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MBA ROI: Not Just a Higher Salary

Manu Jindal and MBA ROI

From the outside looking in, the world of MBAs can seem like a place in which professional goals revolve around the number of zeroes at the end of one’s paycheck. But then occasionally, you come across someone like IMD MBA alumnus, Manu Jindal, who helps to blow that theory out the water.

Currently working as a sustainability project manager for Nespresso – the capsule coffee offshoot of food and drink titan, Nestlé, Jindal was looking for more than money; for him, MBA ROI had to be about more than that.

“An MBA is a big investment, an investment in yourself. The return on this investment has to be about more than salary. I get a lot emails from people asking about MBAs, and what I always tell them is this: it’s not hard getting into an MBA, it’s hard getting out. You need to think about what you really want to do and take a risk. Education should give you freedom – you shouldn’t feel under pressure to join a traditional big-name firm in London or Singapore after attending a top business school. That’s not freedom.”

Achieving professional goals at Nespresso

His professional goals were clear – he had to be able use his skillset and fulfil his passion. After completing an MBA at IMD, Jindal found himself reflecting on this – not having found a role which would allow him to combine his passion for meaningful work with his strong communications skills.

“I would not be good in a process driven job. I wanted something corporate but with some meaning. I was clear about these goals, which helped me to focus. Sustainability was one thing I was really interested in, but as a business function, not sitting in a corner trying to protect the environment.

“I decided to be patient, and give myself five months after graduating; I was ready to take risks – as a young man without much debt, and no family, I was in a position to do so. Then, Nespresso told me they’d love to work with me, saying they couldn’t give me a job, but could give me a six month project.”

He took the role, having worked with them on an international consulting project – undertaken at IMD in lieu of an internship. “I understood Nespresso from within, and could see that things were happening there.”

Things then fell into place; Nespresso was putting together its 10-year sustainability plan, and Jindal was the right man in the right place at the right time. Today, he leads projects in India and in Latin America, working closely with the farmers whose work is at the heart of the product. Sustainability, it goes without saying, is pretty meaningful.


From Teach for India…

Jindal is an interesting case for another reason beside his professional goals. He is the rarest of cases, having managed to change his industry, his geography and his function. However, this was not something which he planned – indeed, he states that one cannot plan for these things.

Jindal – from India – started his career working in a corporate strategy function for Indian Steel after graduating from university. So far, so ordinary; but a summer program at Chicago Booth made him question what he has doing with his life. 

“When I came back I realized it was time to broaden my horizons. After working for a steel company for two years, the learning curve was flat. I started reading a lot about startups, and through that got to know about Teach for India (Pallav Jha, a QS scholarship winner, is another Teach for India alumnus). I thought ‘this is something that I could be interested in’, as it’s social and it’s a startup – a good combination.”

Teach for India, is based on the Teach for America model, seeing high-performing graduates recruited to teach children in economically deprived areas. The project had just been launched in India, so Jindal, who applied and was accepted, was part of the very first group of Teach for India fellows. He was shipped out to a slum community on the outskirts of Pune, and assigned a class of 50 second grade students with whom he would stay for the next two years.

“It was a surprise for everyone – why leave a corporate job and become a teacher in a deprived area. In an Indian context, this isn’t recognized. No one knew what was going to happen, what we were going to learn, what we’d do after two years. We were young and idealistic, and just wanted to do something.”

However, it was in this context, he feels, that he learned a lot of the skills that have allowed him to achieve his professional goals. “Teaching those [second grade] kids helped me to learn a lot about soft skills that you don’t find so much in the corporate world.They’re very honest – the feedback system is very direct. In managing those kids, you can in fact draw a lot of parallels with the corporate world. Micromanagement, Macro planning, HR, resource management, that all comes into it. But the most important this is the value of empathy and humility; you can’t manipulate kids.”


…to IMD

He completed his two year fellowship, and then reflected on what he would do next. He was fairly sure that he wanted to do an MBA – the course at Chicago had fixed that idea in his mind. “I wanted to intellectually challenge myself in a classroom environment, learning with people from diverse backgrounds.” He toyed with the idea of a different master’s, but eventually settled for an MBA as the lessons are applicable in a number of fields.

He became development and expansion manager for Teach for India in order to gain more management experience, and started looking at top US schools – ruling out IMD’s one-year program as he was too young. That is, until he saw they offered a social responsibility scholarship. Having always been a fan of writing essays – this one helped him to introspect his fellowship experience - he thought he’d give it a shot. He was invited for an interview and to complete a case study, and found himself awarded a scholarship. All he had to do now…was go through the normal application process! “It was good to know I had the scholarship first – as I knew that I had it when applying as otherwise it would be too expensive.”

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He had initially been drawn to IMD because of its focus on leadership and self-questioning – again, the subject of what MBA ROI can be comes to the fore. Jindal was comfortable with the academic element of the course, “coming from India!”

“In a one year MBA, you can’t choose much, it’s very structured. That was the signal that I didn’t need to focus on the academic elements too much.More important was the personal leadership course – the more you give, the more you get out of this. It’s more reflection-based.  This was the highlight.”

What is MBA ROI for you?

IMD’s group work projects involved full days of classes, followed by four or five hours of group discussion, making it impossible to go and just strike out on your own. This level of intensity was the other element of the IMD program which Jindal believes contributed to an MBA ROI of self-knowledge.

“This created a dynamic – everybody came from abroad and there were only 90 in total, so it becomes intimate and you have to be very honest with your feelings, what you really want to do in terms of careers, your abilities, and your past. You have sessions with a psychologist. It’s both philosophical and psychological.

“You start understanding yourself, your thought process, building on previous experience – what is meaningful to you, what is success is to you. You understand people a lot more. A lot of discussion among the alumni is about these things. We still go for holidays together, and 95% of the discussion is about people. This is MBA ROI for me.”

He concludes by saying – somewhat contrary to the impression one might get from the idea of 13-hour days – that, in a way, you should think of the MBA as a break. Not a holiday as such, but a rare opportunity to take a look at yourself.

“You start getting in touch with your vulnerabilities. You start to realize you’re not the smartest person around – everyone is smart. Everyone has done amazing things, they’ve climbed mountains. You realize there’s more to life then careers and money."

Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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