The Andover of India? Graduates From Doon Score Top U.S. Jobs

from The Wall Street Journal
for the doscos reading this…catch me on the Facebook group
I went to The Doon School…therefore i am way better than you!.

DEHRA DUN, India — At the Doon School, near the foothills of the Himalayas, life is spartan. The 500 boys enrolled here bathe together in communal showers. In winter, they pore over textbooks in rooms with no heat. Cellphones are forbidden and parental visits are kept to a minimum.

For 71 years, Doon has supplied India with business leaders and well-known writers such as Vikram Seth. Even Rajiv Gandhi, the late prime minister, suffered the school’s famously bad food. Now Doon is taking its uniformed students in a new direction: up the U.S. corporate ladder. The head of Citigroup Inc.’s North American credit-card business is a Doon alumnus. So too is a Merrill Lynch & Co. senior currency executive. From Raytheon Co. to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Doon is supplying a new old boys’ network in an increasingly international business world.

Many of the Doon alumni say they are still driven by the school’s humbling culture. Vikram Malhotra, head of McKinsey & Co.’s New York office, recalls the pain of failing to earn one of the school’s coveted blazers, awarded for excellence. “Imagine 500 boys, homogenous in what they wear, and the only way you could stand out is if you wore a blue blazer if you were good in sports and a black blazer if you were good in academics,” says Mr. Malhotra, 46 years old. “I fell a point short on each one and to this day it rankles me.” Even as Doon graduates penetrate the upper ranks of corporate America, the school draws criticism that it is out of step with the times. The headmaster is pushing for reforms — such as heating the study rooms –but he faces some opposition from alumni.

And proposed national legislation may mandate that private schools set aside a quarter of their places for underprivileged students — including the country’s “Dalit” or “untouchable” caste, which has largely been absent at high-tuition Doon.

“There is a debate now whether Doon’s elitism is required and whether it works in a changed world,” says alumnus Bhaskar Menon, the former chief executive of EMI Music Worldwide. Founded in 1935, Doon once drew the sons of prominent Indian industrialists and politicians. Today scholarships, partly covering the annual tuition of about $4,000, assist one in four students. About half of the students’ parents own small businesses. To be admitted, boys must pass a tough entrance exam.

Located on the site of the former Imperial Forest College & Research Institute, Doon is an oasis in Dehra Dun, a dusty town of about 700,000, 140 miles northeast of New Delhi. Thousands of trees shade the 70-acre grounds, where 55 teachers lead classes six days a week. Each morning except Sunday, boys rise at 6:15 and down a small snack to fuel them for 20 minutes of military-style exercises. Two classes precede breakfast, with another five crammed in before lunch. Academics are leavened with music, poetry and drama. Every April, the boys vie in a calisthenics contest in which judges award points for clean, pressed clothes as well as team coordination.

On a recent Saturday morning, in a room lit by fluorescent lights, more than a dozen 17-year-olds sat at old wooden tables as fans whirred overhead. The work at hand: CPA-level accounting problems. “Is depreciation on a delivery van part of selling overhead?” asked one student. (Answer: yes.)

Some graduates, like Ravi Sinha, say they got their first primers on deal-making at Doon. As a 13- year-old student, he bartered breakfast goods with the other boys. Milk and bread “had no trading value” because they were ubiquitous, recalls Mr. Sinha, now a 43-year-old partner at Goldman Sachs. But the less-available “butter and eggs were tradable,” he says.

To help blur class lines, boys perform menial tasks such as pruning plants or window-cleaning — unthinkable chores for those of high social standing. The school’s de-emphasis of wealth explains why many material goods, including fancy cars and designer clothes, are not allowed on campus. Unless parceled out by the school, money, or “home dough,” as boys call it, is also forbidden. Those found with unauthorized cash are stripped of their precious few privileges, such as Sunday forays into town.

Article of Faith’ “The monastic existence” is an “article of faith of the school,” says Dr. Kanti P. Bajpai, Doon’s headmaster. “It is a leveler, a reminder that you are here to work and participate in campus activities and not wallow.”

One common penance is a “change in break.” That’s when a student must run to his room and change into sports clothes from the school uniform — gray blazer and slacks — and return and get a chit signed by a prefect.

On occasion, the lessons are more physical, and not sanctioned by the school. Among them: “putting” — beating boys’ rear ends with field hockey sticks or cricket bats — often for poor performance in sports. Although such bullying was once fairly common, Dr. Bajpai says that it is “the exception rather than the rule today.”

The rigor endears Doon to some parents. Many of the world’s top private schools are “too privileged,” says Indian-born Vinit Khanna, a Doon alumnus who runs an outsourcing business in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. In January, he pulled his son Vihan out of a local school and sent him to study at Doon.

Three to four years ago, between 30% and 35% of Doon graduates went overseas for college, according to Dr. Bajpai, with most going to the U.S. and the U.K. Last year, the number rose to 50%; this year he predicts it will hit 70%.

The rise of Doon alums underscores a broader phenomenon dating back about two decades: the success of first-generation Indians in America. That was largely due to India’s strong education system, as well as wider availability of U.S. visas and college scholarships.

“The average Indian in the U.S. is 30,000 times more likely to have an advanced degree than the average Indian in India,” says Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, a professor and co-director of immigration studies at New York University. “So we are really skimming the cream of the crop.”

When Doon graduate Deepak Thakran looked for a job in the late 1990s, he got an introduction to consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton from Kabir Sethi, another alum. After helping him get a foot in the door, Mr. Sethi picked him to work on his team — setting strategy for an institutional bank in Sydney, Australia.

Rajiv Dutta, president of Skype Technologies, the newly-acquired Internet telephone-calling unit of eBay Inc. says that Doon boys get a natural head start in business. Once, during a trip through the Himalayas, he and four others emerged from a stream to find their legs covered in leeches. Some of the boys wanted to head back to school. But after putting their heads together, they threw salt on the leeches, forcing them to recoil. The boys pressed on.

“It is tremendously uplifting when you make a decision like that, when you run into an obstacle and you overcome that obstacle,” Mr. Dutta says.

Changing Focus
In recent years, Doon has faced challenges of its own. When Dr. Bajpai, a former university professor, arrived at Doon in 2003, “the school was quite inward-looking, consumed with its own competition and awards.” Since then, he has tried to bring a greater focus on the world outside, encouraging more discussion of public affairs and topics like bullying and substance abuse. He’s done away with some formalities. Dr. Bajpai is the first headmaster not to don a traditional black robe and he urges instructors to drop the honorific “sir” when addressing him.

Consensus isn’t easy. Doon currently admits the daughters of a few teachers, but the issue of coeducation has been divisive, with many alumni and students against the idea.

At a recent school-council meeting, boys asked administrators to boost the allowance they get each time they go on a private outing, to $8 from about $6. The boys scored a minor victory: They got an increase of a little more than a dollar.

“Let me tell you — we are getting soft,” Philip Burrett, Doon’s deputy headmaster told the students at a recent council meeting. “Next thing you’ll want to go in a taxi.”


Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>