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

The Indian School of Business has campuses in Mohali, India (above) and Hyderabad. ISB photo

It’s a business school with extensive links in both East and West, and one of the youngest elite schools in the world. In many ways, the Indian School of Business is arguably the most interesting business school in the world.

Founded in 2001 with help from Northwestern Kellogg, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, London Business School, and MIT Sloan, ISB offers the equivalent of an MBA and two executive MBAs — though for regulatory reasons their programs have different names: the PGP (post-graduate program in management), the PGP for working professionals, and the PGP Max. ISB has other courses in family business and various advanced and exec ed options. The flagship PGP admits around 900 students a year. 

ISB has two campuses, a 260-acre site in the south of the Subcontinent at Hyderabad and a 70-acre one in the north in Mohali. Many students live on campus, a practice that the school encourages for the purposes of building team spirit. They are certainly doing something right: This year ISB reached 28th in the Financial Times global MBA rankings. 

Other numbers are also impressive. The average ISB alumnus sees a salary increase of 164%, putting ISB fifth in the world on that metric, behind four Chinese schools. ISB also ranked 26th on the FT’s list of the best MBAs for women, of which its student population comprises between 31% and 35%, a level in line with most European business schools. ISB has a phenomenal 97% rate of employment three months after graduation, and its students have the startup bug, too, having launched nearly 500 companies. However, not all is perfect in Hyderabad: in a problem keenly felt by B-schools across the Subcontinent, just 3% of ISB students are international.

That’s a problem the school is actively confronting, says Dean Rajendra Srivastava, who joined ISB as dean and professor of marketing strategy and innovation in January 2016. Before that he spent 25 years at the University of Texas-Austin, five years at Emory University in Atlanta, and seven years as provost and deputy president of academic affairs at Singapore Management University. He has taught at LBS and Wharton, among other leading B-schools. 

Poets&Quants caught up with Srivastava to get the lowdown on ISB. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

P&Q: What is special about ISB? 

Rajendra Srivastava. ISB photo

RS: I joined as dean three years ago, and at that time if somebody had asked me to describe what ISB graduates can do in one sentence, I would have said: “They know how to get things done.” That’s what people would say to me when I told them I was at ISB: “We love your students, they can really move things around and get things done.” 

Why is that? Partly because we started out as a very entrepreneurial school. There are few mid-career business education programs in India, so relative to the pre-experience programs we had students with pretty good experience and we had a lot of diversity in the classroom. While 70-75% of the students had an engineering background, they come to ISB having worked in entertainment, infrastructure, FMCG — you name it — and sometimes having worked abroad. 

Of the first cohort, somewhere between 20% to 25% have started companies. Conservatively, I’d calculate our students have started between 450 to 500 companies. So now when people ask me what makes the school special, I add, “ISB is incredibly entrepreneurial.” We do well in the rankings, but I always think that you should be judged not on the salary increases, but on the number of jobs you have created. 

P&Q: How do ISB’s courses differ from Western business schools’? 

RS: What we teach is based specifically on what is happening in India. For example, the first story is growth. The airline sector we grew 24% last year. The automotive sector grew about 15%. FMCG is growing about 15% a year. That means we talk about making decisions quickly. What is the opportunity cost of gazing at your neighbor? 

Another thread is the role of digital in growth. Just to give an example of what this means, the government has recently created the Aadhaar ID card for 1.25 billion people using fingerprint and retina recognition. An ISB alum just started a company offering ambulance services to hospitals, and because of this Aadhaar card, within seconds they can identify the insurance coverage for that individual and which hospital will cover them. This has increased hospitals’ productivity hugely. 

We are writing our own case studies about these sorts of stories. This year we will hit 75 and next year 100. About 80% are Indian and the remaining 20% about emerging markets in Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and so on.