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Pulling Back The Curtain On India’s Top Business School

The Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad

Do you encourage students to have an international outlook?

Yes. We have programs with three schools abroad, so there we manage to get students who come from abroad and study at our institute. So these are programs which we do with the ESSEC Business School in France. We do it with HEC Paris, and we do it with Bocconi in Milan. Their students come and spend a year with us and get a degree with us, and our students spend a year with them and get a degree with them.

We would like to internationalize much more. But we are going to do that through another program which we do, which is a one-year program for executives which is more in line with the way the ISB system works. That is for people who have had some work experience, typically five years, and they come in for a year to do a program with us. So that’s a differentiated program. There we would actually be doing many more internationals — actually we typically have about 30% of students from abroad in that.

How does your curriculum differ from the coursework that Western business schools offer? It’s obviously rigorous, as you say, but are there major differences that you can point out for us?

I think the major differences are that we have a lot more courses on soft skills. We emphasize a lot more on that. So we have courses on negotiation skills, many courses on communication. We have courses on exploring roles and identities, which is a way in which people figure out what is their own internal motivations and how they can hone them for their own purposes. We do a lot of that because we find that our students are intellectually very good, but building on that, working in teams, working with others, is promoted through the softer courses that we have.

There are a lot of leadership courses, too. In terms of differences, we give a fair bit of weight actually to these courses, as well. That is a big differentiating factor.

IIM-A Director Errol D’Souza, second from left, shows off his cricket bowling skills. IIM photo

How is the PGP program evolving? Do you see changes coming down the road where it’ll maybe move away from the soft skills or even go more into the soft skills? Do you have any comments on any major evolutions in your program?

Over time what’s happening is that we’re finding that we are doing a few more courses which are technical in nature. We’re doing, say for example, data analytics courses, courses on AI. We are starting to do that because we are seeing that firms are all moving in that direction, and they require these skills from our students. Unlike other schools, we already had a fairly good number of quant courses on our campus. So we are saying we add some of these newer requirements that are there, so that students are aware of what is going on in the digital and IT space. But at the same time as that is happening, as people are getting much more technically skilled, we see an even stronger requirement to be skilled in the softer skills.

Because if you can’t talk across the verticals of a corporation, or you can’t be talking about integrating systems; and finally, delivery for managers involves that part as well. It’s a challenge that we are actually coping with: How do we take the technical parts of what’s happening in the world of work and yet allow people to not forget that it’s not just that? That it’s the system integration that actually finally delivers value for firms and customers?

What percentage of your current cohort is women, and is that number going up or down?

It’s going up. It was very low. I would say 10 years ago it was close to 8% or 9% of our students. Today it is about 32% of our students.

Two things have actually happened in the last decade. One is, schools got more sensitive to disability. One of the things that we do, as I told you, is that 50% of students come from backward castes. We take 4% actually of students who have some disability or the other, so we give them also advantage and bring them in. These would be all sorts of disabilities, physical disabilities, that we bring. On the gender front, what we found was that many of our students were actually coming from a technology background and women were not necessarily joining technology institutes, and so fewer of them were applying to join us once they finished their degrees. So we started to give a lot more weightage to people from a legal background, people who came from the arts, people from the pure sciences.

And so that’s how we started to improve the gender diversity as well. It was useful because it also helped the diversity that came into the classroom. It helped students learn from each other — the peer learning improved. That was a very important part which was missing earlier.

I imagine that you have a very high employment percentage for students graduating from IIMA. Do you have any numbers off the top of your head on what that is for the employability?

On the day they graduate, everyone has a job. That’s another peculiarity of the school, I mean we so far fortunately have been privileged that top companies from across the world come and hire from us. In the last batch, the top four consulting firms must have taken 30 of our students. Amazon took about 10, we had the top investment banks take another about 25, 30. And if you look at the fast-moving consumer goods companies like Unilever and Procter and Gamble, they’ve also taken large numbers. So we’ve been really fortunate. Our students are pleased, and that’s why I think we get that large number of applications we were talking about — because people know that once they are here, it’s like you don’t have to be worried about what goes on after you’ve gone through us.

I wanted to ask you about faculty as well. Where are your faculty from in terms of their education? 

Most of them have been educated in the U.S. — so maybe about 70% to 75% have been educated in one of the top 25, 30 universities in the U.S. They want to come back to India, that’s how we are fortunate to have them here. So they have been trained in the best schools, and that gives us an advantage actually.

The rest, 20% to 25%, are from one of the top three IIMs in the country.