Umesh Rathaur (ISB CO’19), with 20 years in the Indian Navy and now a Senior Manager at Cars24, talks to ISBmantra about his unique background before ISB and how the ISB MBA helped him transition to the corporate.
ISBMantra: Please give us a brief about your profile before ISB happened.
Umesh Rathaur: Immediately after school, I joined the National Defense Academy (NDA). From there I joined the combat arm of the Indian Navy in the capacity of an Operations Specialist. I served for 20 years before I joined ISB. And I held the position of Joint Director of the naval operations in Delhi for the last 5 years of my pre-ISB career. I was in charge of managing the entire operations of the Navy along the Indian coastline. I also coordinated with foreign navy men for various training exercises. Apart from handling many smuggling operations and anti-pirate operations, I played a key role in ‘Operation Sukoon’ in 2006 wherein I evacuated people from Lebanon during the war.
ISBMantra: Why did you consider the option of pursuing an MBA at this stage in your career?
Umesh Rathaur: After having served for 20 years, I was keen to explore opportunities beyond the armed forces. So, I thought of getting into the corporate world. But I wanted to actually learn about industries and understand how various companies function. While I did evaluate part-time and correspondence MBA courses, I eventually decided to pursue a fulltime flagship program at a b-school because a flagship program would give me the opportunity to interact with a diverse cohort and pick the nuances of working in the corporate, in addition to learning about business through a structured curriculum.
ISBMantra: Most people who pursue an MBA are from an engineering or business background. Did you ever have concerns about being able to excel at a Management degree – especially given your high experience?
Umesh Rathaur: Oh yes, I did have some apprehension in terms of matching up with the cohort. So, in order to overcome the same, I did some preparation on my own before joining ISB. I meticulously practiced all the preparation given by ISB before the classes actually commenced. Additionally, I also reached out to alumni to seek ideas for good books to learn statistics and basics of accounting.
ISBMantra: Given your non-traditional background, did you ever get deterred by the idea of taking the GMAT and how did you go about preparing for your GMAT?
Umesh Rathaur: I was not really deterred but I was aware that I would take some time to get used to studying for GMAT, since I was away from academics for the last 20 years of my life. That’s why I enrolled myself to a coaching class because it would give me an opportunity to get the feel of a classroom again and also ensure that I study for GMAT everyday with my potential classmates in post-graduation course. I studied for about 5 months and was able to get a decent score.
ISBMantra: What schools did you consider for your MBA and how did you zero in on ISB?
Umesh Rathaur: I wanted to do my MBA in India because I wasn’t keen on moving my family abroad. Doing so would hamper my kids’ school and would give me less time to spend with my parents. Now, within India I did apply to ISB and the 1-year programs at the top 3 IIMs. I received an admit from ISB and IIM Ahmedabad. Eventually I chose to join ISB because at ISB I had the opportunity to meet a myriad of people with very different work experiences and with a wide gamut of the number of years spent in corporate life (i.e. 2 to 20 years of work-ex). At IIM Ahmedabad, I would not have got the opportunity to meet with the younger lads since the average work experience is on the higher side of the spectrum. ISB also presented wider variety in terms of the recruiters visiting the campus.
ISBMantra: Did you face any challenges getting back to studies? Any other challenges you faced during your MBA at ISB?
Umesh Rathaur: So, I would say that the very act of getting up in the morning and going to classroom, instead of going to work, felt quite different. It took me about a month to get back into the mode of listening to lectures in a classroom. Next, being from a really under-represented pool, I could not make friends instantly on the basis of a common employer or a common under graduation institution. I just knew a couple of people who I had met during the city-wise meetups that happen a few months before joining ISB. But then, at ISB I realized that it is so easy to make friends because there are so many team-based activities that happen every single day. Today I can confidently say that I know everyone by their first name at the Mohali campus.
ISBMantra: In addition to academic learning and industry exposure, what other ways do you think you benefited from your decision to study at ISB?
Umesh Rathaur: I think my biggest learning, other than academics, came from living with the cohort at ISB. For the past 20 years, I was working in a very different world, working with a very different kind of people. Now that I had decided to get into corporate life after ISB, my main aim was to understand the other 300 people at Mohali campus, understand what motivates them and what demotivates them, and understand what kind of tasks are perceived as challenges by people who have already spent a reasonable period of time in the corporate world. The talks arranged by the various clubs at ISB gave me the opportunity to further understand about the corporate world by listening to renowned stalwarts from various industries.
ISBMantra: How did you go about planning your career post MBA? What courses or opportunities at ISB did you find specifically helpful in making a career transition?
Umesh Rathaur: As I worked in operations for 20 years, I didn’t really want to change my concentration. So, I majored in Strategy & Leadership and Operations at ISB. I was also an active participant in the Manufacturing and Operations club and I did the KPMG Lean Six Sigma certification to better understand the processes followed in the corporate world. Lastly, by the virtue of the nature of my job, I was easily able to grasp subjects and completely able to relate to what professors said in all the supply-chain classes.
ISBMantra: What are the typical career opportunities available to people working in the armed forces sector post ISB?
Umesh Rathaur: I think the most probable career opportunity for people who share my background is in the field of operations. Actually, to break it further, people who previously worked in air force have the liberty to easily transition into other industries such as the aviation industry. But people from navy background largely get absorbed into operations-heavy roles. Also given that defense personnel have typically led large teams before joining ISB, one can try for the senior leadership roles that require strong people management skills.
After ISB, I will be joining Cars24 as a Senior General Manager.
ISBMantra: What is your advice to candidates from the armed forces sector for their Application to ISB and even once they start their studies at ISB?
Umesh Rathaur: My advice to future ISB aspirants who share my background is to really focus on the applications and ensure that a coherent story is conveyed through all the essays. We, from the defense background, are typically not exposed to selling our skillsets in the form of interviews or internal hiring meetings. Therefore, aspirants should consciously see to it that the story is very clearly conveyed. And at ISB, I would advise future students to be as interactive and as easy going as possible. Because compared to most other students, students who share my background have a lot more to learn since they have never really worked in a corporate setting. While learning hard-skills is certainly important, developing soft-skills is simply indispensable.