In Conversation with Rishikesha Krishnan

In an interaction with Rohit Bansal, Rishikesha delves into the disruptions and innovations at IIM Indore.

Can you give us a quick plug-in on the disruptions and innovations at IIM Indore?

One of the big challenges we face in management education is how do we combine theory and practice? One of the frequent criticisms that come from employers is that the students are all smart and know lots of things about marketing, finance, and so on, but they are not very practical, they take a long time to deliver on the job. So, one of the issues we have been grappling with in IIM Indore is how do we make our graduating managers forces for competitiveness of the industry? How do we facilitate them to become contributors almost from the day they enter their jobs?

I’d focus on a few things we are doing. Part of it is related to the five-year program which was just spoken about and part of it relates to our MBA program where we have this challenge in a slightly bigger way. To begin with the five-year program, one of the challenges we face in India is that of monoculture in management education. In all the top business schools, more than 80% students, 90-95% students in some institutes, have an engineering background. 

While engineering skills are important and engineering curricula do give you very good analytical skills, the kind of skills needed from a good manager is not only IQ, but EQ. Understanding people better, having a broader perspective, having an ability to look at things in a historical and social context are all are extremely important. So, all of this drove us to introduce a different program where we do not take people from engineering, and secondly, we have a chance to catch young minds who are just out of 12th standard and still have the energy to think about new things, and bring them into an IIM and give them a unique experience.

To this end, we designed the five-year integrated program that we offer. It has two very distinct parts, and the first three years of the program are focused on the core disciplines of management, called the foundations of management. It includes subjects like Economics, Statistics, Mathematics, Psychology and Sociology. These are usually considered to be the mother disciplines of management, so we combined this with a focus on liberal arts, drama, history and many other subjects, and tried to create a very rich perspective for them in the first three years. In their fourth year, the students join with the other stream of students who come into IIM Indore, the two-year MBA students who come through CAT like everybody else, and there these two streams fuse together.

What is the ratio of students in these two programs?

We have 450 students in the MBA program and 120 students in the five-year program. Essentially, in every section of about 75 people, we have 10-12 people from the integrated program and the rest all come from the regular MBA program. This has enabled us to create diversity in the class. It has also enabled us to have a good percentage of women because we are able to attract a good percentage of women into the five-year program. Otherwise, the sex ratio is heavily skewed in the two-year program, because the high number of students from engineering backgrounds admitted are predominantly men. There is a certain difference in perspective which we are able to see among these students who join us right after 12th standard. We are able to give them a much broader perspective, and that finally does demonstrate itself at the time they are ready to join the workforce. 

The other part of what we have been doing is focusing on making the two-year MBA program much more practice-oriented without giving up on the rigor which a typical MBA program has. We have done a few interesting things in this regard. One is, we have a strong industry interface component in the first year of our MBA program. This means that the students in parallel with their first-year compulsory courses also undertake an industry project, and so, in the second term of the first year, they start working on the project. They visit the company a few times, understand the company’s problems, and then by the third term, they actually start trying to solve a particular problem which the company has assigned to them.

While engineering skills are important and engineering curricula do give you very good analytical skills, the kind of skills needed from a good manager is not only IQ, but EQ.

Typically, companies don’t take internships seriously. So, why is it that in the case of IIM Indore, the industry is even accepting this kind of interface?

The reason we have been able to do that is because we have put a lot of effort in building a relationship with the local industry. We run a lot of other events for them. We have a monthly speaker series, we have done gratis workshops in all the major industrial areas around Indore, in Pithampur, in Dewas. We make a determined effort every month to have at least one event where we are also giving something back to the industry, so, it is a two-way relationship we have been trying to build.

We also realized that it is often assumed in an MBA program that students don’t need skills, that they already have all the skills they require to be successful professionals, but in practice, we find that is not the case. This is why we have also developed a set of skill development workshops which are an integral part of the MBA curriculum. These include some very contemporary skills like design thinking, entrepreneurial orientation, leadership, sustainability, communication skills, and even advanced spreadsheet skills. For example, many times students think they know well how to use spreadsheets but when they go into a company and are given a very complex problem, they realize they don’t actually know all the features of Excel. Therefore, we are trying to focus on giving them a whole portfolio of skills, so that when they go into the workplace, they can link this to the theory they already know. They already have some practical experience, thanks to the industry interface project and the internship and they can apply all of this. 

Finally, the third thing we have done in our MBA program is introducing a couple of unique courses. One of them is the rural immersion course. Most of our students are urban animals, and have very little exposure to rural India, yet some of the biggest and growing markets for the companies they join will be in rural India. So, we have tied up with the Government of Madhya Pradesh to give them a one-week rural immersion in the first year. The MP government helps us identify some projects and the students go in teams into rural MP and undertake these projects with the help of the government. Last year, as past of the course, the government had tasked the students with finding out how Swachh Bharat is actually progressing in all those villages.

Do you have a role in Indore coming number one in Swachh Bharat Mission?

No, I don’t think we have a role. Although I’m on the board of the Indore Smart City and so on, I don’t think I can claim any credit for it. But certainly, we have been able to build a good relationship with the government of MP to drive this. The other program which we are very proud of is something called the Himalayan Outbound Program, and this is something which has been in IIM Indore for several years now. This is an optional course in the second year, but 90% of the students do it. the program involves a one-week trek to the Himalayas. It has all the components of a typical corporate outbound program like the team building and group exercise, but it has a few extra things thrown in such as sensitivity to the environment, challenges in living in places like the Himalayas and so on. Not surprisingly, this is one of the most popular courses in IIM Indore, and gives a good way of integrating many of the things talked about in the course.

We work very closely with some of the big companies located in Indore, so the effort has been to align the strengths and expertise of the faculty with some of the specific needs of the industry in and around Indore and to try and use that as a vehicle to drive executive education as well.

You also have programs for senior executives. Could you put that block in as well so it tells us what really drives the competitiveness of your institution and, therefore, the larger piece of management education which you represent as a director?

The executive education is an important dimension of most management institutes. We have tried to do a mix of things. One is, we run a lot of the plain-vanilla programs that most institutes run, but we have tried to run specialized programs once again with institutions within the state. For example, we have worked a lot with the government of MP on things like public-private partnerships and contract management, which is an area where they need a lot of skills because that is the way a lot of government functioning is happening these days. We work very closely with some of the big companies located in Indore, so the effort has been to align the strengths and expertise of the faculty with some of the specific needs of the industry in and around Indore and to try and use that as a vehicle to drive executive education as well.

Now that there are 20 IIMs, what is your larger and candid understanding of the competitiveness of the IIM brand? Is it being diluted or is the competitiveness of the brand in the external world actually enhanced because of so many IIMs?

Many of the bets we take in India are bets on the growth of India. All of us believe and earnestly wish that India will continue on this growth trajectory and will continue to do extremely well as far as economic growth is concerned. If economic growth is going to happen in the way we all imagine it will, we will certainly need lots of good managers in India, and for that, 20 IIMs is not a large number. However, there is another part of the challenge, that is, how long does it take for us to bring an institute to a level of maturity? We still haven’t figured that out. The issue is partly of the government and partly of the leadership of these institutions. Historically, it has taken 15 to 20 years for an institute to reach critical mass, to reach the stature where it can justify the IIM brand name. IIM Lucknow, for example, was started in 1984 and came of age around 2000. The big challenge before India is the execution deficit. There is nothing wrong with expansion of IIMs if we can also execute the projects much faster and therefore bring them to speed much quicker. If we can do that, then there setting up 15-20 IIMs is fully justified. India will need them if we are going to get anywhere near the kind of dreams we have for the country.

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