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'We Want To Be Relevant To The World'

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It has been merely a year that Ajit Rangnekar took charge of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad as dean and since then it's been raining new announcements. First, it was FT rankings for world's best B-Schools that kept ISB in limelight. Then it was about the new programmes and partnerships with prestigious institutes abroad; the recent one being ISB's FPM. Not that he is new to his work place. Rangnekar was the deputy dean of the B-School for six years (2003-2009) and was appointed as the interim dean, after the previous dean M. Rammohan Rao resigned. When asked about ISB's long-term plans, Rangnekar who headed the PwC in Hong Kong and Philippines prior to joining ISB, says that the B-School aims at becoming more relevant to not just the industry but to the world in which it exists. Chetna Mehra of Businessworld Online spoke to Rangnekar about the ISB and trends in management education. Excerpts.
India is rated as the fourth most preferred destination for pursuing an MBA after US, UK and Canada. How do you see it and where does ISB position itself?
The difference between number 1 and number 2 is so large. It is US and than the others, so I don't think we should get carried away with the fact that India is the fourth preferred destination because the difference between first and second is too large.

We have noticed that 20-25 per cent of our student body applies from abroad but that is largely because a large number of Indians are living and working abroad. Certainly India will slowly grow as a preferred MBA destination because people are beginning to see our country as a potential job market. So, as job opportunity in the West starts reducing, you will see a rise in people turning to India.

Apart from that, in countries such as Australia and Canada, there is a different reason for which people apply. It is because they want to immigrate to those countries. So, there is a different market altogether. It's not competition for education but for immigration and we are never going to compete against that. The third thing is that if you look at the profiles of students - people coming to India or those going abroad, you will find that the profile of people applying to India will be of much higher quality than those of applying abroad. Most people apply abroad because they are not able to get the best B-Schools here. So, the student population that goes abroad comes under two very distinct groups. One is the population that applies to the top most B-schools such as Harvard Business School, Wharton School of management and Kellogg etc. These students have a choice to go anywhere in the world and they are choosing to go to those countries.

When people come to India -- because the competitive standard of India is so high -- they have to be of very high level. Therefore Indian in-coming numbers will never be high.

How do you find or choose your students?
In the education world the word of mouth becomes very important, because we don't advertise. When the students get to know that we value diversity, they apply. But we had to do our homework to let them know about this. We thought why many journalists apply and we started reaching out to them; there were not many doctors earlier, now there are. We had to take the first step. We are now talking to NGOs that if they have bright young people who are passionate to work for NGOs, send them to us and we will give a lot of value to their education. We will give them scholarships and they can go back to the NGOs to take care of the difference in salary. So, we have to actively work towards creating that diversity and the trick is to work without losing your standards. For example, for a few years we were stuck around with 20 per cent of women candidates. We were simply not getting the right number of high quality candidates. Then we slowly started reaching out with 23 per cent, 25 per cent. For 3 years we were stuck at 25 per cent till this year, now we have managed to get 28 per cent of the women candidates. We will hopefully get 30 per cent by next year.

Earlier with just 3 per cent growth in the industry, one could afford to be choosey. Now, when there is 10 per cent growth, you need talent and it does not matter if it is a man or a woman. When there is a talent shortage then prejudices drop. So, I think in some way growth has helped in put the barriers down.

ISB is in its tenth year now and has managed to be among the top B-Schools in the world, what is the agenda for next 10 years?
In the next 10 years, we have to be relevant and create a big impact in the country. Which means we and our students need to do a lot more in the society. Our research should have a big impact on the government and society. We must encourage creation of new businesses. In the next 10 years ISB has to focus on how are we relevant to the world we live in and not just to the big industries.

Healthcare is a big issue in this country, manufacturing is an issue. The idea is how can we provide jobs for 1.1 billion people. Everything has to be in focus, our infrastructure is weak and the government is at the bottom of everything. We have to work with the government, we can't just complain about the government. We have to now start thinking about everything with a point of view of availability.

... Raising jobs is one way, but how can you help in the growth of a complete sector such as manufacturing and power?
There are three levels. If I give you a job that is personal, then there is retail level. I form a company and that company creates 10-20 jobs but if I create a system that will enable thousands of people who themselves can give jobs to another 20,000 people, then that is the impact. Our job is to be in the impact business of job creation. We have to show to the world that you can create many companies that will provide clean water, or engineering, or carpentry skills. We have to teach them (students) the way in which their business can be successful. But we are not the ones who will be doing that business. We will encourage young people to start their own companies which will further give employment to more people.

What is most important for ISB, students getting the best jobs, teaching, research or something else?
Everything! It is a complete circle. If our students don't get the best careers, they will not come to us. If we don't teach our students the best, they will not have great careers. If we do not carry out a good research we will not be able to teach them well. So, all three - teaching leadership, doing meaningful research and helping students to carve great careers are important.

What is the reason behind having a full-time PGP for senior executives (PGPMAX), as the MDPs and such short duration programmes keep them abreast with the latest?
The programme was created because of the strong request from the market. There are many senior people with a work experience of 10-15 years, they are very important people in their company but are not able to get into the managerial positions. Another reason, there are people who are subject specialists such as marketing specialist, research and tech experts who are now ready to go into general management roles. The kind of training these people need cannot be covered in an MDP. This is why PGPMax was started and we have had an amazing response.

Does it hurt somewhere that ISB cannot give a full-time MBA degree to its students but a PGDM, due to the AICTE restrictions?
Yes, it does hurt. It specially hurts in our ability to attract foreign candidates. Because all the Indian companies know what is PGDM. In fact, all the top institutes only offer PGPM or PGDM. So, in India it doesn't matter but it matters abroad. If our students are going abroad for jobs, then those companies don't understand and foreign students who come to India don't understand. So, having an MBA would be a big advantage.

You have tie-ups and partnerships with one the most prestigious universities for your programmes, are you planning to add more to the platter?
If you look at the industry or any big initiative today, very few people are doing something on their own. You will see Fiat joining hands with Tata and people coming together to come-up with new products and services. Partnership and alliance is going to be the way to do business in future. In every aspect of real business also, nobody has the ability to be a global expert on everything. Also, to develop an expertise takes a lot of time. We believe in joining hands and working together but we are extremely choosey about whom we join hands. We have done around 6 months of research to come to a recent alliance with The Fletcher School for The Institute of Public Policy.

I believe we should all work together whether it is Chile or Argentina. The world is no more just US centric. Partnerships are one of our expertise at ISB now.

Do you face a competition from the premiere B-Schools in China, Singapore or other Asian countries?
Thirty million students come into the market every year, how much difference it will make? There are so many bright students in our country that there never will be a shortage. I would infact, like 100 of such schools to come-up in India. I would not like our students to go to Singapore but would like to see Singapore come into India to set-up its shop. Then we can create a big pool of academics, we can work together.

Have you noticed a decline in the number of students applying to ISB?
It has been steady. I think worldwide, even in the CAT what happens is people take around two years to decide and do their research to do an MBA. Now, from 2008 since the market started trembling people would have got worried to apply and would have waited. Though there has been a drop in applications in US and CAT aspirants even in India, but applications have been steady but it hasn't increased, which is a normal phenomenon.

To some extent what also happens is any and everybody applies, atleast that has not happened. I am certain that we have not seen any reduction in the quality. So, our average applicant pool quality has gone up but the numbers have not increased.