Are IIMs world-class?

Yes Mr Ramesh, they are. But we need to learn self-respect


TV Rao | May 30, 2011

What is world class? About two decades ago when the Canadian government wanted to modernise itself and its public services, it appointed a group of consultants to go around the world and find out what constitutes the quality of world-class organisations. This team came out with the following qualities of world-class organisations which they preferred to call as “adaptive organisations”:

Vision driven, customer driven, systems driven,  technology driven, technology using, flat and non-hierarchical, treat every employee as a source of ideas, encourage creativity and innovation, flexible and responsive to changes and respond with speed.

On each of these counts if we rate the IIMs they get high ratings as the culture for such institutions was set in the early years by IIMA and IIMC by visionaries like Dr Vikram Sarabhai and others. Subsequent IIMs were built on these strengths and did not deviate from the culture. For example, the culture is highly non-hierarchical, the institutions are highly systems driven – to the point of such a high rigidity that everything follows a process.

Faculty are recruited on merit and from world-class institutions. In most IIMs the recruitment process is exhaustive and at institutions like IIMA the faculty recruitment includes a thorough examination of publications of the candidate concerned, a visit to the campus sometimes for a couple of days, meetings with a large group of faculty and a seminar, than a half an hour interview by an interview committee in other Institutions.

They have boards consisting of world-class corporate leaders and even civil servants who take great interest in these institutions and sometimes an interest that works to the disadvantage of these institutions.

Admissions are based on merit and without exception. Even when reservations are to be made to take care of national priorities, admissions are based on merit and there are no compromises. The tests are designed by faculty themselves.

Courses are compared to the best of B-schools in the west. When IIMA reviewed its postgraduate programme (PGP) 25 years ago and collected data from the world’s best B-schools, it was found that the number of pages the IIMA students are required to read and comprehend are a lot more than what is required at these best business schools in the world. IIMA rationalised the same and recast its PGP. There were two reviews subsequent to this and the course structure was redesigned to suit local requirements.

They keep reviewing their curricula to compete globally and prepare candidates for global organisations and do not merely follow any prescriptions from rigid and outdated controllers from anywhere.

Since they were set up to serve Indian society and all sectors than merely the corporate sector they publish more appropriately in journals and places that are read by Indians and not necessarily always in global journals meant for tenure positions in the USA or Europe. They are not mandated to serve the world at large but to serve largely various sectors of Indian society. When IIMA started HBS wanted it to be called Indian Institute of Business Management and Dr Vikram Sarabhai resisted this and insisted on the name Indian Institute of Management to serve the Indian economy. IIMA since then started an agriculture management centre, public systems group to work for government systems and many other centres to serve the country from time to time.
IIMB was specifically mandated in early years to serve the Indian public sector and its work on the bullock cart was even ridiculed by some sections of Indian public. Eventually IIMB has spread itself very successfully to serve various actions. A lot of work done by it is in the form of consulting as consulting is considered as a way to influence management practice.

The Indian corporate sector does not read journals like the Administrative Science Quarterly or Harvard Business Review and implement best practices but they hire IIM faculty to change their systems and practice. The teaching by this faculty is not limited to postgraduates and a large number of practising managers. For example, integrated HRD systems introduced in mid-seventies by L&T was two decades ahead of what Dave Ulrich of Michigan University has talking about in mid-nineties. An executive in NDDB went in mid-eighties to the USA to learn about HRD practices there and returned with articles written by IIMA professors.

IIMA alone teaches over 3,000 to 4,000 executives at all levels and from all sectors besides the nearly a thousand students in various programmes. These executives from highly reputed and world-class organisations across the country including MNCs do not visit and pay their fee if IIMs are not world class.

The IIMs are highly customer driven. Their customers are largely Indian including Indian PSUs and the government, though largely the Indian private sector and MNCs.

Just to take an illustration from IIMA: most of it faculty and ex-faculty also figure out among the Padmashri and Padmabhushan award winners including:  Dr Anil Gupta, Dr Bakul Dholakia, Dr C Rangarajan, V S Vyas, Samuel Paul, I G Patel, C K Prahalad and several of their students including Mallika Sarbahai.

Many innovations came from these institutions. Unfortunately, they may not have influenced the worldwide practice as these professionals tried to live in India and cater to Indian needs.

Several years ago a famous Harvard psychologist visiting India praised late Dr Udai Pareek for his contributions on Extension Motivation. If Pareek did not become as famous like Abraham Maslow for his original contributions in India it is because his books are published by Indian publishers and catered to Indian masses and he preferred to publish here than go to Harvard. In fact, he came back from the University of North Carolina to work and live in India than to serve the USA. His books in the mid-seventies were used as textbooks on training for development.

So is Pradip Khandwalla’s ‘Design of Organisations’ when he was at McGill. Many in the USA may not have known his latter work as he published largely in India and did not return to the USA. ‘Honey bee’, published by Anil Gupta’s Sristi, reaches over 40 countries and deals with indigenous innovations. Anil was even instrumental in starting the National Innovation Foundation. His courses, in which he takes students on Shodha Yatra, are unparalleled and I am not sure if any Harvard professor has ever offered an equivalent learning experience to his students.

The current generation of young professors are intelligent, graduates from some of the world’s best institutions and are a lot more research minded than before. They are the ones who preferred to be in India and serve the country in spite of not-so-great salaries they get.

Surveys don’t determine if a particular set of Institutions is world-class or not. However, they do indicate perceptions. Such perceptions need to be corrected where possible. In my view, such perceptions if in the negative indicate the following:

1. The IIMs have not done a good job of communicating to the outside world their own contributions. The IIMs have been publicity-shy of their work. It is limited to the select corporate world.

2. Besides, Indians show less respect for fellow Indians until they are respected outside India and institutions are no different.

3. Even those who benefited from the IIMs have rarely acknowledged what IIMs has done to them. For example, many management gurus, who were trained here or who taught here or were sent to Harvard on IIM sponsorship and have become prominent in the west, rarely acknowledge the contribution of the IIMs. We have also not acknowledged them, respected them, collaborated with them or projected them appropriately.

4. I have rarely seen doctoral students including the IIMs’ own referring to or consulting Indian journals and quoting Indian researches including those of their own professors. It looks as though they themselves don't believe their faculty are worth quoting. I think it is a bias in the Indian mind against fellow Indians. It is a reflection of the basic lack of self-respect of us in the country getting translated to low respect for each other.

I think the main problem is deeper. In my view, it is that Indians don’t respect fellow Indians. They start respecting them only when the outside world recognises them. To get recognised you have to leave India and live in the USA or the UK. I strongly believe there are many Amartya Sens, C K Prahalads, and Vijay Govindarajans and Ramcharans in India and some of them live next door but we don’t recognise them as they are not in the USA and not have HBS publications.

For example, professors like C Balakrishnan, M N Vora, V L Mote, Udai Pareek, Bakul Dholakia, Anil Gupta, Amar Kalro, V S Vyas, Pradip Khandwalla and scores of others like them decided to live in India and serve India and decided to remain teachers and Indian researchers for India rather than to publish abroad and seek tenure positions in US universities. They got best ratings whenever they taught abroad but they preferred to be low key and also publish largely in India. I think it is high time we start respecting ourselves and our fellow citizens who have been contributing silently to the management profession, institution and nation building.  

Of course, this is not to say that the IIMs should be complacent. Certainly in a globalised world they need to think a lot more globally, reach out to global audience through publications that have global reach and reposition themselves and their governance and faculty appraisal systems to the changed situation where the rest of the world is increasingly looking towards India and china for talent. I hope the debate generated recently will serve this purpose.    



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