INDIAN INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT
UNDISPUTED #1: The class of 2005 with director Bakul Dholakia
(centre, standing). Nearly 20 per cent of the previous batch
now works overseas
Trrnng!! The rude
buzz of a Nokia mobile phone rips through the wind-swept tranquility
of Louis Kahn Plaza, where this writer is sitting with Akshay Sahni,
a second year management student. Sahni, a lanky 23-year-old, has
been filling this writer in on what life on IIM, Ahmedabad's sprawling
63-acre campus in Vastrapur, Ahmedabad, is like. A few short conversation
bursts later Sahni hangs up, and breaks into a wide grin. He has
just received an offer from Merrill Lynch, Hong Kong, the company
he interned with during the summer. "This is exactly what I
wanted," he gushes.
Wishes come true easily, when you are from
IIM-A. It continues to be the country's most sought after B-school;
its Brand Equity, as measured by ACNielsen's Winning Brands model,
has increased, one of the five schools in the BT-ACNielsen ORG-MARG
listing of 30 that can make this claim. "I think, in everything
we do here, the range, depth, intensity of involvement are much
higher," says Bakul Dholakia, the school's ruddy-faced director
who has (much to his dismay) become a public figure of sorts after
his stand-off against former Union HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi
over the issue of the institute's autonomy. Books, journals and
periodicals are neatly stacked in ceiling-to-floor wooden racks
in Dholakia's office, as the man sets out to explain the recipe
that helps the school produce winning managers over the last 40-odd
years. "Of course, it helps that only the best and brightest
find their way in."
Of the 140,000-odd students who apply every
year for its fabled post-graduate programme (PGP) only 250-odd make
the cut, in a selection process that The Economist terms the toughest
B-school exam in the world. Given the institute's emphasis on quantitative
aptitude, most new entrants flaunt stellar academic records often
in engineering. Once in, students are put through a rigorous and
punishing academic schedule that has even these high-flyers blanching.
To paraphrase an alumni, "Getting in might be tough, but getting
out is tougher." For two years, the 205 boys (and 45 girls)
live the life of quantitative monks; classes in the mornings, group
discussions and team work in the afternoon, individual study sessions
late into the night preparing for the next day's classes. The first
year is by far the most rigorous and challenging, a boot camp of
sorts where attitudes are first broken and then reshaped, where
students are trained and tested in compulsory subjects like accounting,
economics, human resources and operational management. As one second-year
student puts it, "You may only have two classes a day but remember
that for every hour of class, at least three hours of preparatory
work are a must."
| The A-experience: For most IIM-A students,
the first year at the school is the toughest
At the heart of the A-experience is a case study-based
teaching methodology, first made famous by Harvard Business School.
"I think it enables students to imagine what real life will
be like even before they step out," says Sameer K. Barua, Professor
and Chairman of the PGP programme. "It facilitates integration
across functions, which provides a holistic perspective." And
in the process, aided in no small measure by the fact that anyone
presenting the case stands to be cross-examined by an audience of
the highest order of intellect, it makes people think. That is a
view Mohan Raj Gupta whole-heartedly shares. Clad in jeans, sneakers
and totally at home in Café Tanstaafl, the school's canteen,
Gupta looks even younger than his 23 years. "Standing in front
of a class of 70 bright peers and holding your own does wonders
for your confidence." That confidence has already paid off
handsomely for the IIT, Delhi, engineer in the form of an offer
from a bulge-bracket investment firm based in London.
The Quest For Knowledge
Pankaj Chandra's office tucked away in a corner
of the red-brick campus, looks like a typical academic's den: journals,
books and research papers are strewn all over, a Samsung monitor
flickers in one nook, and on the wall a Japanese Kanji print sways
in the afternoon breeze. Chandra, a post-graduate from Wharton and
former professor at McGill University, returned to India in 1994
and today heads the Fellow (or Doctoral) programme at IIM-A. Bespectacled,
and with a neatly trimmed moustache, Chandra takes pains to emphasise
the importance of cutting edge research. "Amongst B-schools
what separates the men from the boys is the ability to generate
IIM-A IS FAR AHEAD OF
BRAND EQUITY INDEX (OUT OF 10)
So, be it offering courses in supply chain
management (at a time when Indian industry hadn't even heard of
it) or financial engineering or being the first to invite Mumbai's
logistics-savvy dabbawallas into the classroom, IIM-A has always
placed a lot of emphasis on original research and genuine scholarship.
