A New IIM?

Published in www.dailypioneer.com


When our Mecca of management recognised its very best, I thought it’ll be headline news. I was wrong. It’s been three days since 40 Golden Jubilee Distinguished Alumnus Awards were given by IIM-Ahmedabad, but try asking for all the names.


News reports tell us Harsha Bhogle, Mallika Sarabhai, Sanjeev `Naukri’ Bikhchandani, SB `Sintex’ Dangayach, and Chandrika `Grammy’ Tandon made the cut. Through private channels I know that Deep `make my trip’ Kalra, Vinayak Chatterjee of Feedback Ventures, Ashok Alexander and Ajay `Mastercard’ Banga were honoured. Calls to the alumni cell resulted in a comical chain mail, one even requesting for my Rs Rs name as per certificate.’’ An unusually helpful man, one Hariharan, lobbed the ball to the Dean of Placements and Alumni Relations Atanu Ghosh, who was away. Finally, I ambushed one of the distinguished awardees. No festschrift had been given. All that the awardee saw was a hurried power point slide on each winner. Speeches added up to more than a few hours. But trust IIM-A to be IIM-A. The power point has just landed from Prof Ghosh: http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/goldenjubilee/images/distinguished-alumn.... Cheers, Sir!

At the risk of stamping on some IIM egos (and annoying a dearest entrant into our family) the style is somewhat different in Hyderabad’s Indian School of Business (ISB). Like Avis, versus Hertz, ISB knows it is considered second best: The Financial Times says IIM-A is 11th and ISB is 13th. Perhaps, that’s why ISB tries much harder!

I was at ISB ten years and a few hours after Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated a 260-acres expanse of bare rock and ravine in Gachibowli. A visiting IAF commander was negotiating an air pocket with his slides. A child decided to challenge him. The mother made no attempt to vacate the Khemka Auditorium. To my surprise, the host audience looked indulgent. I wondered, until Dean Ajit Rangnekar, an IIM-A alum, explained: Rs Rs 25 per cent of our students are married. They have families on campus. So, we not only allow (their) children (in), we passionately encourage the children to express themselves…(and) as you noticed, they give feedback on what we’re saying!’’

A B-school designed to house families for the entire year of its flagship management programme (ISB has a Spouses and Family Association, a special children’s section in the library, and a day-care facility) attracts experienced applicants. These practicing managers, their average work experience being 5 years plus, have insight to share in class. In comparison, Rs work ex’ is relatively alien for the 2,750 students India’s 13 IIMs select annually. That’s because IIMs select largely on the basis of scores in the Common Admission Test (CAT), arguably one of the toughest tests on the planet. CAT penalizes non-mathematical applicants heavily, more so in each progressive avatar. So mint-fresh IITians swamp the selections. At IIM Rohtak, where I recently spoke, 87 per cent of the inaugural batch of 48 were engineers, just four having Rs work ex’ of over 3 years. 77 per cent had less than 12 months of work-life exposure. Quant jocks are great. It’s just that their math is so overwhelming (and their experience so little) that education here takes a number-crunching form.

Unlike ISB, the IIMs are under RTI. So, the safest option for the CAT question setter is to script the most difficult test and then skim the top one per cent for the first 51 per cent seats. Being privately owned, ISB enjoys flexibility. In the present class of 2012 of 573, there’s a 65:35 between Rs rocket scientists and poets,’ the latter being the in-house code for non engineers! The school uses the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT) to draw a floor level, but the ultimate criteria is to recruit variety. A visible manifestation is ladies one sees in the class. The 2012 ISB class has 165 women, a healthy 28 per cent. In contrast, among my 48 friends in IIM Rohtak, there are just three ladies. IIM-A has a ratio of 93:7. Only IIM-Kozhikode has been selecting around 30 per cent women.

Illustratively, ISB has selected a decorated UN peace keeper for his real-life perspective. Not too long back, a very senior lady entrepreneur was a smash hit in the class not just for her sari and keds, but her wisdom too. IIMs, on the other hand, can’t look at anyone outside the first 51 per cent on the merit list, the CAT score being the major determiner. By law, they need to reserve up to 49 per cent of total seats for SCs, STs and OBCs. The entry criteria for these disadvantaged citizens is lower, with its unstated impact, especially when combined with low work ex. ISB seeks no affiliation, and thus has zero reservation. In fact, it features in an All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) blacklist!

Flexible matrices help. In ISB this year, 300 student volunteers assisted the admissions committee prepare a long list from the raft of applications, reading through each essay on criteria such as coherence of career plan. Vijayalakshmi Bommaraju, before ISB an Infosys alum in the US, saw someone with two years of Rs work ex’ and a stated plan to be a CEO right after ISB. The applicant’s 710 in GMAT counted for less than a competing application with a more logical career plan and a lower score of, say, 700. The IIMs, even IIM-A, need to pay heed. A reform agenda authored by Maruti’s RC Bhargava needs a relook.

 

(The writer is CEO and Co-Founder, India Strategy Group, Hammurabi & Solomon Consulting. Email: rohitbansal@post.harvard.edu)


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