The MBA can be All About Competition–but I remember only Cooperation

The one-year, full-time MBA at UCD is widely recognized as a grueling pursuit – one that requires its students to excel and accelerate their learning in a wide range of business subjects. The course adheres to the original mission statement of an MBA as defined by the Association of MBAs: “to enhance and develop previous relevant experience”. It is extremely time-intensive and is best suited for students who already have a strong background in business fundamentals. In such an absorbing environment, you expect not to lose a single minute without being productive or outshining at academics, networking or extra-curricular activities.

Sumit Madan

However, my MBA experience has been quite different. After getting a strong emotional hit, I have happened to survive this intense MBA journey based on Extensive Cooperation from my school and cohort. Right in the middle of the spring trimester, Covid hit me and my family very hard. Between April and May 2021, the apocalyptic second wave of Coronavirus in India took away from me my father, my elder brother and my childhood friend, who contracted Covid while arranging medical facilities such as Oxygen cylinder, Remdesivir, etc. for my family. Further, the health infrastructure collapse in my home city, Delhi took my mother to the verge of death.    

From those tough days, I only remember controlling my emotions while talking to my sister and uncle. I would frantically call them to question what was going to happen next. Whenever I received a call of another demise, I used to instantly feel defeated. I was still grieving the loss of one member, and the cycle of grief would begin again. Travel restrictions didn’t allow me to visit my home for even a few days or perform my duties for their last rites. I was just filled with sadness and regret over the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye to any of my beloved ones or take care of my mother in her critical condition.

While I was fighting this Covid-war at home, my MBA spring trimester was in full swing. The week my elder brother expired first, I had one mid-semester and one end-semester exam. To the credit of Smurfit school, when I reached out to the MBA program office in my distraught state of mind, I was offered full support and empathy. I could reach out to all my professors to explain my situation. Not only the school (management and professors) promised that they were always available for help but when I needed them the most, they opened all their doors. I received the best of advice both on the personal front (on how to hold myself together) and on the study front (when and how to cover for the lost time).

Most of the content on the internet describes MBA students as sharp-elbowed, one-dimensional, destructively competitive beings. Hence, when I started my MBA journey, I expected highly ambitious, keenly clever and fairly competitive souls around me. However, I experienced totally different dimensions of my cohort: collaboration, care and concern about the world around them. I can’t remember a single member of my class who did not pray incessantly or extend extra-ordinary support to me and my family. My classmates in Delhi would drive hundreds of kilometres and those in Dublin would relentlessly make thousands of calls to find hospital beds or oxygen cylinders for my family members. They ensured that during those tense days, I did not miss my meals or lose my sleep. And this is when they themselves had to deal with the immense pressure of end of semester examinations and assignment submissions.

At present, it helps that things are getting better – with vaccines rolling out and the weather warming for outdoor business. It has been about three months since I lost my family members to the virus, and the grief will stick with me for far longer. But despite the grief, I have moved on with my life for which I express my heartfelt gratitude to my classmates and school management.

However, when I sometimes question myself “If, God-forbids, such a situation arises with any of my classmates, could I support so much?” – The candid answer is that I can’t confidently say a “Yes”. This is something for me to self-reflect and develop my ability to empathize. My class is full of people who have seen corporate life inside out and with more than 325 years of collective corporate wisdom available in my class, the peer learning that this year has offered me is incredible. But most importantly, the course has given me the time to discover myself and bridge my deficits before I start managing others.

In conclusion, I would like to mention that cultures of many B-schools around the world may seek to repress the worst tendencies engendering from the competitive spirit and lack of time, but some schools are more successful at this than others. UCD Smurfit is definitely amongst the top.

Sumit Madan, FTMBA Class of 2021