A sweet-tasting partnership served up in Lancaster

Rohit Murthy (left), holding an ice-cream cone, and Mayank Podar stand smiling in front of a sign saying Häagen-Dazs and a wall with balloons.

It was more than a decade after Rohit Murthy graduated from Lancaster that he met fellow alumnus Mayank Podar.

The pair had no overlap at Lancaster. Rohit’s final trips as a student to Wibbly Wobbly for his much-loved bean burger – he has sampled them on return trips since, and is keen to come back for more – happened two years before Mayank arrived.

But the power of Lancaster’s alumni network is strong, and the ties that bind graduates are shaped by more than campus meetings. Rather, they are built on shared experiences, pride in their alma mater, and a common mindset built by studying in the North West of England.

So it was, that an alumni event in Delhi in August 2022 brought Rohit (MSc International Business [Economics], 2009) and Mayank (BEng Mechanical Engineering, 2014) into each other’s orbits. The connection was instant – and now they are working together to take a major international brand across India.

“Somewhere, the wavelengths just matched and we realised we just had to do something together. After the event, we just sat down and said we should do something,” recalls Rohit, who has taken his learning from Lancaster and used it to help him expand the family business, AKB Group, to include franchises for fast food chains (though Wibbly Wobbly remains out of his grasp at present), car detailing workshops and Häagen-Dazs ice cream. “That just spiralled into a few conversations, a few mutual friends coming in. We spoke about Lancaster, who else we knew in our circles. By October, the agreement for the first Häagen-Dazs store was signed. By December, the first door was opened in Mumbai.”

The Lancaster connection has proved crucial to the success of the partnership, and the speed with which it has taken off. It created a level of trust from the off, and Rohit says: “We are both from the same university, we both have the same kind of background when it comes to the mentality. The minute you know that you've studied in the same place, you know there's a lot of credibility. The fact we were both from the same alma mater gave us straight up confidence, and having a lot of mutual friends gave us enough reasons for us to move forward rather than to worry.”

“In six months, everything was done and dusted,” adds Mayank, himself a member of a long-standing family firm, Nandan Textiles, which has expanded to areas such as construction, jewellery and investments. “It is just a simple connection we have. We just spoke and we clicked. Every day, we kept on having conversations. It is one of the best things to happen from the alumni gatherings.”

Mayank’s investment firm was involved in preparing the Mumbai store for operation, and Rohit’s company oversees day-to-day operations now it is up and running. But the pair are not the only Lancaster alumni involved, with other graduates supplying cutlery and furniture for the business.

Rohit Murthy and Mayank Podar stand with Pete Cornwall and Dr Robyn Remke, from Lancaster University Management School, in their Häagen-Dazs store

Rohit and Mayank with Pete Cornwall and Dr Robyn Remke, from Lancaster University Management School

Rohit is already looking for future locations for Häagen-Dazs franchises in India, with Mayank happy to be involved in what they hope will be a long-term successful joint-venture.

And yet, this is a partnership that may not have happened but for a twist of fate a decade previously.

Lancaster had been on Mayank’s list of universities for his studies, but he had been all set to study at Imperial Collee, London. However, his visa was rejected, and he chose to come to Lancaster, where friends and relatives had studied previously, and where he set course for his future career.

“The visa being rejected turned into a blessing in disguise, because I got to come to Lancaster,” says Mayank, who met his wife Lippika Podar at Lancaster as well. In March this year, just before speaking to us, they welcomed his first child – a daughter, Prissha. “The amount of attention and time the professors gave you, the one-to-one attention, I don’t think you would have got that anywhere else. It was not just about having a lecture at two o’clock, and that was it, it was so much more than that.

“One thing I will always remember is from my second or third month in Lancaster. They gave us an engine, a physical four-stroke, one litre engine. They told us to break it down and put it back together. That hands-on experience is something you just don’t get anywhere else in that first three or four months.

“The hands-on way of learning is something which really stuck with me. Theory never goes in my head, that was always the issue with me. I could never read a book and just learn.

“They taught us to work on the machine rather than just design it and give it to someone to make it for me. It really helped shape who I am today. It really helped me grow as a person, learn things hands-on rather than just theory.”

Rohit’s arrival at Lancaster was more planned. The International Business [Economics] programme offered exactly what he was looking for, and he credits the experience in Lancaster with shaping his business practices today.

“I learned a few things that probably would not be a priority elsewhere, like game theory, or international monetary demands,” he remembers. “That was very helpful for us to apply in our business where we trade in multiple currencies. I also had a lot of learning not just in a business perspective, but an international business perspective. We learned a lot of things that I can apply now to my business, and we've grown using quite a lot of those things.”

Both Rohit and Mayank enjoyed their time outside the classroom in Lancaster as well. Mayank helped to run the Indian Society – organising events around festivals such as Diwali – while Rohit played badminton for the University – his lecturers supporting him by giving him time out of lectures, and then making it up later on.

“The university itself is something that you miss,” Rohit adds. “It is a small town in itself. We had our own life within the campus and we never felt it was small or big, or it was confined. We always had something to do in the colleges or with the societies. There were different people meeting you every day. That's one of the biggest things I miss.”

Some of that communality can be found at the alumni events where Rohit and Mayank connected, shared their memories of Lancaster, spoke of mutual friends from the University, and embarked on their new ice cream venture together.

The partnership fits in with the mantras of both men – Rohit’s determination to do something that drives you to push forward every day; Mayank’s to always be moving forward, fighting for success.

Both agree that their time at Lancaster is among the best of their lives, and their advice to current students following in their footsteps is clear.

“Live in the present, and enjoy your university life,” says Mayank. “You are going to remember it – and miss it – every single day.”

“Listen to yourself; trust yourself; have faith in yourself,” Rohit adds. “You are unique and you're the only one walking in your shoes. And enjoy the journey. Do not just wait for the goal, because your goal will be closer than you think when your journey is more enjoyable.”

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