SKC, or Prof SK Chakraborty, was one of the most respected faculty at IIM Calcutta in the late 1970s/80s. We, the class of 1979, were fortunate to have taken the course offered by him, Management by Objectives. It was some years later that he got interested in the intersection of ‘Management’ and ‘Human Values’. He set up possibly the first-ever self-financed entity ‘Management Centre for Human Values’ in 1992. I was reminded of his classes as I started reading the book Leadership Chronicles by Prof Debashis Chatterjee.

 Prof Chatterjee was part of the core group that worked with SKC to set up the MCHV at IIM Calcutta. Prof Chatterjee says that ‘… (SKC) introduced me to the world of Indian thought through the work and wisdom of four of India’s great icons: Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh and Swami Vivekananda. I was looking forward to reading more about MCHV but I soon realised that this book is not about it but about how Prof Chatterjee took some of those key learning and applied them to transform IIM Kozhikode into a unique institution. Incidentally, Prof Chatterjee has written numerous book around the topic of ancient Indian wisdom and its applicability to modern day management.

Unique approach

 The book Leadership Chronicles is semi-autobiographical where Prof Chatterjee has adopted a unique approach to explain what he managed to achieve through his three decade teaching journey. Instead of telling us about how he helped his students and colleagues embrace change and transformation, he has got many of his former students and colleagues to tell us about their unique experience in learning from and working with Prof Chatterjee.

 The book is not just about Prof Chatterjee’s teaching and leadership journey but very much about the transformation of IIM Kozhikode. I had been to IIM K more than fifteen years ago, before Prof Chatterjee had taken over as Director. I was simply blown away by the scenic beauty of the campus. Spread over about 112.5 acres of land, IIM K is situated on two hillocks in the Kunnamangalam area of the ancient city of Kozhikode (Calicut) in Kerala. It probably has one of the most picturesque campuses among all IIMs. The book presents the changes that were wrought by Prof Chatterjee that has now pushed IIM K to the top three positions in the Indian NIRF rankings.

Celebrating Indianness

 IIM K boasts of a tag line ‘Globalising Indian Thought’. The institute has consciously, under Prof Chatterjee’s leadership, embraced several new initiatives to live this promise. The book is relatively quiet on the courses that have been curated and offered to the students (or I missed them) but there are multiple symbols of presenting the ‘Indianness’ of the institute. From statues of Arjuna and Swami Vivekananda to the names given to the various facilities, the institute embraces its Indianness with pride. Another key achievement of Prof Chatterjee is the way he had pursued the inclusion of more women students in the various programmes of IIM K . Today the institute boast of an amazing 54 per cent female to male ratio in its student mix. None of the IIMs are anywhere in this league.

 Interestingly, this International Woman’s Day (8 March 2024) one of the ads that caught my attention was the one from the Kerala-headquartered Federal Bank. The ad proudly proclaimed ’42 per cent of our manpower is woman power’; Federal Bank has the best gender ratio among all banks, said the ad. I wonder if IIM K has helped it in this journey.

 The book is an easy read and presents Prof Chatterjee’s journey and that of IIM K without getting bogged down with a historical narrative. I am sure Prof Chatterjee is already working on his next book on the how to bring about transformation in an educational institution that is very firmly in the not-for-profit sector.

(Ambi Parameswaran is a bestselling author of 11 books)