Kolkata: Harish Ahuja was a civil servant in the rank of deputy secretary in the Delhi government’s power department in 2006 when he was seized with the urge to learn new skills—in applied finance.
Financial edge: Ahuja says he has now been given a challenging role. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Ahuja, now 37, had studied subjects such as mechanical engineering and maintenance and machine design in college, but thought he needed an education in finance to be better at his job in a changing economy and climb up the ranks.
The need for knowledge of applied finance arose after the large-scale financial restructuring of government-owned utilities. “The department required someone who had a sound understanding of finance and also had a strong technical background,” says Ahuja. “I was already reading up a bit about finance on my own and found it interesting, but could not understand a few things. So I started looking for a course that would provide me...skills in finance.”
Also See Harish Ahuja’s profile
After considering several top business schools, including other Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), Ahuja zeroed in on the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIM-C), which had launched one-year courses for working executives in 2003.
IIM-C offers at least 20 courses for working executives in diverse subjects such as applied finance, supply chain management and business analytics. The institute has around 2,000 students in one-year executive MBA programmes that cost Rs2-3 lakh.
Ashok Banerjee, a professor and chairman of IIM-C’s consultancy and management development programmes, remembers Ahuja from the class of 2006-07 as someone who knew what extra skills he needed to become better at his job and set about acquiring them.
The one-year MBA programmes aren’t easy. Thousands apply for the course. Only 25-30% of the students get a leg-up on progressing at their jobs, according to Banerjee.
“A lot of people do not realize how tough these courses are…they are more difficult because students work all week, and, on top of that, have to sacrifice the weekends to attend classes,” he says. “A large number of students do not manage to clear the examinations in one attempt.”
Ahuja did. Before joining the programme, Ahuja had to convince his bosses about the merit of the course, and, in the end, the Delhi government paid the fee, which was Rs1.8 lakh then. “The principal secretary of the power department at the time, Rakesh Mehta, was instrumental in getting me into this course and subsequently offering me my new responsibilities,” says Ahuja. Because the Delhi government treated this course as a routine training programme, he wouldn’t have to repay the amount even if he quit the job. But Ahuja says he doesn’t plan to change jobs for at least 10 years.
After completing the course, Ahuja was given greater responsibilities almost immediately. He was appointed officer on special duty in charge of corporate planning and finance at two Delhi government-run power firms, Indraprastha Power Generation Co. Ltd (IPGCL), and Pragati Power Corp. Ltd (PPCL). Ahuja received plum job offers from the private sector, too, but decided to stay on with the Delhi government because of the challenging role he had been given.
Ahuja has since played a key role in several projects. He prepared the financial budget for a 1,500MW project, estimated to cost Rs4,500 crore, and firmed up a subsidy scheme aimed at offering electricity to underprivileged people and reducing power theft, to name a few.
Ahuja could continue to live and work in Delhi while he studied finance at IIM-C because the institute offers classroom coaching through videoconferencing. Teachers can be reached on phone as well; Ahuja says, they didn’t mind answering calls even at “odd hours”. “The faculty was great. Each student received personal care,” he says.
Though he had some problem understanding complex financial models initially, he managed to overcome them by spending a week at the campus in Kolkata. “Interactions with professors and students from the finance background helped a lot,” says Ahuja. “I wish I could spend a few more days at the campus.”
Ahuja, a father of two, credits his success to his family, particularly his wife Neetu, who works as a business development manager at the National Commodities and Derivatives Exchange. “Pursuing this course meant that there were no weekends for me for one year. I could not spend much time at home, but they stood by me,” says Ahuja. Encouraged by his success, his wife Neetu too decided to pursue an MBA in finance at the Institute of Management and Technology, Ghaziabad.
“She wanted to specialize in human resource initially, but I motivated her to take up finance,” says Ahuja.
But success stories such as Ahuja’s aren’t heard too often, says an IIM-C professor, who didn’t want to be named. “Some of the PSUs (public sector undertakings) have training budgets that are double the amount spent by many large private sector companies. But due to lack of competency mapping (at the PSUs), the training often fails to yield any positive result,” the professor adds.