Bangalore: Gautam Seshadri, 30, bustles between his apartment-cum-office, rented kitchen and takeaway outlet, clocking 14 hours daily. He supervises his eight cooks, replenishes okra for the evening’s menu and ensures that the cooking gas cylinders are not spent. Evenings are spent in Ghatotkitchen, the retail takeaway outlet he set up a few months back in Sahakara Nagar, a quiet suburb in north Bangalore, recommending a variety of dishes and schmoozing with customers as his store manager weighs, packs and bills their dinner.
New opportunities: Gautam Seshadri (left), founder of Ghatotkitchen; and (right) Rajiv Jayaraman, founder of Knolskape Solutions. Hemant Mishra/Mint
Rewind a few years, and the scene was different. Seshadri was leading the heady life of a fast-rising investment banker at the London office of Swiss bank UBS AG as director of its fixed income sales division. So how did this high-flying investment banker dramatically transmute into a mass-market caterer? Between the two lives, Seshadri pursued an MBA programme at Insead, Fontainebleau, France. He graduated in July when the global economic crisis was worsening.
“If I had graduated a year earlier…I would (have) had 10 offers in my pocket,” says Seshadri, who ideally would have loved to be a part of the private equity/venture capital world. After two months of relentless networking and job searches, Seshadri gave up and changed course. He got together with a school friend to start JKS Foods Pvt. Ltd and under it, the branded takeaway Ghatotkitchen.
Seshadri is not an exception. With many Western countries in recession, Indian students pursuing MBAs abroad have turned homewards to scout for jobs or start out on their own. Indian students who pursue MBAs abroad typically prefer to work overseas for at least a few years until the education loan is paid off, but this year, things are different. The Indian economy, growing at about 6%, is seen as a land of opportunity. Moreover, emerging economies such as India are expected to recover faster from the global economic crisis vis-a-vis the developed world. And, with opportunity costs being low, a number of MBAs from foreign B-schools are turning entrepreneurs.
Says Gopika Spaenle, associate director, Asia campus, MBA programme at Insead, speaking on behalf of both the France and Singapore campuses, “The interest in this field (entrepreneurship) has risen sharply over the last year.”
Typically, about 5% of Insead students strike out on their own after graduation. While the percentage is expected to rise in 2009, the school did not say by how much. Between its France and Singapore campuses, Insead has 73 Indian students out of a total of 937.
Usha Krishnan, 32, is another student-turned-entrepreneur. She had joined the Insead campus in France with her eyes set on a plum job in a financial services company in Europe. But halfway through her course, she realized that jobs were not coming and quickly chose electives in entrepreneurship. When she graduated in December 2007, the jobs in the market were not in keeping with her qualifications and expectations.
So “I wanted to start off on my own,” says Krishnan, who decided to return to India. “India looked much more positive than anywhere else.”
She found a niche and started Verdure Venture Consulting Pvt. Ltd, a consulting service focused on start-ups, to get them organized and funded. With a network of some 20 venture capitalists and a few angel investors, Krishnan has helped fund some five start-ups, including education company TalentBridge Technologies Pvt. Ltd (angel investors invest their own capital in a business start-up).
Rajiv Jayaraman, 31, had dreamt of being a product manager at Google Inc., California, when he graduated from Insead, Singapore, but that was not to be.
He graduated in July, only to realize that it was going to be hard to make headway into his dream company. “I decided to do something on my own. I was not ready to run after something I didn’t want,” says Jayaraman who started an experiential learning company called Knolskape Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
Jayaraman weighed Singapore against India to pick his company headquarters and chose the island nation as the ecosystem there is far more supportive. “It took me half a day to incorporate a company in Singapore. We have been trying for three months in India and it is still not done.” Knolskape, which broke even in January, is expanding fast with offices planned in India and West Asia.
All three students coughed up at least Rs22 lakh for their education at Insead. None has regrets. While Seshadri funded his education with savings from his investment banking days, Krishnan gets support from her husband in the form of an interest-free loan and Jayaraman says Knolskape makes enough to take care of his education loan.
Job prospects for B-school students around the world this year seem bleak. Says Judy D. Olian, dean, and John E. Anderson chair in management, at UCLA Anderson School of Management, California: “The students from 2007 and 2008 are primarily situated (in jobs) already—that market is cleared. It’s the newest graduates from 2009 who are having difficulty.” The B-school has 16 first-year students and eight second-year students from India out of a class size of 360 in each year.
The MBA career management office at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania said in an email that it is still too early to know whether there will be any change in MBA (student) numbers (returning to India) this year. Wharton does not typically track data on how many MBA students stay on in the US or return to their home countries.
Still, this year could see many more headed home to take advantage of the opportunities here.