Perspectives from ISB

Rahul Saraf, PGPpro Co’22, is a data science leader at the IoT department of Reliance Jio. He leads a team of data scientists working to digitalise the agro sector in India. He and his team devise algorithms and create IoT devices that help increase productivity in agriculture and dairy farming. For a major part of his 15 years career, Rahul was devoted to the energy sector but has now crossed over to IoT.


“ISB is a well-known B-school for its reputation as one of the top ranked globally. Having done extensive research, I realised I couldn’t replicate my ISB experience anywhere else.”

Rahul studied engineering at IIT Kanpur and has an MS in petroleum engineering. He however observed that a successful career required more than just technical skills. Some critical skills were essential to master too, such as people handling skills that were key to influencing people and getting work done. PGPpro at ISB was well suited to deliver in these areas. Cohort diversity, a strong mainstay of ISB, gave him insights into different approaches to problem solving and decision making.

“Many who came from sales brought unique insights to problem solving, which was very different from professionals belonging to other functions and domains. I was more inclined to the technical side of things because I was strong in it, but now my vision has expanded and after PGPpro I am comfortable with the business side too.”

What it Means to Be a Leader

Leadership to Rahul means leading the team in the right direction. PGPpro helped him understand that having people with a similar mindset in the team cannot generate the variety of ideas nor bring innovativeness as efficiently as a group of people with diversified skill sets can.

“I see myself growing as a people’s leader rather than just being a technical person. I am applying the principles of pace setting, a leadership style I learnt during PGPpro, where someone highly skilled in a subject accelerates team velocity in delivering a task. Letting people grow and create conditions that can develop their skills. You keep focusing on your team’s objective and being authoritative are what I learnt as vital leadership skills.”

As he pivoted from one domain to another, in his case from energy sector to IoT, the difference he found was in understanding the way decisions are made, how different the sales cycle is and what your leadership style is. “Prior to PGPpro, I wasn’t aware of the nuances, but now I feel strongly equipped with well-informed judgement. Engaging with people to make them your allies and how to negotiate are some I learnt during my course.”

PGPpro Provides an Extraordinary Edge

Rahul finds a distinct difference in the way education is rendered at ISB, which gives the students a distinctive edge.

“You may be taught the same thing at any other B-school, but the environment and contexts are different here. At ISB, the approach to teaching and the learning mechanisms differ from other B-schools. Learning happens in many other ways than just through books as hands-on learning experiences abound.”

Putting Learning to Practice

Rahul leads an innovation team at Reliance Jio, the kind he led in his previous organisation. After his PGPpro, he has been comfortably applying his lessons to his job. The course around corporate ventureship he went through during his international immersion was especially useful.

“Data science in the energy sector is an emerging area. Its effectiveness cannot be judged based on cost and profit only. I learnt about innovation management­­­, for example, how to develop funnel of ideas and how to do open innovations; how to measure performance of innovation teams and how to bring them up to speed. I am putting these teachings to practice.”

The Big Advantages of Peer Learning

The diversity in the cohort revealed to Rahul the wide scope of teachings outside of the classroom. Rahul was curious about the career paths of his cohort and what they did beyond academics. He was struck by a particular kind of people who had a way of influencing others and getting to their objectives.

“There were two distinct kinds of people, I learnt—one who have a way with people and they get their work done with consummate ease, while the other kind are like me who must work hard to achieve the same outcomes. The former kind engage people effortlessly through their communication and get what they want. They have this uncanny ability to engage the right kind of people. I saw it in action when a batchmate took help of a professor to build a solution in his company. I was surprised how little he strained himself to get the results. With all my hard skills I do not have the ability to do what he did. I learnt that to be successful in moving up the ladder you must develop abilities to engage people.”

Alumni network

Rahul has always had a strong network with his batchmates from undergraduate and postgraduate days. But the diversity of thoughts and backgrounds he came across at ISB was exceptional. He has benefitted immensely from the richness of his networks. One such benefit was the expanded scope of opportunities. The job he is in at Reliance Jio, a completely different sector, was recommended by an alumnus.

“Our cohort had people from various backgrounds, such as navy and start-ups, to name a few. Almost 20-30% people were in some stage of a start-up or another; were in early stages or were a co-founder. I got exposed to new knowledge such as the risk taking ability, which is the hallmark of an entrepreneur.”

The start-up desire that seemed a distant dream appears within his grasp now. He now knows the right people to approach if he wants to get a venture started. He now knows he can hire people from ISB if he needs to.

Advice to Incoming Students

“My advice to the PGPpro aspirants would be to focus on relationship-building as opposed to just focusing on grades. It could be useful wherever you go in the future or any other job you take up. Engaging with the faculty, taking their advice and feedback are particularly useful for those on the leadership track. Their suggestions on certain situations you may have in your company can be very useful.”

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