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The Grand Alumni Meet 2016 - Growing Grander by the Year.

The Grand Alumni Meet 2016 - Growing Grander by the Year.

A burst of energy… a footfall of memories… an urban agglomeration of the exuberant kind - once again it was GAM - time! And this time around, everything about the Grand Alumni Meet spelt truly GRAND!

The 14th of August dawned rather bright and cheery for a Sunday at this time of the year. The message from the alma mater had been loud and clear - those who get in by 7 AM, will be treated to a sumptuous 2-hour breakfast; and those who expect kindness and equity in food distribution from the early-comers, may do so at the peril of a (g)rumbling stomach till lunchtime. Grand alumni Meet or not, at GIM the early bird still gets the worm… and a lot more. As always, the organisers were well-prepared. As always, they were outgunned by the alumni.

For a good half an hour past 7, all was poetic-and-yawn at the Goa Institute of Management, as it sprawled luxuriously - all 50 acres of it - by the Sahyadri foothills. The birds chirped, the trees swayed, and if one strained his ear, one could hear a snail slither by. Then out of nowhere, they trooped in. Entrepreneurs, corporate honchos, men of great consequence in the wide world. But in the ensuing melee of backslapping and raucous “long-time-no-see”s, all you saw was a horde of very overgrown kids, for whom the years had fallen away. And right there amongst them, the Grand ol’ man of GIM, Fr. Romuald D’Souza. Not many would believe that this genial priest had single-mindedly worked for many years, with his car as his office, to raise GIM. Later in the evening, during the Entrepreneurship conclave, Fr. D’Souza would, in an address often interrupted by thundering ovation, talk about the future GIM and how the GIM community can get there. He never was one to rest on past laurels.

The breakfast was soon coming to an end.

‘We will run SARC out of food!’ proclaimed an alumnus to all around cheer. He wasn't really off his rocker; because it wasn’t the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation he was talking about, but the Student Alumni Relations Cell of GIM, which grandly calls itself SARC. The threat was very real, but the organisers - read ‘students of current batches’ - had ‘hoarded’ almost a criminal amount of food this time around.

At about 9, there was a general rush toward the auditorium. Mr. V. Ravi, CFO, Mahindra and Mahindra Financial Services, was to speak on the merits and movement in the Financial structure of the country and globe. Not many wanted to miss it. As the Industry Speaker, Mr. Ravi more than mixed the mandate. The ‘Corporate Garage’ caught the fancy of quite a few - both alumni and current students at GIM. It was how M&M encourages employees to propose their business ideas and try their concepts, protect their salary for a specific time frame and within the system become an intrapreneur. Seemed like M&M was offering a win-win deal.

The floor was now thrown open for the stars of GIM, with the Student Alumni Interaction Session. The cat’s whiskers this year included the likes of Sagnik Ghosh, Senior VP - Network Brand Strategy and Marketing Strategy, Star (India) from the batch of 2000, as well as Ketan Hajarnavis, the serial entrepreneur - currently the Founder MD of Scale Factor Consulting Labs - in the midst of his third startup. Ketan belongs to GIM in more ways than one - as an alumni of the batch of ’99, he’s been on the GIM board for exactly one year now.

But the best was truly reserved for the last. Not many have received the Distinguished Alumni Award in absentia. Shilpa Gulati, therefore, was quite conspicuous in her absence. But the way her batchmate from the batch of ’98 rallied around her family on-stage revealed there was much more to the story than the run-of-mill climb up the corporate ladder. It took one of her batchmates to get behind the mic to tell us the story of Shilpa Gulati - the Superwoman. For 15 years, Shilpa lived the great American Dream. An epitome of work-life balance, Shilpa was a mother of two, and till 2015 was busy breaking barriers of gender, race etc. as she climbed to dizzy heights in Ikea - the global retail behemoth. That’s when destiny threw the greatest battle at her: a battle of despair, not many would’ve put up a fight against. Shilpa was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Shortly after, Shilpa was offered the role of the CFO at Ikea USA, but with 9 months - in May this year - she decided to shift positions… the cancer had gnawed its way to her brain. She made a lateral shift as the Country HR Operations Manager for Ikea USA, a position she holds today even as she fights the cancer.

“She’s honoured GIM and the batch of ’98, in more ways than one,” concluded her colleague somberly. The following applause was much longer than any that day. Many would say it was the length of a prayer.

Back to business, the keynote address by Prof. Olaf Zylicz, Director, Warsaw University of Technology Business made for an interesting study of entrepreneurship culture in India as compared with the culture in other parts of the world. This was followed by a rather interesting presentation by Mr. Madhusudan Ranganathan, Investor & head at BD & Strategy for Vigyanlabs Pvt. Ltd., on the importance of factoring in change in business strategies. Mr. Ranganathan advised students and alumni to work with start-ups, just to understand the challenges of the market, something which no position in a cushioned corporate culture can give you.

As if on cue, the next session was rung in by an alumnus who had graduated from GIM in 2013. Sanmeet Singh Walia, an Adobe and Google certified Analytics Professional, held what he called a ‘Twitter Mining Session’. If it was technical, it was equally fascinating, as Sanmeet introduced his audience to the world of Text Analytics - its importance, kinds and applications. The talk moved on to Twitter API, extraction of data from Twitter, code for Mining Twitter Data, scraping data from Imdb, Amazon, and quite a bit on Q&A Analytics.

To sum it up, GIM’s GAM 2016 was the biggest in scale thus far. But, for a B-School on the roll - and just 23 years young - this is a natural progression. The next Grand Alumni Meet will most certainly be bigger and grander. Yet, for the flurry of emotions - the ebullient joy of meeting after all these years, the tears for a fellow alumna’s struggle, the celebration of trouncing challenges, the energy of change - GAM 2016 will hold its own for a very long time to come.