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Monday, December 19, 2011

The unfairness of forced pledges and undertakings for the 'good' of IIM

My first day at IIM-A(the orientation) started with the entire batch affirming their compliance to a 'voluntary' pledge, and returning a signed copy of it! Thought the pledge wording claimed itself as voluntary, it was certainly not so!  The pledge content was quite idealistic and proper, but begs the question that if we expect mature adults to practice it, then why not give them the freedom to sign it? Unlike a code of conduct in professions like accountancy/medicine/law, no disciplinary action can be taken against those who violate that pledge. That is why each year sees fewer students sign these pledges at schools like Harvard, where they see no point in signing something not applicable for all.

Another example is the recent requirement for students to affirm paying the penalty, if they do not honour their job offers accepted during campus placements. Again a noble goal, but not something which was even informed before the student enrolled. Now, one may argue that not all things can be informed(viz incomplete contracts) and that such adjustments take place, also that students have a choice not to sit for the placement process under those conditions, but in the Indian context, such arguments may not hold water because participation in the placement process is a major reason why students join bschools like IIMA.

And today during registration for the 6th term, we had to sign an undertaking accepting any disciplinary action the college would take against students who enrolled in courses with clashes. Again, a noble idea to preserve the academic integrity, but not the semblance of free will. If academic regulations will be imposed, why go through the facade of claiming the students have assented to this?

The common ingredient in the above 3 examples, is that regulations/guidelines imposed by the faculty, are being given the cloak of student accepted by these measures, where the student has no realistic option but to sign. If that was mentioned in the prospectus/admission letter, then that is a different thing but changing the rules of the game midway does not seem fair to me.

PS:-I do support the intent/content behind all the 3 rules above, but merely object to the rationale for taking student signatures on them, which is a poor replica of a contract!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sattvik Food Festival at IIM-A-organic and value for money

I've blogged earlier about Prof Anil Gupta's efforts at conserving Indian tradition/food/farming practices for the right reasons(food security, biodiversity, inclusive growth). Annually, his organization SRISTHI conducts a food festival on the IIM-A grounds, which is an experience in itself. This year, women groups from 15 districts of Gujarat are here apart from several states like Arunachal pradesh, Assam, Bihar, jharkhand, Manipur, Rajasthan, Maharashtra etc. The sheer variety is to be experienced with natural ice cream, juices, processed forest produce, jail produced snacks etc. I went to the festival on the first day itself braving a hot afternoon, and was not disappointed. My observations
  1. Despite the healthy food options, people were snacking on the usual junk food like chips, icecream, bhujiya, bajjis, sev etc. I guess one needs such items to pull the crowd towards the stalls for making them look at other items. Maybe I saw a skewed sample but I saw very few people willing to experiment unconventional items. 
  2. I purchased 1kg shing bujiya for Rs 90, and 3 packets of kaju biscuit. I ran out of time before I could consider purchasing something else. 
  3. What I saw convinced me that if alternative food(in terms of variety and sourcing-even jail!) is priced reasonably(even slightly over the normal), then there are ready takers for it as I noticed in the Sabarmati Jail stall, which was seeing stockouts and high demand! 
  4. Overall, it did open my eyes to the wide range of tasty food(though having visited the festival after a heavy lunch, I was in the mood for snack shopping rather than tasting/eating)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lessons from Mr Amit Kumar of YES Bank

Mr. Amit Kumar is a PGP ’91 alumnus,  and currently the Senior President and Country Head, Corporate and Institutional Banking, YES Bank Ltd. As a professional entrepreneur manager, he is part of the founding team at YES Bank and manages the wholesale banking business. In Sep-11, He spoke about"Building Professional Entrepreneurship: The YES Bank Story",which covered a snapshot of Indian Banking and the story of Indian entrepreneurs so far. He also spoke about Institution Building at YES Bank from the perspective of a Professional Entrepreneur. This post tries to capture the key points from that interesting talk. I'm posting this after months, so some parts may be vague. Do not quote! 
  • He had worked in SBI Capital Markets, ANZ Grindlays, Standard Chartered Bank and finally moved to YES Bank in 2004 as a co-founder
  • Entrepreneurship is not a 2nd option, it is a leap of faith. 
  • One must strike that balance between entrepreneurial growth, and institution building(setting the processes, systems, controls in place) to allow for profitable and scalable growth. 
  • A smart banker is ahead of the curve and can shift loans to promoter/vendor financing at the slightest whiff of trouble, that differentiates him from a stuffy banker! 
  •  Industry knowledge/expertise is essential for that extra finesse and understanding to make that customer feel that you are a partner/friend and not a fair whether friend! And that expertise helps during a downturn when one must rejig exposures and take hard decisions
  • Timing, luck and hardwork was what helped, as was a SWOT analysis based partnership
  • They made some(ok many!) strategic decisions like
    • Making lemonade from the 'lemon' of the priority sector. They now specialize in food, agri, microfinance and other priority sector lending, quite profitably. 
    • Crowdsourcing ideas via contests, from partners etc
    • Partnering with Wipro and others for ensuring 60days ATM rollout including master switch. That 'pay as you use' model also helped quick scaling./cost structure optimize.
  • Sustainable banking is beyond ROE, and includes triple bottomline, responsible selling and maintaining one's reputation
  • Commenting on the wealth creation, he said that if he had stuck with foreign banks, he would never have been that wealthy.
  • On the attributes of an entreprenuer
    • Tech Savvy
    • Well Exposed
    • Knowledgable
    • Confident
    • Well Networked
    • Willing to take risks(key!)
  • CRM helps one to bring a diagnostic proactive approach to clients

