Each year, students in the One-Year MBA Program travel to a global business capital to learn about its culture and industries. In April 2019, our MBAs visited Mumbai, India for their international immersion! Below, MBA candidate Kelly Nelson shared her five favorite experiences from this trip.

  1. Tour of Reliance Industries

To start off the trip, our class had the privilege of visiting Reliance Industries, India’s largest publicly traded company. With major subsidiaries in polymers, petroleum, retail and telecommunications, Reliance has played a key role in shaping the Indian economy. The company was founded as a textile business in 1960 by a schoolteacher’s son with an unwavering entrepreneurial spirit — a rags-to-riches story in which the company’s leadership takes great pride.

Photo by Dr. Troy Hall

After seeing the concrete jungle and cramped conditions that make up most of Mumbai, it surprised me that Reliance Industries’ headquarters mirrored a campus like you might see in Silicon Valley, with many modern buildings spread across acres of green lawns. We visited the showroom of the company’s telecommunications subsidiary, Jio, where we saw demonstrations of their mobile phone and smart home products. We learned that Jio had launched in 2016 and gained 16 million subscribers in India in its first month — the fastest ramp-up by a mobile network operator anywhere in the world. It was clear that through brands like Jio, Reliance makes a huge impact on Indians’ way of life.

During our sightseeing tour earlier in the day, we got a glimpse of the home of Reliance Industries’ current chairman, the founder’s son Mukesh Ambani. Known as Antilia, it is the world’s most valuable private residence, valued at $2 billion. The 27-story home includes three helipads, a ballroom, movie theater, a gym, and a floor with man-made snow for beating the oppressive Mumbai heat! Towering over the other buildings in its neighborhood with its staggered stories, the house was a reminder of the incredible wealth disparity that can be found in Mumbai.

  1. Visit to Santacruz Market

After one of our daytime tours, I piled into an auto rickshaw (a small three-wheeled vehicle that served as a taxi) with three of my classmates in search of street vendors. We found them in the suburb of Santacruz, selling jewelry, flowers, bells, fabric, produce and more. As Americans, we drew plenty of attention from the merchants as we trekked through the aisles of clothes, food and knickknacks.

Photo by James Alderman ’19

We learned early on that prices of nearly everything in Mumbai were negotiable —especially anything purchased in an outdoor market. Fortunately, I was accompanied by my classmate Osheen, who is from India. I wasn’t confident in my bartering skills, but Osheen was happy to negotiate on my behalf to help me get the best price on my treasures. I left with a jewelry set for myself and a richly embellished green dress for a friend back home. Visiting the market and seeing the colorful and varied items for sale was an exciting adventure!

  1. Consulting Project for I was a Sari

Since the beginning of the semester, my classmates and I had been working on consulting projects for real businesses in Mumbai to help them find solutions to their most pressing challenges. My group had been assigned to the business I was a Sari, a small clothing manufacturer that recycled Indian saris into clothing and accessories for western markets. I was a Sari’s managers were interested in learning more about the United States market for their products, so they requested that we analyze the U.S. sustainable fashion market and develop an entry strategy for their brand into the states.

My group was eager to share our recommendations with the staff of I was a Sari. However, we had to make some last-minute adjustments, because we learned the day before our presentation that we would be presenting in I was a Sari’s small factory room and would not be able to use our prepared slide deck! We rapidly changed course and created handouts instead, which we printed in the hotel’s business center. This was reflective of many of our experiences in India — circumstances were unpredictable, and a sense of adaptability served us well.

Photo by James Alderman ’19

Visiting I was a Sari’s office and factory was enlightening. As we presented, women were milling through bags of saris recently purchased at the secondhand market, searching for fabric of the best quality and patterns to turn into robes, headbands, necklaces and more. We laid our materials out on the fabric cutting table and had a productive discussion with the marketing manager of I was a Sari, who took genuine interest in our ideas for selling in the U.S. This was a great opportunity for us to get to know actual businesspeople in Mumbai and to understand their challenges and priorities.

  1. Tour of Bollywood Film Studio

Before my visit to Mumbai, I had heard of Bollywood, but I had no idea how prolific its movie studios were, or how much Indian people love these movies! Bollywood produces more than 350 films per year and has an annual economic impact of more than $2 billion (USD) on the Indian economy. Our class toured SJ Studios to learn more about this fascinating segment of the film industry.

Bollywood movies are different than other films because they mix elements of action, comedy, drama and romance and also include elaborate musical numbers, often filmed in picturesque locations. The movies feature glamorous, larger-than-life scenes and stories. They may seem a bit cheesy compared to the films we are accustomed to, but they are extremely popular with the Indian population. In fact, more movie tickets are sold in India every year than in any other country.

Photo by James Alderman ’19

We started our experience with a demonstration of Bollywood dancing followed by a choreography lesson of our own. We then proceeded to visit the sound dubbing studio, the costume gallery, and a theater where we watched a demo of the studio’s CGI and special effects. Finally, we toured premade sets that were built to look like a jail, a courthouse, a hospital and other common settings in Bollywood films. Filmmakers rent these sets and use lighting and props to customize them for each film. We even saw a scene being filmed for an upcoming movie!

  1. Dharavi Slum Tour

When I first learned that we would be touring a slum, I admit that I felt uncomfortable with our class of American graduate students, privileged to be able to travel the world, gawking at a community of people living in extreme poverty. However, I changed my mind when I discovered that our tour company, Reality Tours and Travel, led this tour to show visitors that Dharavi is a thriving community where people live, work, play and raise families. Furthermore, the tour guides themselves live in Dharavi, and the company donates profits from its tours back to education centers there.

The tour took us through narrow alleyways surrounded by makeshift buildings made of corrugated metal sheets and plastic tarps. We peered into the one-room homes and businesses of Dharavi’s residents. Despite the destitute outward appearance of the shacks, the interiors often included colorful décor and were organized to accommodate a family’s daily activities. Many Dharavi inhabitants work in the community’s thriving informal economy, valued at $665 million (USD). The industries found there include leather tanning, recycling, pottery making, embroidery and baking.

Photo by Alyssa Stano ’19

While on the tour, we came across a wedding celebration and were invited to join in the dancing! The bride applied turmeric, a symbol of blessing and radiance in Indian wedding festivities, to the faces and hands of the students in our group. This was a really special experience to witness, and it drove home an important point: joy, laughter and happiness are a common experience for all of us, regardless of where and how we live.