B-schools can learn about leadership, the Tata way

Vinay Kamath Ahmedabad | Updated on January 17, 2018

Delegates of the IMC 2016 releasing a book on enhancing B-school competitiveness in Ahmedabad on Friday. (From left) Amit Agnihotri,; Janat Shah, Director, IIM-Udaipur; Harish Bhat, Tata Sons; Jitendra SIngh, Faculty Emeritus, The Wharton School; MR Rao, Dean Emeritus, ISB; Rishikesha Krishnan, Director, IIMIndore; and Arvind Sahay, faculty, IIM-A

Tata Sons’ Harish Bhat speaks about the ‘four Ps’ at 7th Indian Management Conclave at IIM-A

The Tata group has four distinguishing characteristics that mark out the ‘Tata way’. The four Ps are pioneering, principled, purposive and (not) perfect.

“I think everyone wishing to establish institutional leadership would do well to consider these four Ps and their relevance to each of our worlds,” Harish Bhat, Member, Group Executive Council, Tata Sons, told an audience of academics and faculty at the 7th Indian Management Conclave held at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

A valued brand

Delivering a special address at the inaugural session, Bhat, an IIM-A alumnus and gold medallist of the 1987 batch, said the Tata way is a distinctive way of life that has propelled the brand to be among the 50 most valuable brands in the world today. Bhat used the Tata example for the academic community to draw parallels from and gain insights into institutional leadership in management education, the theme of the conference.

He said the Tata group has been a pioneer right from the time it built Tata Steel in the face of British opposition to the project. In later years, the pioneering story was that of Tata Indica. “No one believed Ratan Tata when he said the Tata Group would build India’s first indigenously developed and designed car. He battled sceptics, led the charge and made it happen,” Bhat said. The Indica went on to become a success, after initial ups and downs. Now the Tata Tiago has once again become one of the fastest-selling cars in the country.

Bhat asked management educators how they were pioneering the future and how they were staying relevant to its needs. “I often wonder if we will pioneer a new MBA for the digital age, or another which is at the confluence of technology and management, or perhaps at the junction of behavioural economics and marketing,” he said.

That the Tata group is very principled in its approach was always known, he said. Also, in all that the Tata group has done, it has kept the community and nation at heart.

“Community should be central to the group, and not just another stakeholder,” Bhat said, citing Founder Jamsetji Tata’s statement on the Tata group’s purposiveness.

Nor is the Tata Group all perfect, he said, recalling the Tata Finance episode, when there was a fraud on the company. The group admitted there had been a fraud and protected all its investors. How do management educators contend with imperfections and address them with the required seriousness and genuineness, he asked the audience. As academics think about leadership in management education, he said they would do well to ponder on the four Ps.

Focus on local knowledge

Delivering the keynote address, Jitendra Singh, former Dean, HKUST Business School, faculty emeritus of The Wharton School, and a 1975 alumnus of IIM-A, said that it’s important for B-schools to produce local knowledge with case studies and research, and that they cannot be consumers of imported knowledge. “We need much more local research. The world needs to know about the interesting things happening in the Indian market.”

He urged business schools to differentiate themselves.

“A me-too strategy is not a superior strategy; we have to do something to differentiate ourselves in format, programmes and faculty. ISB’s decision to go with a one-year MBA programme for students with work experience worked for them and was a differentiator.”

Referring to the government’s role, he said it should set the regulatory context and move out of the way. Accountability and responsibility should vest with the managements of B-schools.

Earlier, in his welcome address, Amit Agnihotri, convenor, Indian Management Conclave and founder, said business schools can aspire to leadership by excelling in academics or in industry engagement, or by creating a positive impact on society. “Institutions can learn from practice leaders; they can gain leadership in diverse dimensions,” he added.

Published on August 05, 2016

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