Indian B-School Prof: A Brief History Of The Origins Of The Indian MBA

Ritika Mahajan, assistant professor in the Department of Management Studies at MNIT Jaipur. Photo by Social Media Cell, Department of Management Studies, MNIT Jaipur

The development of management as a formal discipline can be traced to the late 19th century. The concepts and theories evolved over decades, and the underpinnings were derived from various fields, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, mathematics and law.

People once believed that management could not be taught in the classroom — that management education must be based in experience. That began to change in 1908, when Harvard Business School launched the first Master of Business Administration — the MBA. Eventually, this acronym became globally popular, even though it includes only “business” and “administration,” not “management.”

The rise of business education in the United States

In the 1950s and 1960s, Europe was still weak and recovering from the Second World War. Japan was almost destroyed. The United States became very powerful compared to the rest of the world. Globally, attention focused on the U.S. as it dramatically outpaced other countries in economic development. Out of the many different reasons for this status, one was management education.

The first management program in the world started in the U.S. In the first few years, there was skepticism. Eventually, as batches graduated and joined the industry, perception of management education began to change globally. India was no exception. Interestingly, because of its colonial history, India’s primary and secondary schools are modeled on the English system — but the Indian business schools followed the American models, and there is a remarkable dominance of these models to this date.

The Nehruvian vision for an industrialized India

IIM Ahmedabad building. Photo by Abhishek Donda

Modern management education in India began in the 1950s. The foundation was laid by Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whose vision was to create a talented workforce to manage industrialization.

Although he didn’t come from a business background, Nehru insisted on management education of the kind that existed in the U.S. The existing commerce colleges and few other courses were not comparable to the programs in the U.S.

Initially, short-term programs were started to impart management training. Then, full-fledged programs began being offered. The Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Kolkata and XLRI, Jamshedpur were the pioneers.

In 1955, the University of Delhi was the first among universities to start a three-year, part-time PG Diploma program for working professionals. It was offered by a business management cell under the Delhi School of Economics at the university.

The first two IIMs

In 1959, the Government of India invited Professor G.W. Robbins, associate dean of the Graduate School of Business Administration, University of California, Los Angeles, to study and suggest the development of management education in India.

Robbins’ guidance resulted in the launch of the Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta in November 1961, and IIM Ahmedabad in December 1961, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School, respectively. Both took different paths, As documented by Thomas Hill, Warren Haynes, and Howard Baumgartel in Management Education in India: A Study of International Collaboration in Institution Building (1973). Several people, like Mr. Chandiramani, Education Advisor, Ministry of Education; Dr. M.S. Thakker, scientist and member of Planning Commission; Mr Ensminger, representative of the Ford Foundation; and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and Mr. Kasturbhai Lalbhai played important roles.

The IIMs were set up outside the university system based on the recommendations of Professor Robbins. He concluded that the university system was too rigid and discouraged experimentation and innovation.

The IIMs were based on a profound effort to create institutions where several disciplines could be brought together — where there could be degree and executive programs alongside research and consulting. A different and much bigger vision was packaged. As IITs were to engineering education, IIMs were to management education. To date, the IIMs remain more popular than the universities as far as management education is concerned.


Ritika is an assistant professor in the area of General Management and Strategy at the Department of Management Studies, Malaviya National Institute of Technology-Jaipur, India. She has a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee. More details on her website here

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