Devdutt Patank at IIM Ahmedabad-notes from guest lecture

Having read his books/articles and listened to his Youtube videos, there was no chance that I was going to miss out listening to him when he visited IIM-A on Sep22,2011(the long hiatus between then and this blog post is that I found my notes not during some spring cleaning!). I thanked my stars for coming 10min early, because 5min later, there was just standing space left! That is not common at IIM-A, and shows the stature of the person, to attract such an audience without any compulsion. For those who have read his stuff/listened to him before, it was not that new but I post the takeways/my impressions from that session of 75min.
  • He seemed honoured to be at IIM-A-whether it is that just politeness or not I won 't know but it did seem to come from the heart. Familiarity breeds contempt-for us at IIM-A, such an invite would not hold the same sentimental value..
  • He was earlier a consultant with E&Y before he chose to work with Future Group
  • Nature is the ultimate meritocracy-you survive if you run fast enough! 
  • Advertising is modern myth making
  • Vision Statement is the modern equivalent of the Promised Land, so leaders use narratives well..
  • Animals have no imagination(this is questioned but take it true for now!)  so they live in the moment, but since we humans have imagination, we need coping skills to deal with it!
  • He pithily said that we transact with 3 types of currencies
    • Saraswati(head)
    • Durga(heart)
    • Door opening(credentials/schools..like using his title Dr gets him places!)
  • Speaking about motivation, he said that nature never gives you validation, it is social structure that does so!
  • On a more serious note, he said that the world loves India, but not Indians(pushy, taking their jobs, dirty etc etc!!). Even I forgot the context in which he said this. 
  • On a lighter note, he concluded with a Sanskit phrase, stating that people take you more seriously when you use Sanskrit phrases!  
I left the session feeling warmer from inside than at the start, maybe it was its own reward. About the parallels with myth making and triple currency method, those are interesting points to reflect and apply. 

Non elite colleges winning bschool competions-top bschools losing their mojo?

Recently, while thinking about the results of various Bschool competitions held this year(and where IIMA teams also participated), it struck me that teams from lesser known colleges(other than IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta and Lucknow) are increasingly winning more events, For instance,
  1. ISB and IIM Indore were the only 2 Indian teams(out of 6 global teams) to qualify for the NUS Global case study competition
  2. Teams from these 2 colleges,also won the IIM-A organized finance competition covering 4 domains of corporate banking, derivatives, private equity.  MDI Gurgaon came third, competing against IIMA/C/L/S and JBIMS.
  3. IIFT won the CFA Investment Research Challenge(National round and North round). Even the other zonal finalists were IFMR, IIM Shillong and SJSOM(IIT Bombay).
  4. Winners of events at business festivals at the IIMs, are typically from the lesser known colleges like NMIMS, SP Jain, FMS, IBS
  5. Team from MDI(Gurgaon) won the Airtel Challenge(a marketing case study competition open to select bschools)
The saving grace was that true to their name, IIM Ahmedabad teams won a Spanish bschool marketing case,  Cognizant Challenge and M&M War Room, all premier national/international level strategy case study competitions. An IIM-Calcutta team won the BNP Paribas global level finance simulation game at the Paris Finals earlier this year. And I'm sure IIM Bangalore/Lucknow would also have some accolades to their names.So maybe we can conclude that the big ticket awards would go to the IIMSs?