And since most faculty members routinely undertake consulting assignments
from companies, real-world learnings make their way into the class-room.
"Where else would you find 75 full-time faculty with currently
active CVs?," asks Dholakia.
Part of the school's uniqueness is that students
are encouraged to be a part of the institute's administration. With
the exception of admissions (excluded for obvious reasons!), students
have representation on all committees from placements to media to
finance to technology; they also organise highly-acclaimed intra-
and inter-college festivals such as Chaos and Confluence. These
not only prepare them to manage real life situations, it also showcases
their ingenuity. For instance, a group of students has developed
a process to simplify the selection of electives each student opts
for in the second year of the course. Called Course Bidding, it
involves allotting currency to students on the basis of their grades;
students use this currency (not cash) to bid for the courses they
want. The most popular course, is naturally the most expensive.
"You learn right away that everything has a price and with
limited resources all you can do is prioritise and forgo the others,"
one of the system developers fills in.
|THE LOYALTY FACTOR
The bond of loyalty amongst the alumni, which includes people
like Mphasis Chairman Jerry Rao, has powered brand IIM-A
Interestingly, it is an esoterically-titled
course Explorations in Roles and Identity that's one of the most
sought after. Conducted by Dean Indira Parikh, it delves into philosophical
themes like Who am I? What is the meaning of life? And What should
I do with my life? For six days and nights, students are taken to
a nearby village where they live in tents and mud huts. Discussions-often
conducted under a tree-start at nine in the morning and often continue
past the witching hour. Apart from exploring issues like gender,
family, marriage, relationships, students also have to watch a movie
or read a book in their mother tongue, then write a detailed critique
on it. "The responses are unbelievable," chuckles the
sprightly-at-61 Parikh, who joined the institute way back in 1971.
"Life stories unhesitatingly come gushing out; and some pen
100-page autobiographies many of which I still retain."
The Old Boy Club
Be it in bucolic surroundings or the 18-student
dormitories, bonding amongst the students is very strong and lasting.
Even today alumni-many are CEOs-that visit their alma mater like
to spend time in their old dormitories, even treat the occupants
to lunch. Apocrypha has it that HLL Chairman M.S. "Vindi"
Banga's nickname is a leftover from his days in dormitory 17. Then
there's the quirky "Wac-Run". WAC (Written Analysis and
Communication) is a first-year communications paper. Something,
a student confides snidely-"exclusively tailored towards writing
research reports for consultancies." Varsity folklore abounds
about now famous faces that have been photographed clutching printed
sheets and running to make the Saturday 4 p.m. deadline.
The alumni continue to play a very important
role in the success of IIM-A and in making it the brand it is. The
school's alumni list reads like a who's who of Indian and international
business. There's Ashok Alexander, a McKinsey vet who heads the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in India, K.V. Kamath of ICICI
Bank, Ivan Menezes of Diageo, Jerry Rao of Mphasis BFL and Kishore
Chaukar of Tata Industries, to name just a few. And loyalty runs
high. "I was doing my summer placement with P&G Singapore,"
recollects second-year student Rupma Lubhaya, "and once word
got around that I was from IIM-A, old students came forward to help
and soon there was a bunch of us."
Recruiters too just can't seem to get enough
of these ready-to-perform achievers. "They are competitive,
leadership-oriented and strong on concept with a hands-on mindset,"
says Radhakrishnan Menon, Director (HR), Cadbury India, of students
R. Suresh, MD, Stanton Chase India has helped
place many IIM-A graduates in senior management positions. "Core
intellect, outstanding numerical and analytical skills along with
the enormous confidence that comes from the successful completion
of the programme makes them one of the most sought breed,"
The school's reputation as a global institution
has grown with the years. "Students here are definitely a lot
more driven and competitive," confesses Anja Schermer, a 23-year-old
student from Copenhagen Business School, one of the 40 international
B-schools with which IIM-A has regular exchange programes. International
companies have also been making a bee-line for Ahmedabad. Earlier
this year 20 per cent of the batch of 2004 was placed overseas,
reflecting an increase in the number of foreign offers from 39 in
2003 to 45 in 2004. "We've already had enquiries from international
companies that are coming to India for the first time and want to
recruit exclusively from IIM-A," says Shashank Khare, a member
of the school's recruitment cell. How's that for brand power?