ISB May Be The Most Interesting B-School In The World

The United States’ ambassador to India, Kenneth I. Juster, visited the Mohali campus of the Indian School of Business in August. ISB photo

P&Q: You started off with help from Western business schools, but it seems that these days you are looking East just as much as West. 

RS: We started with American schools, but we are making more connections in the East, yes. A few months ago, three of us were in Taiwan. In areas like supply chain management, we can learn from businesses like Foxconn. Now 40 Taiwanese academics from there are coming here. We are driving the integration of insights from the East and the West.

We ask, if things were done differently in the West compared to the East, why is that? For example, if you take a company like Tata or you take the keiretsu in Japan and the chaebol‎s in Korea, these were clusters that provided capital because capital isn’t diverted in the East, and also management talent to the smaller companies. We have to explain: How it is different? But also: Why it is different? That is the new learning we are working on. 

P&Q: Ninety-seven percent of your students are Indian. Do you encourage them to gain an international outlook? 

RS: Many already have it. About 25% of our students are Indians who have worked abroad and come here to study, sometimes because they want to move back. When I was a student, we moved abroad and wanted to stay there. But there are opportunities in India now. Hyderabad is Deloitte’s headquarters. They are growing from about 30,000 to 50,000 over the next 18 months. Deloitte made about 70 offers to ISB last year, and 56 accepted. 

Salary growth is up to 15% a year, and if you join a fast-growing young company rather than an established one with saturation above you, you can rise faster. I now have students from the U.S. universities I worked in asking me if I can find them an internship in India.

Many of the multinationals are actually shopping at ISB for their global needs. An alum from the 2008 class is the new chief product officer for Uber. Another is the chief strategy officer for WhatsApp. About 18% of our alumni are abroad, often in clusters like Silicon Valley, New York, Singapore, the UK, or the Toronto area.

But yes, we have several mechanisms to expand students’ horizons. One is exchange programs with our 40 partner schools. Another is a joint program about innovating in emerging markets run with Tsinghua Business School in Beijing and the National University of Singapore. 

P&Q: Are you aiming to attract more international students? 

RS: Yes, but India is just not currently a destination for education. It used to be, 70 years ago, but now we have 400,000 Indians studying abroad. The government is trying to push a program called Study in India, and we are part of it, but that program has to pick up. Also, the options aren’t well-known. The best-known, like the Indian Institute for Technology, are so hard to get into that people used to joke, “If you don’t get into the IIT you can always apply to MIT.”

The other issue was that these are government-supported institutions that were not reserving any slots for foreign students, but now they’re beginning to do that. For a while ISB has been the only one openly looking for foreign students. We are working now to get a UK school or for a U.S. school to send their MBAs and executive MBAs on a learning mission to India.

We’re talking with the alums and Silicon Valley in the Bay Area to see if we can run a program in San Francisco to start driving awareness. At the moment most of the people who know about us tend to be of Indian origin, although we do get some others. One selling point is cost. A quality education costs $120,000 in the U.S., but about $40,000 here. 

P&Q: You have a lot of success getting more women onto the PGP especially. How has that happened?

RS: At the moment our gender diversity is about 35% women, it has gone up from about 25 to 35 in the last three years and we are aiming for 40%. It may be easy in the UK to reach 40%, but in India it’s really hard work. 

We’ve done it by identifying markets where you will find the women. It turns out that India has a reasonable number of women engineers, but you have to look for them. As an example, there is an organization called Teach for India, the equivalent of Teach for America. They have very able people, and they have a high percentage of women. We are trying to work with organizations such as that. 

P&Q: What do you look for in a student? 

RS: We look at multiple dimensions. For screening purposes we look at GMAT and GPA. The average GMAT is about 710, which has been our average right from the beginning. We have kept it 710 but we have regularly turned down people with 750 because they didn’t have the communication skills. 

We interview everybody that we admit. What we’re looking for is team-building attitudes. We’re looking for communication skills. We’re looking for leadership skills. Increasingly, we are looking beyond IQ and EQ to HQ: heart quotient. For example, we were talking about Teach for India. If somebody has committed two years of their life right out of undergraduate school to teach young kids, we know they have a heart. We love to hire people who are really smart and who have an ethical center, commitment to society, and commitment to the nation.

We are also looking for entrepreneurship. I was just at a dinner with a bunch of alums in Hyderabad last night and they were arguing that we ought to give extra weight to people who already started a company. In the early cohorts we had a higher percentage of people who had already started a company before they came to school. We will look at how do we bring in this kind of mix as well. We’re also looking for global diversity. 

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