After receiving his online MBA at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business, Ravikumar Kalyanasundaram ’04 gained employment as a senior managing consultant at IBM in Lincoln, Nebraska. Still employed with the company 11 years later, he received the opportunity of a lifetime last fall to participate in IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) leadership development program sending him across the globe to Chengdu, China, for four weeks.
While simultaneously developing employees’ leadership skills and acknowledging critical challenges countries face worldwide, more than 3,000 IBM employees have participated since the program’s inception in 2008. The company selects just 10 percent from among thousands of applicants each year and Kalyanasundaram made the cut.
“I was naturally drawn to the triple-benefit, which I call a win-win-win situation. Through the program, communities have their problems solved, IBM employees receive leadership training and the company develops new markets and global leaders,” he said.
Kalyanasundaram’s task in Chengdu included working with the CHANLI New Leaf Service Center, a non-profit organization focused on the economic empowerment of individuals with disabilities. Working in a team of 15 fellow IBM employees from various countries and 10 interns from Chengdu, the goal involved providing an action plan for New Leaf to improve their operational skills in order to help create a more sustainable community.
“As a team, we prepared for three months beforehand by getting to know each other, familiarizing ourselves with the language and culture and learning consulting methodologies and practices. By identifying the key strengths of team members early, we were able to assign appropriate tasks,” he said.
After arriving in Chengdu, the team began by conducting more than 40 hours of interviews with New Leaf employees to perform a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Also overcoming a language barrier, the team created recommendations and shared information about global technology. They provided networking ideas based on U.S. practices.
By the end of the four weeks, the team generated more than 100 ideas and presented more than 150 recommendations for improvement. Short-term, the project will impact more than 150 people with disabilities in the small community and eventually the ideas could expand to greater China. He and his group members followed up with New Leaf after they returned home to answer any questions. Reflecting on the experience, Kalyanasundaram said his MBA coursework and experience at Nebraska equipped him with necessary skills to succeed in the unique atmosphere.
“The knowledge I gained from various courses like organizational behavior, marketing, international business management and global economics helped me during this program, but more importantly, the commitment to ethical behavior Nebraska instills in you as a student,” he said.
He believes MBA graduates specifically hold an obligation to give back to communities using their expertise. Not only will participating in such opportunities encourage personal growth, but from a business perspective it provides them with new markets and skills.
“MBA graduates are going to be the future leaders of the world and should have passion to create an impact. When you go through projects such as the one I did, you are not there to make money, you are there to generate ideas to hopefully make a better life for others,” he said. “The relationships I built through my time at Nebraska helped me find my passion and grow as a person in the long-run.”