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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Role of alumni in making bschools succeed-thoughts from IIMA Golden Jubilee Conference Dec11

A meeting of IIMA alumni is like a board meeting of India Inc's top professionals-such is the power of the brand. So when many alums met in Dec11 at IIMA to discuss among other things, their own role in helping the institution, I attended with an anticipation of listening to interesting ideas. And I was not disappointed. Below are some ideas of alumni reproduced with my comments. I have not personally identified the author of the comments to preserve their privacy
  1. Reaching out to non traditional countries:-IIMA alumni and other professional executives have deep networks in South Korea, Latin America etc, which could be tapped for executive education, student exchange programs etc. Colleges should leverage their alumni networks in these areas
  2. Funding:-For infrastructure, faculty chairs, scholarships and what not!
  3. Projects:-Alumni are well placed to recommend their alma mater for research and other projects.
  4. Mentoring:-Alumni could mentor students(this is done in Wellingkar's, not sure how well it works there in practice). IIMA student body starting it this year
  5. Case Writing:-Alumni could get their organization approval for cases along with access to protagonists, and maybe co author cases
  6. Advisory Council-An IIMA professor presented his research where he found that the top ranked colleges had a high alumni involvement on their advisory councils(when measured as a % of alumni on the board/council). This result points towards the future of Indian schools as well, as it is the alumni who have the deepest interest in maintaining the brand.
  7. Faculty-Foreign Bschools have parallel tracks for academics and industry professionals to become professionals, and in colleges like Harvard, around 25% faculty are from non traditional industry track. This can be explored for Indian colleges too.
  8. Tough Love/Frank Feedback
    1. Industry perception:-Whether narrowing/expanding image, beyond rankings
    2. Diversity:-If diversity(not just gender) is reducing, that has implications on the future alumni base, and also on roles offered on campus
  9. You graduate as an amateur, you specialize in your job:-Instead of bschools trying to make candidates experts in marketing/sales/finance, it is better to admit that one can specialize only in the job, and to instead focus on honing core skills
  10. Research rigour, Scale and practical relevance:-Colleges like ISB manage to combine all three(with batch sizes of 570+! ensuring largely expanding alumni base). Industry(alumni) can help with funding, grants, projects etc to help colleges achieve all 3. Even ISB is largely industry funded. 
All the above comments gave food for though, when I was 3months away from graduation at that time!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Indian entrepreneurial ideal-more Ambani/Mittal/Adani than Steve Jobs

A classmate at IIM-A and a friend, Sandip Dev, wrote(http://itsallpartoftheplan.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/manufacturing-steve-jobs/) an inspired piece explaining why he did not expect an Indian Steve Jobs anytime soon- Certainly not before 2020. May  be 2030 or 2040. The article, written against TOI forum posters inspired by Rancho in 3idiots, tried to explain why USA produced Gates/Jobs but others did not. It  covered points like support ecosystem/climate in the region where Gates/Jobs lived(what if they had lived in Montana?), funding, culturally acceptance of failure, IPR laws etc. An interesting point he made was that despite UK/Germany's advanced education/research, they have not produced any major tech breakthroughs, thus highlighting the importance of having a full ecosystem.

I have a slightly different take on the subject. In my view, the 'old economy' industries needing execution skills, cost management, and eventual vertically integration focus, are where Indians can add the maximum value given their constraints. This is as opposed to 'tech' industries, where creativity and ideas can be then funded by VCs/angel investors.
  1. Less of resources makes Indians more resourceful-this is not true just of India but also of Taiwan Japan, and Singapore, which have scarce natural resources but which have leveraged their human capital and location to become trading hubs and commercial centres. And resourceful does not mean something new, it can mean adapting an existing model for example Snapdeal, Flipkart and Redbus are adaptations of Groupon/Amazon and other portals.
  2. Private sector has not done great R&D without Government funding-Be it USA or Japan, government funded R&D has been the secret for pharma and the internet itself. It is not as if companies there cracked the secret sauce of innovating well.
  3. Confusing education with entrepreneurship-Barring IITs/IIMs and some others(IIsc/IIIT/BITS/AIIMS etc), the higher education in India(and even primary education for that matter) needs improvement, and has led to brain drain. Since higher education is needed to be a tech entreprenuer, Indians have lagged in that, but when it comes to creativity and spotting gaps(these DO NOT need any specific education), India has produced many entrepreneurs 
  4. Operating on a shoe string budget/operating leverage:-A reason why Indian entrepreneurs have managed high ROEs is the cost efficiency(be it banks or trading companies like Olam or Reliance Industries itself) they bring to focus. Even before the ICWAI was existing, the famous partha system of accounting among the Marwadi community did ensure cost efficiency in groups like Birlas. That slowly percolated down to India Inc(except maybe Kingfisher), and helped the companies scale up without going broke. While some companies are losing that focus(like a certain industrial goods major which thought of buying a jet), others are thankfully returning to basics. Non Asian countries struggle to lower the 'standard' of working/living which is needed to control costs, and therefore Indian entrepreneurs/executives succeed in highly operating levered industries like auto, steel, generic pharma, retail banking,telecom but not in low leverage industries like fashion, education
  5. We are inherently savers and spend less:-That mentality helps in some industries but not necessarily in tech. 
 While the series of Indian tech startups like flipkart/snapdeal/infibeam/redbus/inkfruit may seem to prove me wrong, even they play the cost card i.e 'value retail' rather than any higher end service or so, thereby leveraging a core competence of the Indian psyche.