The first master in business administration (MBA) lecture I attended was a revelation.
People were lolling around in their seats, some in shorts and T-shirts, girls in halters, and a lot of coffee cups... so different from Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (IIT KGP)!
The professor walked in—he, too, was in shorts and a T-shirt. He introduced himself and the class started. In between, one student, who had his feet up on the table and was sipping coffee, said, “Hey Bob (professor’s name), could you run through that again, please?”
The professor nodded and retraced his narrative.
If such a scenario had happened in IIT, I wondered, who would be rusticated, the student or the professor!
I had been surprised to find that I would have to attend only 16 hours of class a week and that I could choose from any of several time slots because the same course was being taught by different professors. This meant that, by choosing judiciously, I could have up to four free days a week when there was no class at all.
Such a complete contrast to IIT where you had class all day, every day!
The answer was found in the very next class. The professor was accompanied by a uniformed porter pushing a large wheelbarrow full of paper. The professor explained that those were the handouts for the course – 16 documents of over 100 pages each. We were expected to study the material ourselves and prepare for discussion in class. There were to be no lectures, only discussions.
Now I understood why I would have so many free hours.
I needed help to make my way around this completely unfamiliar educational system.
Enter Samarendra Narayan Roy Choudhury, aka—you guessed it—Sammy.
Sammy was brilliant, somewhat eccentric, super helpful, and very friendly. He was my classmate in the MBA programme.
Dear Sammy was a mathematician at heart. His father had tolerated his passion until he finished his MSc in Pure Maths, and then put his foot down. He wanted Sammy to get a good job in a reputed company, not teach Maths in some college. So, he had either inveigled (haha! I love the word) or bullied Sammy into joining an MBA programme.
Sammy became my mentor, friend and partner in crime. He guided me on what courses to select, which teachers to choose for each course, and how to find the shortcuts.
We quickly found that our goal was the same—to get an MBA (with decent grades) as quickly as possible, with the minimum of effort, and get back to India. To this end, we invented workarounds which were models of efficiency.
For instance, we attended the same classes in the first semester (101-type classes). Clearly, there was no need for both of us to attend every class. So, we attended alternate classes and took copious notes (in legible handwriting—Sammy insisted) which we photocopied and passed to the other.
We discovered that, in the Accounting 101 class, the teacher solved, on the blackboard, the problems given in the textbook. This was just a waste of time, you see; hence we solved the problems ourselves, with the help of an Indian PhD (Finance) student who was already a chartered accountant (CA).
(Correction—I solved half the problems and Sammy, the other half.)
Obviously, it was pointless attending Accounting 101 class, right? We never went to any class thereafter but appeared for the mid-term and end-term tests, and both of us maxed both the tests.
Easy-peasy! Sammy was a Maths genius, and I was a quanti-type IIT grad. Accounting 101? Bah!!
After the grades were announced (both of us got an A), the professor summoned us to his office.
“You never attended class but scored full marks in the tests! How did you do it?”
We kept mum.
“And why didn’t you come to class in the first place? You paid good money for tuition!”
We could hardly tell the professor that his classes were a waste of time, so we kept mum.
Ultimately, the professor mumbled something to himself and let us go.
But Sammy’s masterstroke came later.
He discovered that the MBA school ran evening classes for executives from Xerox, Kodak and General Motors, the three big employers in Rochester NY. These executives were not looking for high grades: B+, A and so on. All they needed was just a C, or even a D, in each course, so that they would pass and get their MBAs, whereupon the company would reimburse their tuition fees.
Our MBA school operated on the ‘relative grading’ system. This meant that the top 10% or so of the students in each class would get an A, irrespective of what marks they actually got.
It didn’t take much genius to work out that if we enrolled for the evening classes, we would be competing with students who only wanted a passing grade – a sure ticket to an A on the relative grading system.
So, we switched to evening classes, which changed our entire lifestyle. We moved to IST (India Standard Time), or somewhat there.
We would wake up at 4pm, go to classes from 6 to 9, study until midnight, and enjoy ourselves until bedtime – 8 am.
To our surprise, a number of other fellows joined in, mostly PhD students who had no classes anyway. Their domain was their labs and the library, which operated 24/7. So all of us got together in the early hours of the morning, a bit after midnight, and had fun.
There were some unintended, and beneficial, side effects, too.
More on this later…
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world, playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)