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New Delhi: It is the kind of place where Rajesh Sawhney, whose audacious moves for Anil Ambani’s entertainment business include a movie company with Hollywood film-maker Steven Spielberg, could be networking with Manjri Choudhary, a Mumbai homemaker-turned-businesswoman.

Sawhney attended the nine-week advanced management programme at Harvard Business School in 2007, two years after taking charge as president of Ambani’s Reliance Big Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.

Worldwide network: Sawhney says he’s now friends with 150 CEOs. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint

Under Sawhney, Reliance Big Entertainment came out with big plans last year. According to The New York Times, it is expected to invest $550 million (Rs2,744 crore), in the movie company with Spielberg, one of the world’s most influential film personalities.

It also said it would invest $1 billion in Hollywood production houses—owned by stars such as George Clooney and Tom Hanks—to develop scripts and, eventually, movies. At home, Big Entertainment’s commercial hit, Hindi film Rock On!! is bagging awards.

To make company CEOs and presidents think global is what the super-elite executive education programmes at business schools in the US, such as Harvard Business School, Boston, and the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, aim for.

And so high was the attendance of Indian executives at their campus programmes that foreign business schools began offering India-based executive education programmes, both open enrolment ones and those for specific sectors or companies.

To be sure, the economic slowdown has proved to be a temporary dampener. Harvard reported that it is not getting to host as many executive education programmes in India this year as it would like.

But events such as the Rs7,136 crore fraud at Satyam Computer Services Ltd have ensured both Indian and non-Indian interest in Wharton’s annual open-enrolment programme on corporate governance for existing and aspiring board members, scheduled for September in Mumbai.

“Because of what has happened, people want to know what it is like to be on the board of an Indian company," says Sandhya Karpe, senior director of executive programmes at the Wharton School. “There is some anxiety."

It’s not just their elite status that ensures the success of these executive education programmes. Indian comapnies want their executives to emerge from the programmes equipped with the skills to deal with global challenges as they opt for trans-border acquisitions and tie-ups. The cost of sponsorship can be steep—fees for in-residence programmes are $50,000-60,000 and for India-based courses, Rs1.8-3 lakh.

But it’s not just professional managers who attend the management development programmes at foreign business schools. Heads of family-owned businesses also become students to move their businesses, or themselves, to the next level.

Choudhary, a 42-year-old homemaker, was persuaded and funded by her husband to attend two executive education programmes—the first at Harvard in 2004, when she was just stepping into business, and the second at Wharton in 2006.

Her company executes projects in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Russia and Africa, installing audio-visual and security systems. It sourced the hardware and integrated the systems for a moving screen at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, installed video walls at Abu Dhabi airport and shopping malls in Dubai, and supplies security systems to offices and cinemas.

The on-campus programmes, she says, helped her as a businesswoman. “In Marwari families, we are born and brought up to be mothers and homemakers," says Choudhary, who recently spearheaded a partnership with a Chinese company to set up a plastic automobile fuel tank factory in Chennai. “(But) my husband literally threw me into these programmes."

Besides a return to textbooks and introduction to the latest business concepts, these programmes, where a class can be made of 150 CEOs, mean access to business leaders in different countries.

“One of the unexpected gains was (the) creation and access to a worldwide network of CEOs and business leaders," says Sawhney. “Now, I am friends with, and have instant access to, 150 CEOs in the US, China, Japan, Germany, the UK and even places like Chile and Mexico."

Foreign schools also face demand for sector-specific or even company-customized programmes in India. Harvard’s programme for real estate executives last year had topics such as project and corporate finance. This year, the school is offering a programme on agri business in May in Mumbai.

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