But these exceptions are fewer each year. A classmate who participates in these events more actively than I do, tells me that this trend is pretty much live and kicking-that the lesser known bschools emerge from nowhere to take away the prizes. Now, the reasons for this could be
  1. Self Selection:-Those who value CV points/money will enter these events, while those who have earned enough from summer internships(like many IIM students) won't.
  2. Need to prove themselves-Because they are 2nd they try harder:-I would say this is a major point.
  3. Not busy/overworked unlike IIMABC/(some extent L):-This is true for participation by first year students, not so for second year students so much, but the fact remains that atleast at IIM-A, one does not get academic leave for taking part in competitions elsewhere.
  4. Biased Judging by organizers/prejudice against IIMs-a leading Bschool(some say the least expensive in India) selected 1/3rd of the 50 finalists from an online simulation game from its college, and the winner was also from that college(based on subjective criteria). Need I say more?
  5. Career Choice of students-these events are biased towards those with a marketing/general management orientation, of which there are fewer in the top 4 bschools-many opt for Consult/Finance roles.
Whatever the reasons be, one should factor that in before concluding that the top bschools are losing their mojo. At the same time, it is also an object lesson not to underrate those from other bschools.

Monday, December 12, 2011

So who qualify as IIM Ahmedabad alumni anyway?

Till I came to IIMA, the only people I used to associate with the IIMA brand were those from the flagship two year residential program. I was not even aware of the existence of other programs. But once I was here, I learnt about the existence of a much broader program list(with all participants being eligible for that tag of alumni except maybe the students here on exchange)
  • General 2yr program in management(PGP)-which racks all the headlines
  • PGP for Executives(PGPX)-one year fulltime program for those with 8yrs+ experience. 
  • Agribusiness management(PGP-ABM)-they share the first year with PGP and have a good curriculum but due to the lower admission criteria are viewed as poor second cousins
  • Management Development Programs(MDPs)
  • Faculty Development Programs(FDPs) for faculty of bschools.
I have listed the programs in order of the estimated benefit to participants, and the corresponding presumed bonding with the institute. While one may argue that all those who have resided on campus for any duration should be deemed alumni(even MDP/FDP), others may argue for only the 1yr/2yr program participants to be deemed alumni.

Any club(and alumni association IS a club) would like to keep its membership selective yet target the people most likely to succeed. By that yardship, extending the IIM Ahmedabad alumni association benefit to MDP participants who pay hefty fees, can be justified due to the halo effect they bring on the others. And for FDPs, while their participants have less headline potential, they would probably be more grateful to the institute for trying to rub off its effect on them. So per se, I don't see anything wrong with that. 

Notwithstanding the above, alumni are often defined by their batch. And this is where FDP/MDP program participants are left out/relatively isolated. Can the relationship with them be stoked and maintained through any better ways? If yes, that would benefit both IIMA and them.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why the faculty are equally to blame for institutional decline?

A business leader blames the poor student quality for producing ineffective graduates, while a minister attributes it to the faculty not being world-class. Whatever the reasons may be, I noticed that  at times, faculty are equally to blame for the decline of teaching standards and of institutions. Lest anyone consider this a rant based on personal experience at IIM-A, let me hasten to add that this represents a collage of experiences from different IIMs, as shared by various friends during the past 2 years

  1. Overuse of TAs:-While increasing class sizes lead to difficulties in evaluating of test scripts, surely these can be solved by designing objective tests which test what they are supposed to, and to have electronic tests as far as possible, or even simulation games. Instead, professors increasingly outsource answer scrip correction to the teaching associates, whose quality is the student's luck of the draw. While many TAs are good, the bad ones are enough to disillusion students and have them game the system with irrelevant CP etc.
  2. Inflexible grading-standardization focus:-As TAs(as opposed to professors) correct the answer scrips, they naturally tend to respect the answer key. While students can appeal the marks, that takes time and the process is not always transparent, thus it may create a tendency to study as per the suggested class notes/guidelines only
  3. Poor organization and delays of speaker sessions:-If events start very late often, then students may not like to attend administration efforts like speaker sessions etc.
  4. Disrespect of student efforts:-Even when students toil to organize events/faculty-industry meets etc, and faculty turn a cold ear to that, that does not send out a good signal to those involved.
  5. Not supporting student activities adequately:-Support does not need to be just monetary. It could be helping to open doors, suggest themes, act as judges etc, and is not at all easy.
  6. Staying cossetted in irrelevant research to the expense of 
    1. Guiding Student research:-While I agree that many students express interest in research merely for CV pts, there is many genuinely interested, but not able to attract the interest/attention of the respective faculty, who then crib about student disinterest.
    2. Keeping office hours:-This is rarely followed by faculty unlike in the West.
    3. Industry Interface:-If the faculty do not take interest in industry outreach via MDPs, meeting with visiting professionals etc, then industry funding and interface falls. 
  In passing, let me add that while it takes two hands to clap, one should have the courage to blame the hand permanently fixed at the place, than to blame transient hands like students who  don't really influence the place. And lest this sound as a rant against IIM-A, it is not meant as that, but to provoke thought and discussion.

