Across the Table with Prof Pankaj Chandra



“MBA education needs to a be a fusion”


How enriching would be the experience when you meet someone who has been the director of IIMB, has taught at premier institutes like McGill University in Montreal, University of Geneva, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, International University of Japan, Cornell University, Renmin University, Beijing, and IIM Ahmedabad (IIM A).

Apart from working with World Bank in Washington DC, he has also been a member of various government committees that have looked into Indian Higher education system and autonomy of central institutions. Until recently, he was also a member of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

That is Professor Pankaj Chandra for you. His diverse experience in Manufacturing Management, Supply Chain Coordination, Building Technological Capabilities, higher education policy, and hi-tech entrepreneurship is testimony to his stature as a profound academician.

Professor Chandra has been involved in several start-ups, has also been a consultant to large Indian and multi-national firms and serves on the Boards of several firms and institutions.

On the occasion of 20Th anniversary of IIMK, Professor Pankaj Chandra was the guest of honour. Public Relations Cell had the opportunity to interact with him, while he was on campus. He seemed impressed with the campus and had a very comfortable journey.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

You have had an experience of teaching in US based education system. What are the things that an Indian education system especially from MBA perspective is lacking? Why is the crowd inclined outwards?

So two things, the big difference especially at the MBA level is that over there, kids know why they want to do MBA. In India, kids don’t know why they want to pursue an MBA. Everybody is just on it. And that’s why that energy and that engagement is missing. This is number one.

Secondly, I think education is also about engagement and motivation. Without these there is no learning. You could pass an exam but that is not real learning in that respect and I think this is the problem globally, not India alone. Better Institutes around the globe will have lesser of these issues.

Third, a very important difference that you find is that Indian Institutes around close to the domain of their influence which is industry, government and society. That closeness is important in order to make education and learning very exciting, relevant. If you are fresh it becomes very difficult to understand power and politics in an organization, you can’t read that in a book. Also research!!

Research on industry, research on issues of society, these are not very strong in our institutions. I am not talking about faculty alone, Its student research as well. We need to have that shift.

You have been director at IIM Bangalore, were there any steps you wanted to initiate in this direction but due to paucity of time, or some other reason, you couldn’t?

Lots of them! We started many initiatives, some we were able to take to great levels. Research is an agenda we pushed dramatically but I think changing the context of the classroom is something I wanted to look at. Classrooms are very structured today. You don’t learn in closed rooms. I think learning happens when there is a lot of un-structuring of material, complex material and situation scenario. This requires a lot of time – changing the mind-set of students and faculty.

There are a lot of other things we wanted to do, like a Global executive MBA, which at that time we couldn’t push because there was no support available.

In one of your talks at IIM Bangalore you mentioned how “Knowledge lies at the boundaries of the disciplines’. As students when we come into the MBA education system, we are very structured in terms of choosing our specialisations. So, what would be your advice to students in this regard?

Yes, you are right, when you say that. You know there are two viewpoints to it. If you look at the most interesting example, there is an Inhaler company from Israel called Aspironics. Inhaler is normally like a cylinder, but this company has made an Inhaler that is as thin as credit card and it has a dry powder in it. This is unlike the usual pumping machine cylinder that you have. This powder goes into lungs and to produce this you require knowledge of biology, fluid dynamics, patents from Airplane engines so on and so forth. Now, there is not going to be a single person who will bring all these knowledge domains under one roof. Having said that you need to work together and understand fundamentals of so many disciplines to be able to create this sort of fusion in future.

People should take as broad a course mix as they can. The MBA education needs to be a fusion. It can’t be “take some courses to increase your breadth and take some course to increase your length”. It cannot be a T model.  You need to have a strategy and a finance and an accounting guy coming together. You need to have an engineer from outside and a CA doing a project together, wherein you bring knowledge of different fields on the table. That is the way I see it.

There was this article in HBR about how the main problem with businesses these days is that we define the problem wrong …

Absolutely. That is a very nice way of putting it. We often stick to the conventional model of problem solving and in many of our courses we emphasize on thinking out of the box. But the problem is that we don’t know what out of the box is.

We have a lot of new IIMs that have come up in the recent years but then they don’t attract huge crowds despite being mentored by the top institutes in the country. So, how long would it be before we can see these institutions maturing?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that to make a great institution you need $200 Million of funding and 200 years. The point he’s trying to make is that great institutions take time to become great. IIM A B C L K I came up in a span of 50 years and did great things in terms of pedagogy but these institutions are still works in progress.

The way I see it, an institution can contribute to the society in 3 different stages. The first stage is when the contribution is made through its graduates, that is where scaling up is really quick. At the second level, they contribute through the knowledge and then come the processes.

So, it will take time for the newer institutions to mature. It is only now that we can see institutions of IIM Lucknow’s age coming up and standing on their own feet. For the new IIMs to come to a mature stage, they would have to develop a faculty base that can cater to the students’ needs at all points of time. I think more than that, what is important is their processes and systems because educational systems run on processes. The institution that does well is the one that lays out its processes (examination patterns, course registration etc.) very well. Because it is these processes which help you get better faculty, who in turn help you get better students and thus the institute attracts better companies. This virtuous cycle continues year after year.

Sir, ISB was set up in 2001 and it has just been 15 years but we still compare it with IIM ABC. So how has ISB set up its processes and what are the lessons that newer IIMs can learn from the ISB model?

I had been appointed as the Associate Dean at ISB and as this was the first time that I was doing an administration role, I decided to visit institutions from Harvard in the USA to those in China and studied their models for 1 year. The thing that worked for ISB was that it started benchmarking globally and not nationally. That created huge aspirations and this not only attracted good students but also great faculty.

Parting thoughts on IIM K…

It is an unusual kind of institution and has done exceptionally well in the past 20 years. In fact, Professor Kalro who was your second director and was my colleague at IIMA, did an amazing job. IIMK has been able to capture the imagination of a large number of people despite being slightly remotely located. It still reckons attention. The greatest achievement for IIMK as an institute would be leveraging the past 20 years of success to really do a more exponential jump. I think you have everything going for you here. You are a great institute.

Interviewed by | Sushmita and Amritansh | Public Relations Cell – IIM Kozhikode

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