When Matt Harris ’10 stepped off the plane in New Dehli, India, he stepped into another world.
The 14-hour flight had completely changed the atmosphere: there were no neat lines, no order, just masses of people surging like a living ocean, sweeping past him in powerful waves.
Lean-to shops lined the packed streets and people swarmed around the dirt roads, unaware of the blaring horns of swerving taxi drivers who dangerously negotiated the streets. One-way roads were converted to two-way roads, alleyways were parkways, and the streets were sidewalks.
Harris, a junior finance major at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, had traveled to India to intern at a micro-finance firm in Dehradun. After spending a couple of days at the firm, however, Harris decided the position wasn’t going to be as instructive as he’d hoped. A few emails later, he headed off to Bangalore, the technology capital of India, where he began interning with investment consulting firm PeakAlpha.
When he arrived, the company was arranging a business deal with a $3M revenue potential. Harris wasn’t sure where he would fit in, but the director of PeakAlpha soon had him constructing business plans and building the financial models that would play an important role in the success of that deal.
The assignments were challenging with Harris often working on financial models from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.. The work conditions made the job more interesting, and more difficult. “India runs on hydroelectricity, and the monsoon was weak this year.Â So the power kept going out all the time,” said Harris.
“I didn’t realize how cool what I am doing is,” Harris wrote in the blog he kept while abroad. “Usually, companies hire whole investment banks to raise funds, and I’m getting to do it as an undergrad.” Harris says he was impressed with PeakAlpha’s commitment to building a strong ethical foundation upon which the financial market of India can be rebuilt.
Working at PeakAlpha was only part of the adventure Harris. Traveling on the weekends gave him the opportunity to engage with fascinating people from all walks of life. From hiking through the wilderness with a renowned Indian trekker, to playing soccer with interns from all over the world in the shadow of the Himalayas, Harris’s out-of-office education was every bit as valuable as his cubicle time. The friendships he built challenged his cultural perspectives and opened his mind.
“I think the media feeds us things that we don’t realize affect our feelings towards people,” Harris said, reflecting on his cultural encounters. “You see a guy in a turban walk into the room and you suddenly realize “Wow, I don’t have good feelings towards him.’ But then you meet him and realize that he is one of the nicest, smartest guys you have ever met.” Harris working in India overturned many of his prejudices and preconceived ideas.
One of the main cultural differences to adjust to was eating with his hands. But he did quickly. “I love Indian food!” Harris writes repeatedly in his blog, “It’s so healthy.” Even while at black-tie dinners with CEOs and company presidents, Harris would enjoy the traditional fare in the traditional manner.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson Harris learned was the difference in values across cultures. In American business, only the strong survive and the competition is fierce. In India, the business mindset is different. “Whenever we would have meetings to discuss important business decisions, everyone would be more concerned with how the competition would feel about them than making a profit,” Harris recalls.
Harris is the co-founder and president of the A&M club GENTS (Gentlemen Enabling Nations to Succeed) that is open to all majors, and actively participates in Horizons (a business networking organization) and Titans (an organization focused on learning about real-world business scenarios through studying literature classics) at Mays. Harris hopes his India experience enables him to contribute meaningfully to each but especially to GENTS, as one of the focuses of the organization is international networking as his career aspirations have now expanded beyond U.S. borders.