“A strong contribution to the academic world and a return on investment for the business world was precisely what I was looking for.”

Sudaman Thoppan Mohanchandralal, India
Institution:Vlerick Business School
Program:Doctorate in Business Administration
Degree:Kick-off year: 2020

In the beginning, Sudaman Thoppan Mohanchandralal couldn't make up his mind between a master in Behavioural Sciences at the London School of Economics and the DBA programme at Vlerick. He decided on the latter and hasn't regretted it since. It gave him a way to combine his fascination for behavioural science with computer science.

Sudaman has been Regional Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Allianz (Belgian, Netherlands and Luxemburg regions) for the last three and a half years. Before that, he worked for other large companies such as IBM, ING, BNP Paribas Fortis, etc. In 2003 he left his home country India with a master in computer science and a master in business administration. He arrived in Belgium in 2010, after spells in the Netherlands, France and Denmark.

Added value for the business world

“I have always worked in data & analytics. We have set up one of the best data functions in the world at Allianz. And I take pride in that. It is also my reason for following this programme. I would like to generate business value from the research.

I am not unfamiliar with Vlerick. I have collaborated with them for a while, and We are one of the sponsors for the Centre for Excellence in Financial Leadership & Digital Transformation, for example. So moving onto the DBA programme wasn't a huge step. We have done three hackathons with Vlerick Masters students three years in a row”.

Don't fixate on one idea

“When I first proposed my research topic, it had an altogether different perspective than it has now. The first lesson I learned was that you mustn't fixate on one idea. The programme helped me enormously when it came to narrowing my topic down, refining it, etc. It has enabled me to define my research topic, so that it makes a strong contribution to the academic world and provides a return on investment for the business world. And that was precisely what I was looking for.”

The human side of AI

“My research lies at the point of intersection between behavioural science and Data science. My purpose? To code human expertise into advanced analytical or AI models. Let me illustrate this with a specific example. Imagine, in five years, say, you walk into an unmanned supermarket. Smart systems recognise you automatically and know who you are, what you like to eat, the products you like, and so on. The system offers recommendations, based on your preferences. You, the customer, want those recommendations to be tailored especially for you. There is nothing more frustrating than being presented with something you simply don't need. If it happens too often, you won't return to shop there. And so that is the challenge. The AI should improve the quality of the recommendations. It should be virtually no different to a human assistant. And that is why the addition of human expertise to the model is so vital.”

A marathon PhD

“I am now a few months into my programme. The most difficult part to date? Writing it. Writing an academic paper really does call for an approach that is different to the one I am used to. I don't have any trouble talking about my topic, but putting it to paper is another matter. It is very disciplined, but so is the rest of the programme. Do you know, I often compare my PhD to running a marathon. And to run a marathon you need people to run alongside you, to help motivate you... I have my doubts, and then I think to myself: why am I running? That's when you need your supporters beside you. DBA manager Eva is one of those supporters. She is the guiding angel on the DBA programme. (laughs) She helps us through with lots of empathy and emotional intelligence. And that is of very real value to me, because I am combining this programme with more than just a demanding job. At home, I have a 22-month old baby waiting for me. So it's pretty hard going. But the support and understanding of the programme management makes it possible. That, I am absolutely certain of.”

More Information

University Profile:Vlerick Business School
DBA-Profile::Doctorate in Business Administration

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