New Delhi: What remained with Bharti Airtel Ltd president of mobile services Sanjay Kapoor from the in-residence advanced management programme at the Wharton School last year was a black diary he was told to keep with “takeaways”, or lessons, from the programme, and a feature on himself he had to write, supposedly for Fortune magazine.
“It is very aspirational,” says Kapoor, 46, discussing the feature, which was on how he wanted to be written about—in 10 years. Kapoor says writing the piece, and the programme, changed him, professionally and personally.
Kapoor’s journey to Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, took five-six years of planning. Bharti Airtel’s billionaire chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal encouraged him to apply, and the company paid the fee of $50,000 (around Rs25 lakh).
It pays: Kapoor says investment in people is worth its weight in gold.
“Sunil Bharti Mittal came around and said ‘just go ahead and do it’,” says Kapoor, who heads the firm’s mobile services business. “Anyway, our company is not dependent on individuals. Some senior leaders can eject...for a period.” Initially, Kapoor tried to run India’s largest mobile phone firm and attend the programme at the same time. He realized it was a wasted effort. With a six-and-a-half-hour working day in the advanced management programme, he needed to concentrate full-time. He began to enjoy what it exposed him to. “Going back to books is always fun,” says Kapoor, who put his office on hold for the second time in his career. Once earlier,?after working for 12 years at Xerox India Ltd, he had attended a company-sponsored MBA programme at Cranfield School of Management, UK, in 1998.
Also See Sanjay Kapoor’s profile (PDF)
The sabbaticals helped in different ways—the postgraduation helped him understand new areas such as finance, while Wharton helped him think afresh about global challenges his business could face. Among the lessons he learnt at Wharton: in the macroeconomic sense, the world is indeed flat, and an earthquake in China can affect his business. “You have to plan your horizon taking the whole globe into account,” he says.
Last year’s economic meltdown, for instance, was already being talked about by the faculty at Wharton though Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. had not yet declared bankruptcy—it happened mid-September.
The Wharton course gave him a back-to-basics grounding in fiscal discipline and corporate governance as well.
Other lessons Kapoor holds close to his heart are the need to give back to society and work-life balance, which he prefers to term differently. “One of the changes was work and non-work balance,” says Kapoor, who now consciously sets aside time for family and pursuits. He will go in for formal training as a singer, something he passionately wanted but never got around to doing. He’s also got involved with Bharti Enterprises Ltd’s efforts in education through the Bharti Foundation, which helps run rural schools.
The slowdown, says Kapoor, does not mean his firm will cut spending on executive education. This year too Bharti executives will go to Harvard, Wharton and INSEAD, which has campuses in France and Singapore. “In any competitive market, in any market that’s challenged, investment in people is worth its weight in gold,” says Kapoor, whose firm competes with rivals such as Reliance Communications Ltd and Vodafone Group Plc. for market share.