All MBAs want to attach themselves to the best brands. A school affiliation ensures that calls are answered and doors are opened. Even more, a brand confers credibility – a reassurance to employers and reports alike that this graduate possesses the talent and expertise to deliver.
In India, the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad provides that halo effect for its graduates. In fact, Anand Kewlani, a ’22 IIMA PGPX alum, frames the program as “the destination for the aspirant who wants to be branded for life.” Why not? The alumni roll includes Srikant Datar and Raghu Sundaram, the deans of Harvard Business School and New York University’s Stern School, respectively. Let’s not forget Ajay Banga (General Atlantic Vice Chairman), Raghuram Rajan (former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and former Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund), and Sanjeev Bikhchandani (founder of Naukri). Not surprisingly, Shubham Dang, another ’22 alum, refers to the school as the “cradle of leadership” – an academic refuge founded on “debates and data-backed decision-making.”
Employers have certainly bought into IIMA’s aura. The school’s prestige and rigor – the “A” in “IIMA” stands for “Academics” as the joke goes – has translated into fat paychecks for alumni. The program draws the likes of the most highly selective recruiters to campus: McKinsey, Google, Goldman Sachs, Flipkart, and Microsoft. In the latest Financial Times ranking, IIMA alumni were pulling down $185,001 in purchasing parity-adjusted pay within three years of graduation. To put that number in context, IIMA grads were earning more than their international counterparts at the London Business School, HEC Paris, and IESE Business School. Surprised? When The Economist asked alumni to rate their alma mater’s career services, IIMA respondent scores ranked it among the Top 3 in the world!
“Our placement strategy follows the approach of ‘maximizing recruiter-student fit,’ rather than just getting our students a job,” explains Ram Kartha, a former PwC India director who headed up IIMA’s corporate relations and program strategy before moving into venture capital. “This long-run career emphasis enables us to place students in positions they are most suited for. This allows them to not only hit the ground running but also grow at a fast pace….Our strong career progression record is a direct outcome of our rigorous admissions process that helps us recruit the best talent, and further develop them into fine leaders with a strong emphasis on developing decision-making skills throughout the program.”
The “A” in IIMA may also stand for admiration. In a similar Financial Times survey, IIMA finished 10th when respondents were asked to list the three schools where they would recruit MBA graduates. When The Economist quizzed its sample for the most effective alumni networks, IIMA again ranked 10th. One reason: IIMA focuses on staying connected with both alumni and the industry at large.
“IIM Ahmedabad also places very high emphasis on continuous engagement with industry- and policy-makers,” Kartha observes in the same 2021 interview. Our faculty serve on the boards of several reputed companies and are a part of several government committees aimed at policy making. Several alumni, who hold leadership positions across the globe, are actively engaged with the faculty to enhance student learning on campus.”
IIMA’s prestige stems from excellence. In the words of Anchal Agarwal Jain, who is slated to graduate this year, the program isn’t for the “faint-hearted.” Her classmate, Neelabah Singh, takes it a step further. “The course is very rigorous and fast-paced, with daily cases, readings, submissions, and quizzes. You always need to be on your toes. So, you need to learn to ‘prioritize’ and be disciplined with your time. The fact that I can now find time to get adequate sleep, complete the daily cases and readings, and squeeze in some time for playing my guitar and reading a newspaper is what I would have found difficult to do before…PGPX is a buffet and you can’t have it all.”
Priorities and tradeoffs are baked into the IIMA curriculum as a whole. The program relies heavily on case-based learning, teaching students how to conduct research, analyze options, make decisions, and persuade peers through repetition. Not only do IIMA students learn how to think, but they are exposed to a wide range of roles, industries, and business scenarios along the way. The case method also taps into the diverse professional experiences of its class, where nearly a quarter of students are women.
“The pedagogy followed at IIMA is all about experiential learning,” adds Ram Kartha. “In fact, the motto of IIMA states, Vidya Viniyogad Vikasah, which translates into development through the application of knowledge. We augment our classroom pedagogy, which is predominantly case-based with several discussions from the leaders of corporate India. Quite often, the actual protagonist or decision-makers in the case are invited to the classroom to help the students appreciate better the business context and the dilemmas in decision-making.”
The biggest dilemma? Sarvesh Patel, a ’22 alum of the one-year PGPX program, refers to the words said to him by Errol D’Souza, IIMA’s director. “People should take ownership of the decisions that they make. It’s only when you’re vested in facing the consequences of the decisions you make that you have the right to make it.”
D’Souza himself is grappling with a big decision. In November, D’Souza talked with Business Today about the likelihood that IIMA would phase out its two-year program over the next decade. In his view, two-year programs have reached the point of diminishing returns, where business realities and educational alternatives have rendered them redundant.
“Given the rapid pace of change, spending two years in an educational institute learning management seems like a little waste of time,” D’Souza explains. “So, you want people who have worked for three to four years, have an understanding of organizations, and then come in maybe for a one-year program and then do continuing education through executive education, which is another thing we focus on a lot. Then, you are constantly upgrading yourself as the world is changing.”
Could IIMA be a harbinger of what’s to come in the MBA space? Have two-year programs devolved into a luxury? If one of India’s most prestigious business schools is thinking about it, how soon before American and European elite programs begin weighing the same question – if they aren’t, already?
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