IIMA - Course Catalogue
The Remains of the MBA
Prof. Saral Mukherjee
Course Description & Objectives
The course is based entirely on the book “The Remains of the Day” about Stevens, a butler, serving Darlington Hall in Oxford, taking a trip to Cornwall in 1956 and reminiscing about the events during pre-World War II period. Now, there is absolutely no reason for a 21st century management student in India to understand the world of a butler in the last days of the British Empire. Yet, Stevens catches your attention by asking what makes a great butler. He questions established notions of a great butler, gives examples of what he considers greatness and considers his own performance in Darlington Hall as triumph of professionalism. But where does the pursuit of professional excellence in serving Darlington Hall lead him to at the fag end of his career? As he sits on the pier at Weymouth, watching the lights come on, is he filled with a sense of regret at his triumph as a professional?
A young aspirational MBA graduate wants to make a mark in the professional career, join a distinguished firm, handle challenging assignments and eventually lead it to glory. Darlington Halls are today replaced by established business firms and startups, butlers are replaced by professional managers; yet the central themes of professionalism, dignity, excellence, ethics, duty, contribution to society etc. remain as pertinent as before. Thousands of books, case studies and business press articles laud the new butlers who steer new Darlington Halls to success, fewer talk about the failures. And rare still are the books and articles and case studies which allow us to feel the pathos of the „successful‟ leaders, reveal to us the mistakes, regrets and the emptiness in personal life. The book “The Remains of the Day” allows us to cry with Stevens in the evening of his life. It is this crying which reveal to us our humanism.
It is difficult for a young achievement-oriented aspirational student, yet to start a professional career, to connect with the regrets of a butler at the end of a career, that too from another era. Perhaps the feelings of regret of wasted opportunities may be easier to comprehend if it is brought closer at hand. With only a few days or weeks left for convocation, perhaps the students can look back at the journey in IIMA (and the years of hard work leading up to it) and reflect on the days and possibilities gone by, mistakes made, opportunities wasted, triumphs experienced and lingering regrets. Has the student lived up to the professionalism expected from the denizens of the Darlington Hall that is IIMA? Has the student behaved with the dignity that is expected from an alumnus of a great institution? Perhaps an introspection at this crucial juncture, the few rare moments of calm between the whirlwind of activity that was the MBA and the frenetic work that is about to begin, may reduce the regrets that our future Stevens would have on reaching his/her own Weymouth.
And through fostering these reflections in my students I endeavor to reflect on my little triumphs and regrets as I confront what remains of my day. The idea that the evening is the best part of the day resonates with me as I realise, I could not have offered this course earlier in my career. More than the triumphs, it is perhaps the set of lingering regrets that shape our evenings. Offering this course is my own way of deliverance, removing at least the potential regret of not offering an elective on regret.
The course aims to encourage students to reflect on the time and effort spent doing an MBA and ask what really matters in the end. The characters and events in the book “The Remains of the Day” can serves as triggers for self-reflection in leaders-in-the-making raring to make their mark in corporate world. It is hoped that this process of reflection would allow the student to make choices in his/her professional career so that there are fewer regrets when they reach the evening of their career. Coming at the juncture of the end of their MBA (and for many perhaps the end of formal education) and the beginning of career as a manager, the story of a butler striving for greatness can serve as a cautionary tale of the fate that befalls the leader striving for professional excellence at all costs.
The course would involve in-class reading of specific passages from the book “The Remains of the Day”, discussions on the characters and events in the novel, and reflections on the lived experience of the student during the MBA.
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