Why the social sector loses attention at hello

The title is a pun on I had you at hello, where the film showcases a salesman who hooks the attention of listeners at hello. Unfortunately, I had the occassion to sit through some talks/presentations of people from the non profit sector(more precisely social sector), who lost the interest of the audience from the word hello. Let me explain how the speakers achieve this
  • Using too much jargon without translating it to Plain English
  • Blaming the 'evil' corporate sector without offering solutions
  • Using too many weird frameworks
  • Preferring some vivid stories to citing hard empirical data
  • Taking a clearly one sided view without being fair/realistic
  • Cannot stop talking/too verbose
  • Belabouring a point once made, this losing audience goodwill
  • Not connecting their topic to business situations/
Maybe I'm expecting too much. But when someone addresses an audience comprising mostly Bschool students, then they are asking for trouble if they ignore the basics of effective communication by doing the cardinal sins mentioned above. I appreciate that people from all sectors may commit the above cardinal sins, but I've noticed this in abundance during my recent experience, and so the comments.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Macroeconomics-difficult to understand for MBAs yet important

This post may seem more fitting in my finance blog, but the reason I chose to place it here, will be evident in some time. Unlike microeconomics which can be explained by words/examples/logical theories, macroeconomics tries explaining and predicting human behaviour when they economically behave/interact in aggregates. As a student of Chaos theory/network flow would know(I've never studied these subjects but been told by students of them that they help to understand macroeconomics), understanding and modelling complex interactions is never easy.

More so in macroeconomics where two economists can spin the same data in 3 ways to tell 4 stories(ok i made up that quote but I am surprised on a daily basis how people can argue different points of view with the same data! And if one back enough in history, there is data to support or refute any view. Hence, without a grasp of economic history or connection with real world recent data, macroeconomics becomes just another abstract pseudoscience and a mess of equations and contradicting theories, based on fundamentally weird edifice of assumptions.

And yet, macroeconomics is important. In the business world, one needs macroeconomics for
  • Mean reversion happens often in the stock markets, and the reason it happens is usually that someone looks at the macro data and decides that we are at the start/end of another cycle
  • People wake up to the reality(Greece, PIIGS etc) only when they connect the dots with demographics, trade and macroeconomic data
  • Demand Forecasts of any value(the base of conventional business plans!) need sound macro data
  • Deciding on career choice especially location! one cannot combat poor economics though like India sometimes one can make a hash out of good circumstances. 
And so on. Yet, the present way the subject is taught in many bschools exposes one to the same field of thought the concerned professor is teaching(there have been instances where the professors within the same department could not agree on the curiculum, so they used separate textbooks/quizzes/exams!).This is nothing short of indoctrination, and leaves the student open to tunnel vision by not appreciating the whole field.

So what I would suggest is to read introductory primers first that cover the basics like the NCFM module(http://www.nseindia.com/content/ncfm/ncfm_mfme.pdf) and a 'For Dummies'/'Demystified' version as well. That should broaden your mind enough to critically question what goes on in class. I do wish I had done this before I learnt the subject in bschool.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What the student mess can teach about management

All residential institutes have a mess, with the contract usually a monopoly of a single caterer for the whole college. In come colleges(especially IITs/NITs/IIMs), the student body via an elected Mess Committee alnt mess can teach about so has oversight into aspects like menu, enforcing contracts, terms and conditions, renewal decisions etc. It struck me the other day, that the mess can be a great management teaching tool in the following ways, for the students involved in the process. WHILE I'm not in the Mess Committee, below is my understanding/analysis of the process
  • Explaining monopoly:-Student Mess is usually a limited monopoly for breakfast, while outside tiffen suppliers may supply other meals. So the contract may/may not reflect that
  • Learning to play the regulation game-Regulation IS a game with parties concerned trying to optimize their pie. So structuring the conditions to minimize gaming is essential, for both parties, and the negotiations would reflect that.
  • Food forecasting/estimation-While usually the mess contractor's headache, the students also would try to minimize wastage by limiting portion servings, awareness messages and cooking vessels management.
  • Optimizing waiting times:-That is a classical Operations Issue of balancing capacity and waiting time, which only a SLA can ensure!
  • Evaluating bids:-Reputation, Track Record and flexibility among other things need to be evaluated, and that is a training for future bid evaluation
  • Dealing with incomplete contracts:-Since not all eventualities can be anticipated in the contract, this is a necessary eventuality. Instances like new menu items, flexible timings, bulk coupon purchases etc need to be negotiated.
  • Customer Service:-Since the mess committee members are the first point of contact for any complaints, they better learn to take it with a smile and politely!And to their credit, this year's committee under Mohit Garg has done a stellar job
What surprises me however, is the lack of faculty involvement in the Mess. They usually do NOT eat in the mess, and so are usually indifferent to it. And to my knowledge, no professor in the above areas is ever approached with advice in that regard. Which makes me wonder whether Professors practice what they preach in that regard.