Young. Hungry. Innovative. Demanding.
Those are just a few labels that have been applied to the Indian School of Business. An upstart business program founded by McKinseyites in 2001, the school describes itself as the place “where leaders are made.” While the program follows the blueprint of being India’s answer to INSEAD, it ultimately aspires to something even greater.
“As a school, our desire is to benchmark ourselves against the top five schools globally — the Kelloggs, Whartons, Harvards, and so on,” emphasized Ajit Rangnekar, the school’s former dean, in a 2011 interview with Poets&Quants.
BIG NAME PARTNERS GIVE ISB BIG TIME CREDIBILITY
Hyperbole? Give ISB an A for effort. In just 15 years, the program has climbed to 27th globally in the latest Financial Times ranking, finishing in the top third in both the career progress and alumni recommendation categories. Featuring a demanding mix of thought-provoking cases and technical training, the program has emerged as perhaps India’s premier business research school. In the process, employers have taken notice. The number of job offers rose by 16% in the past year (and were up 82% in the last five years). At the same time, according to The Financial Times, starting pay (in weighted U.S. dollars) jumped 11% to $138,454, with 2016 graduates receiving offers from heavyweights like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, Boston Consulting Group, ad PwC.
It hasn’t been an easy rise to the top. ISB was launched just when business education had exploded in India. Thanks to a far-sighted strategy, the school has thrived where others have faltered. How? To start, the school formed strong ties with leading MBA programs early on, enlisting Kellogg, Wharton, and LBS to assist with their curriculum and operations. It also gained cache by building a star-studded Board of Directors, which currently includes Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett, former Citigroup CEO Vikram S. Pandit, Dell CEO Michael Dell, and Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein.
The program also wisely differentiated itself from other industry players. The main difference is that ISB offers a one-year MBA, attracting professionals who were reluctant to give up two years of their career (and the accompanying pay) to pursue an MBA. As a result, admissions placed heavy emphasis on experience, creating richer classroom discussions grounded in real world contexts as a result.
PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE TRUMPS GMAT SCORES IN ADMISSION
“We have generally seen that ISB students have a larger risk appetite and have set precedents in going after what they want,” shares Shiv Kumar, ISB’s Director of Student Engagement and Applied Learning, in a written statement to P&Q. “This is a one- year course and hence dealing with pressure and deadlines comes as a major challenge that all graduating students champion. The ISB MBA is designed for folks who come with some experience. Unlike other business schools that take students mostly on the basis of analytical skills, ISB looks at the overall performance of the student.”
That said, ISB is no academic lightweight. The 2017 Class, for example, averaged a 704 GMAT, scores that exceed their counterparts at Oxford, Cambridge, and HEC Paris. In fact, this average is just four points lower than INSEAD. “We gave the market a very different product, adds Rangnekar, who joined GMAC as a senior executive in 2015. “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.”
In a 2014 interview with P&Q, Arun Pereira, an executive director at the school who came to Hyderabad after a 17 year stint at St. Louis University, described the student body as “highly intelligent and highly intense.” Not surprisingly, great students attract great teachers. That, coupled with an extensive network of partnerships, has helped ISB attract visiting scholars from the world’s top programs. This year alone, the program boasts professors from Northwestern (Kellogg), Wharton, Stanford, London Business School, University of Chicago (Booth), New York University (Stern), UCLA (Anderson), and Emory (Goizueta). In fact, visiting faculty teach roughly half of the courses, exposing ISB students to the best business ideas and practices from across the globe.
DIVERSITY IS THE HALLMARK OF THE 2017 CLASS
For Santosh Baradwaj, a member of the 2017 Class, the ISB has more than lived up to its billing so far.
“The MBA, for me, was to take a step back from the corporate set up and refine and formalize the skills I had acquired on the field,” he explains. “With 10 years of experience in sales, one tends to get straight jacketed into functions and I wanted to break those shackles and get a foot in the door in any industry, domain, or function and I feel that MBA from ISB helped me achieve that.”
Baradwaj isn’t the only one who’s excited about the 2017 Class’ prospects. Kumar notes that the class’ 908 students represent the largest class ever. It may also be its most diverse too. “If there is one truth for the Class of 2017,” he observes, “it is that every professional here is exceptional in some way or the other. From 22 year-old founders of international startups to food scientists, naval commanders and award-winning advertisement executives, ISB boasts an immensely diverse set of people. This diversity stems from not just their places of origin or hometowns, but also from the wealth of experience they bring to the table. [They] include professionals from the fields of medicine, the government and non-governmental organizations, scientific researchers (some of whom also hold patents), sports enthusiasts and performing artists, media professionals and the likes.”
While three quarters of the class consists of engineers, Kumar notes that these students are a fry cry from the introverted and unimaginative stereotype slapped on them. “I like to believe the batch of people we have here are engineers with their own quirks and talents. You’ll find an engineer or a consultant at every school. But you won’t find a former engineer- turned-marketer-turned entrepreneur- turned consultant anywhere else other than ISB.”
ADVENTUROUS SPIRITS AND MUSIC LOVERS HEADLINE CLASS
Indeed, you’ll find plenty of inventive and engaging students in ISB’s Class of 2017. Robin Malik, for one, describes himself as “an entrepreneur, mountaineer and paragliding pilot launching a Fintech startup using Blockchain. Anshul Tibrewala humbly positions himself as “your friendly neighborhood giant, seeker of stories, bathroom singer, and a comedy of errors.” And Purva Tidke admits her strengths are, shall we say, contextual. “I am a passionate dancer, loud thinker and a marketing enthusiast. I love to get to the root of things which is an awesome quality to have in professional life, but is a little taxing in personal life.”
It is also a class with a fearless passion for life. Malik journeyed across a Himalayan range on an Enfeld, while Baradwaj cycled 2,400 kilometers from Bangalore to Delhi for charity. Age isn’t an issue for
Shyam Nambiar, a Commander in the Indian Navy, who ran his first marathon at 38. If you’re looking for Vivek Desai, just follow the headphones. “Music is my caffeine,” he says. “It always keeps going, be it while working, studying or just relaxing. Thus, it won’t be surprising if somebody thinks that earphones are a part of my body.”