Pulling Back The Curtain On India’s Top Business School

The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad was founded in 1961. It is the oldest and, most say, best of the IIMs. India Today photo

If you were having a conversation with a potential student who is, let’s say, considering one of the ABCs, why would they want to go to A instead of B or C? To Ahmedabad instead of Bangalore or Calcutta? What is it about IIM-A that makes it so special compared to those schools?

I would just talk about the school system in which students get inducted into the large, wide, diverse base of alumni across different sectors of the economy in India and abroad. They find that we have the largest number of elective courses that anyone can think of, definitely in Asia if not in most parts of the world — we have about 160 electives. So students can really have a depth of choice.

The electives span things from cryptocurrencies to bionics to theater, and even filmmaking and things like that. And the idea is to basically allow students to pick and choose areas of work and what they think they would want to experiment with. Basically, that’s the idea. We also have a large number of student clubs on campus, unlike the other institutes, B and C: We have something like close to 60 student clubs and they are very active. They call in practitioners from industry and various areas in public life. In a given year they would possibly be having some of the top CEOs coming in to speak.

We have ministers from government, we have presidents come to teach in the program as well as give lectures, things like that. So the flavor is very special compared to other institutions.

Around the new year is a good time to ask this question. What do you feel the new year, the next two years, maybe the next five years will hold for your school, and maybe in general for Indian graduate business education?

For the school, we are actually looking at globalizing much more than we have been in the past. You asked earlier about foreign students; we find diversity in terms of nationalities is low around campus. Because of the historic nature of our location — we are in one of the largest populated countries in the world, and we were set up specifically to promote management in the Subcontinent — we didn’t really focus globally. So we are now starting to actually look at centers of the institute in different parts of the world. We do executive education training in Europe and in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, but we never actually had an extension center. So we’re now setting up one in the Middle East, in Dubai, and we’re about to use that as an opportunity to do more work in parts of Africa as well as the Middle East. That is something we’re focusing on over the next three years or so.

Another thing we’re actually looking at is opening up a sub-school of public policy within the institute. The reason there is special: In an emerging market, one of the big things we’ve found that makes doing business difficult is basically the regulatory environment. And so we want to specialize a lot more around governance and regulatory issues, and use that to convince government as well as talk to businesses about what are the types of issues they can expect to face and how to get around those. As of now we do really a fairly large number of executive education programs with senior bureaucrats in the government — almost secretary level in the government as well as commissioners of income tax and other foreign services officers who are ambassador level and below. We do programs for them. So we want to convert that learning into much more focused ways of advising government on what sorts of processes they should have which would actually make it more efficient for them as well as for business.

The plans are already out for the school of public policy. We have an architect who has already designed the school. We expect to be ready in about 18 months from now. We’ve started to look at hiring special faculty for that school, and we’re looking at it as a very important component of thinking about business in parts of the developing world.

These are two very important things that we want to continue. And we want to continue what we are doing in terms of improving diversity, in terms of gender, in terms of more courses which are fairly contemporary and yet gel with the way the school has been continuing.

Do you have any thoughts on the big picture for the country and graduate business education in India in general? What the next couple of years might look like?

Sure. The next couple of years actually for most of us here will be fairly interesting, because there are schools from abroad which are now trying to set up and get a slice of the pie. We look at that as a very interesting phenomenon which is good for us, because it will help us sharpen our own skills a little more with people, to be a little more careful than we have been on many fronts. That’s why we are saying, “Okay, so if that is coming in here, we have to take the competition abroad,” which is why we are now thinking of setting up in Dubai and we are doing programs and we are in London a year from now doing some programs there as well. So that’s been our response up until now. We think going forward, there are going to be risks which all business schools will face, and the question is, What do you really focus on?

We are seeing business schools which possibly might merge, we are seeing business schools which will just focus on just one particular aspect — maybe they will be schools that will only do executive education and not do MBA programs. Maybe they will be schools which will just focus on a particular type of executives with a certain amount of work experience. How much will be online, how much will be offline? These are things we are thinking through right now. We hope to be ahead of the curve on this one because these are things which are going to hit all business schools. So two years ago we started experimenting with what we call an e-learning program as well. And we are slowly getting into that virtual space as well.

So in the next couple of years we’ll see advances on that front as well? More digital offerings?

Yes, yes, very much so. Because that is a potential disruption which can hit us, and so we want to be very much riding that wave rather than having it wash over us.

DON’T MISS ISB MAY BE THE MOST INTERESTING BUSINESS SCHOOL IN THE WORLD or DINGED BY HBS, STANFORD & WHARTON. A YEAR LATER, ADMITTED TO ALL THREE