“The EMBA was like running a marathon, but very, very enriching”
Manish Kapoor of American Express says that IMD has opened him to new worlds
Sheer determination and a taste for innovation have been the main motors of Manish Kapoor’s career. For over years, he has successfully turned markets around for American Express India, where he has risen to the level of Vice-president as Director of Middle-Market Sales.
A few years ago, he paused to attend IMD’s Foundations for Business Leadership (FBL), which became the springboard to his IMD EMBA.
“I was facing a learning and development void. By making a break and coming to Lausanne, IMD helped me grow in depth and breadth.”
Although his EMBA was not sponsored, he says that he knew that it would enrich his life.
“I aspired to upgrade myself and my abilities.”
Kapoor says that he chose IMD for its structured learning following the recommendations of two former participants, including his uncle. Other schools, he decided, were too commercial or too far away.
Like Buddhism, IMD helps develop potential
“What I appreciated at IMD was not only the structured learning, but also the importance given to self-awareness,” he says, adding how developing one’s self identity is very close to the principles of Buddhism that he embraces.
Kapoor became a Buddhist at a time when the obstacles in his family life appeared to be unsurmountable. His parents had separated and his mother was left to bring him up alone: “We faced extreme hardship.”
“Buddhism helped me deal with the situation and finally become who I am. The belief that everyone has a potential to develop, including myself, helped me grow.” This was not dissimilar to what he learned at IMD, because his leadership coach explained that by empowering one’s self, one is also better equipped to empower others. “That helped me a lot!”
As a result, his self-confidence makes it easy for him to give credit to others, although he points out that empathy is also an essential ingredient of good leadership: “I am a pragmatic learner. My entire learning is through real life and real people. I learned from an early age to be protective.” He takes pride in the fact that out of 21 leaders in his team, 15 are home-grown.
Kapoor says that his faith and IMD were mutually enhancing: “Buddhism helped me reflect more deeply within the program, and IMD allowed me to clean up the cobwebs in my life.”
The thrill of innovation
Kapoor discovered early on that although uncertainty troubled him, challenges gave him a thrill. He finished his degree in hotel management at the time of the Iraqi war and was unable to find an interesting job in his line of business. After returning to university and earning a Masters in English literature while working in banking, he was recruited by American Express.
“In those days, American Express preferred hotel management graduates because of our customer service experience. My hotel background was a great asset, but it was a sense of innovation that helped me excel.”
Kapoor moved up quickly through the ranks, proving that he had the ability to seize new opportunities, which lead him to cross-sell the AE products and develop the consulting services for the larger clients. By 2003/2004, he had won the top sales award. “I believe that nothing in life goes to waste. You can create value out of anything.”
Kapoor was also successful in promoting American Express’ B2B and B2E in a cash dominated society and expanding to new cities. He profitably initiated a lending program against the outstanding collateral on company credit cards.
“I love creating value out of adverse situations by taking risks and innovating.”
In the context of today’s world, Kapoor believes that intellectual pursuits and cultural learning are equally important, which is why he particularly appreciated attending IMD. He was looking to diversify himself in a different environment and was impressed by the unexpectedly large cultural spectrum of origins of the participants.
“Our thought processes sometimes reacted negatively and our insecurities clashed, but at the end of the day, we learned to grow together: this process was very important.”
It wasn’t the best timing. He was newly married and during his time in Lausanne, his boss changed at American Express, which created a professional turmoil. He says he was challenged to the limits of his ability:
“The EMBA was like running a marathon, but very, very enriching.”
Kapoor says that life is a journey of learning and IMD has opened him to new worlds. He has returned to his job at American Express where he still enjoys meeting new market challenges.
“IMD has inspired me to continue to grow in my capabilities.”