo in Sweden, Amsterdam and Maastricht in the Netherlands as a part of the course – international immersion.

Once the ongoing live project seemed to reach its fag end, I participated in, yet another competition launched by the Government of UP, this time on Tourism (Kumbh Mela), where again my team was adjudged the national winner.

Next was the summer internship for the junior batch which turned out to be better than the previous batches. The batch’s diligence and preparedness also helped wrap up the process fast. After the summers, I got engaged with a subscription-based micro-delivery service company in its product management team (with a decent stipend 😊). When I posted about this engagement on a social media platform, one senior pinged me asking me to send my updated CV as he had some potential opportunity for my profile in his firm. The process which took up from there went underway and I eventually managed to secure a job in the government advisory practice of a big-4 firm. During the last term of the course, I received a call from a very senior alum of IIM L who had called me to check whether I would be interested in joining his firm in a sustainability-centric role. I told him how I had accepted the previous offer and that I wouldn’t be able to join. My batchmates had secured roles in consulting to marketing to sales to operations and at better “numbers” than the preceding years. 

Was it as smooth as it could be? Hell, no!

There were several cases which needed the students to undergo situations which could be termed closer to being stressful –

  • Not an old course – The newness of the course as well as the smaller size of alums had its limitations with regards to recognition in the industry. However, with success in case competitions across colleges and across firms brought some recall value
  • Missing “dream roles”? – In case of placements too, a lot of the coveted roles did not open up for our batch and this caused stress for a lot of the talented and deserving students who probably had expected of those roles.
  • Trying hard to be positive – We also had quite a few naysayers too, people who had had dissonance within months of joining and more so after the course got midway. Of course, they would have come with their set of expectations which they couldn’t find matching and hence their realisation.
  • Missing junta – The times spent on the main campus did sometimes make students feel the need for staying with a larger number of like-minded students. However, the executive courses’ students’ presence helped in organizing parties and sports events (tournaments, ftw!)

I heard them and could easily identify several differences in their approach as well as in their expectations compared against mine.

Personally, my prioritization helped me minimize the occurrences of dissonance. In fact, as highlighted in the previous timeline, I tried to the best of my ability to make my decision work for me. In this endeavour, I tried to do several things which not only helped me earn accolades for myself, and in making some great friends from among batchmates and seniors of PGPSM, PGPM and PGPABM but also brought recognition to my programme among several other things.

Thus, this phase was spread across 6 trimesters where I did 3 corporate projects – with a standup comedian, with one of the Big 3 (MBB) firm’s social initiative and with a subscription-based micro-delivery service company – did several case studies, successfully completed one summer internship and won 3 case competitions (By the 2nd term, I had also set a target of doing either a competition or a project in each term). These initiatives I undertook apart from the summer internship – case competitions, live projects – got me richer in experience and also got me connected to several alums from all the courses of IIM L and thereby helped me build a network which has helped me in multiple ways during and after college too. Another aspect of the live projects was a constant reality check of my learning – be it for go-to market strategy, perception and consumer behavior towards sustainable packing for the delivery service company and while designing the operations’ guide.

Academically too, I did reasonably well and managed to secure straight As in Organisational Behaviour, Consumer Behaviour, Strategy Management, Services Marketing, Research methods, Sustainability reporting and 3 other courses.

Post PGPSM – looking back

After graduating, I joined the firm which I had converted, and I was deployed in Guwahati where I started working with government departments and have been working for the past 1 year 1 month.

In the past one year, I have got the opportunity to work in areas such as technology, human resource (training & capacity building), public procurement, project management, security & justice domain among others. Also, in the first 3 consecutive quarters after joining, I ended up receiving firm-level recognitions in each quarter. Furthermore, during these corona times, I also got the opportunity to work with the state government in bringing stranded people back to the state and also helping the state’s transformation and development think tank in devising strategies for the revival of some sectors of the economy in the post-Corona scenario.

Meanwhile, I read about an opportunity in a coveted GenMan programme in an IT giant, which was open only for students from select B-schools. Looking at the competition in store and with a desire to test myself, I applied for the same and got shortlisted for its process. The processes – director’s GD, case study and rounds of interviews – went well and I also reached the final rounds of the selection process but unfortunately, the hiring went on hold due to Corona.

As I look at the programme as an alum, I have come to know from the placement reports that the “numbers” have increased, the number of new organisations which showed interest this year has also increased which shows that for the 4th batch of PGPSM, not only have the numbers improved, but also the variety of roles offered have improved by a considerable margin.

So all set? Dig deeper!

During Corona times – looking ahead

As I had already stated in the disclaimer and as is obvious from the post above, this article is an account of what all I did with what all resources (knowledge, time as well as opportunity) I had at my disposal. If I sounded didactic in anyway, I would urge you to not think so, because all of the above is my version of what I experienced at PGPSM and in no way a generic “2 years at PGPSM” sort of a write-up.

Some of the key points to ponder about the programme, as I see it today and some points which have been put up so nicely by Tony sir in his previous post are listed below for your consideration–

  • The students joining the course will need to work hard and will need to drive the proceedings; they will need to take active roles and keep looking for opportunities.
  • As already mentioned above, Noida campus had a setback in terms of the distance from the PGP and PGPABM batchmates but had an impeccable advantage in terms of the opportunities it brought in due to the proximity to Delhi-NCR.
  • The student joining should try and have a larger goal in sight before joining the course and then she/he should take the twists and turns as they come (during the 2 years). This setting of expectation would help the student stay focused even when the chips are down; So, the students should try and be clear, to the extent possible, on what their expectations from the course are before they join and they should also learn to separate their expectations from those of their peers. Furthermore, as they go through the 2 years, they should be able to re-posture based on the then existing reality.
  • If a student is passive, and she/he expects to be a passenger on the ship and who feels that she/he will be taken to a destination and who are only bothered about reaching there — their placement, their CTC, their dream firm — then they are better off not joining PGPSM, and, if possible, they should rather join an established private school that will give them a decent placement.
  • The aforementioned point makes all the more sense amidst Corona, because in the present scenario, it is being estimated in some analysis that the demand for manpower may reduce in organisations and hence the possibility of a dream placement may take back seat. Hence, in this situation, it will be most advisable to take up the converts which are “more secure” on the placement front, because the return on investment factor will keep playing on the minds till the end of the course. I could also stretch the argument to bring in the risk vs reward relationship, but that will be farfetched.
  • Sustainability related roles may strong appear as cost pockets in these times and, if I may say so, not all the firms would want to be stewards to undertake initiatives pertaining to sustainability (amidst these times of cash crunch). However, I would love to believe that by the time the 2020-2022 batch gets placed, the economic situations would get better and I also hope that the present pandemic would give a thrust to the environment-related considerations of the organisations.

May you identify your personality type, and your drivers so that you are able to make the best decision for yourself in the present situation.

I would leave you with this interesting set of videos uploaded by Simon Sinek on his book ‘The Infinite Game’ –

All the best!


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