Can the Indian School of Business Become a Global Top Five B-School?

ISB has been known to take bold risks all along. When it was set up in 2001, the school broke the mold as far management education in India was concerned. Positioned as India’s global school, ISB came with strong academic partnerships with the Wharton School and Kellogg School of Management – people like then Kellogg Dean Don Jacobs, then Wharton Dean Tom Gerrity, and London Business School’s Sumantra Ghoshal were personally involved in the planning. It promised a strong line-up of international faculty including such B-school stars as strategist C.K. Prahalad and marketing guru Philip Kotler. Even today, senior executives such as Dell CEO Michael Dell, British Sky Broadcasting chairman James Murdoch and WPP CEO Martin Sorrell along with senior academics like Kellogg Dean Sally Blount, INSEAD Dean Dipak Jain and MIT Sloan’s dDan David Schmittlein sit on the school’s board.

But ISB’s biggest point of differentiation was that it offered a one-year MBA, a new concept in the Indian market. Unlike other Indian business schools back then, it placed a huge emphasis on experience and diversity. “We gave the market a very different product. They were not just another substitute for the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) graduates, but a different category of people – more mature and more well-rounded,” says Rangnekar.

Challenges along the Way

ISB seemed like a great project from the word go – the right academic backing, strong corporate supporters and an audacious plan. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Soon after launch in July 2001, the market turned south. In the wake of 9/11, a couple of the star professors backed out and finances came under strain. The next year, when the first batch of graduates was put into the market, jobs were in short supply. Some of worried corporate investors said that if given an opportunity to invest in projects like this again, they would stay away. “Back then, there were a whole lot of skeptics and even among the believers, almost everyone thought that it would take a lot longer for ISB to reach where it is today,” says Rangnekar.

Besides, another big worry was whether the same visiting faculty would keep coming to ISB year after year. There were other challenges too – building a base of permanent faculty in India was far from easy. India failed to offer a conducive research environment that would attract professors to relocate from the U.S. or Europe. But over the years, ISB has managed to overcome the issue.

“The myth was that you can’t attract world-class faculty to India, they can’t produce research here,” says Rangnekar. “But my one regret is that we haven’t been able to attract as many senior faculty as we would have liked to. That’s because they have spouses and children who have lives of their own and that’s very difficult to match here. I cannot recreate schools and I cannot recreate opportunities for spouses.” At the same time, Rangnekar is not keen to reduce the visiting faculty numbers below 40 percent. “That is the only way to ensure that students get global exposure and a global education,” he says.

A constant source of pain for ISB is its tussle with the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), India’s higher education regulator, which simply refuses to recognize a one-year MBA. “The tragedy of our relationship with AICTE is that we actually want to be regulated,” says Rangnekar. “AICTE just believes that you cannot have a one-year MBA program.” The result: The school still can’t offer an MBA degree, but rather a Post-Graduate Program in Management (PGP). ISB is pinning its hopes on new government regulations now bring formulated.

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