Ajit Rangnekar is the Dean of the Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business. He has been associated with the ISB for close to a decade and has been instrumental in strengthening the school’s relationships with the external stakeholders - industry, policy makers, entrepreneurs and experts.
Rangnekar has been over 30 years in consulting and industry across different countries in Asia. An IIT Mumbai graduate, he holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. In an interview to Business Line on Campus, Rangnekar talks about ISB’s journey. Excerpts:
Now that the ISB has completed ten years, has it completed the agenda it set for itself?
The agenda was never meant to be achieved in ten years. Educational institutions last decades, if not centuries. So the agenda was to be amongst the top in the world and in some aspects I think we have achieved it. But I don’t think anyone of us ever expected that in ten years we would say that our job is done. I think in many parameters we have done much better than what we had originally expected. But, we still have a long way to go.
Looking back, what have you done differently?
Our programmes have always been innovative. We created the trend for one-year MBAs. Now, almost every top-tier business school in India has an executive PGP. With PGPMAX, we again pioneered the part-time MBA for senior industry executives with 15-20 years of experience. Until then there was really no one; there had never been a high-quality part-time executive MBA. More recently, we started MFAB, a programme for family business scions. We will continue to innovate in the future as well.
Spread across two campuses now, in Hyderabad and Mohali, are you offering different programmes?
I must point out here that though we have two campuses, ISB operates as one school with seamless integration across our two campuses in all systems and processes including admissions, programme design and delivery, placements and so on.
Having said that, we have started four institutes in Mohali focusing on certain key areas from India’s perspective — manufacturing, healthcare, infrastructure and public policy — the objective being to conduct rigorous research and offer specialised programmes in these areas. Our fundamental job is to meet the growing needs of this country. We are committed to this, and our Board is extremely supportive.
Where does ISB feature in research?
We started with a significant focus on research. And to be successful at that, one has to attract the right kind of faculty with strong research credentials. Faculty recruitment is a big challenge because we do not have a pool of research in our country which does that quality kind of research. So a significant portion of my time goes in attracting and convincing leading faculty in the US or other developed markets, to come to India.
We have over the years, invested a lot in creating a strong research culture, and it is now beginning to show results. Today, we have about 50 of our own faculty with a consistent track record of publishing in top academic journals. We are beginning to see faculty writing to us on their own saying they would like to join us. So, should we have achieved this in 10-12 years? I don’t know. Would we have liked to do much more? Absolutely!
Is ISB attracting a large contingent of foreign students?
We typically have around 30 foreign students at any given time, many of these are third-or-fourth-generation, Indian-origin people, but there are quite a few foreigners who come. So that’s the front end of what I hope will become a cycle.
Somewhere around 2007 we saw an interest towards a new India, but there wasn’t much ‘new India’ knowledge. So we invested in setting up a centre for developing emerging markets case studies. Another area that we as a school are focused on is the “real” Indian market – “the bottom of the pyramid” for the lack of a better term. How do you empower those people? How do you get them to be productive members in the society is going to be the big learning and we have begun to do some work in that.
Now, many Indian companies are going abroad, so does that change the paradigm of teaching?
Originally, the plan was that multinationals would come in and there would be talent here for them. Now the talent is going with the Indian companies which are going abroad. This is ok. Global still remains.
There is this debate now about ethics and values but is that something which can be taught at B school?
If one doesn’t have the right early upbringing, there is little that an institution of higher learning can do. But to some extent it can show you the cause and benefits of good action. It’s not that people don’t know, but with greed, fear, anxiety and with time it’s something we forget. So how do you recreate that, how do you give them adequate support, how do we show them? Today, an unfortunate perception is that everyone is corrupt and without being corrupt you can’t do anything. Can we show students enough examples of how people have actually succeeded? What have they actually done? What are the tools they have used? Right to information is a tool for example. How do you create a body of people who can support each other in some of these cases? It’s a big challenge, there is a lot still to be done.
How are you managing now between two campuses of ISB?
We were lucky as we have a great team. We transferred some of our key people from here because they knew exactly what the school wants. We got a lot of new people with the right culture. Today we run them actually as one institution, with technology as a key enabler. I spend half my time in Mohali and half in Hyderabad.
It is, of course, just a year old, and while we are extremely pleased with the success in one year we can’t afford to become complacent. For the next 3-5 years making a success of those four institutes in Mohali is going to be our predominant focus: Manufacturing, healthcare, infrastructure and public policy. That’s going to be a big priority for us.
Will Mohali rival Hyderabad in scale eventually?
No. That’s 70 acres while in Hyderabad we have 250 acres. This will always remain big but all the next expansion will happen there.
With the economy on a downside, did you have an issue with placements?
It typically happens at both, the admission and the placement side. Surprisingly, we have not seen any issue so far in terms of placements. We have not seen any impact on admissions either.
Do you have an issue of recruiting good faculty that most B schools face?
We are now focusing on recruiting more senior faculty. In the beginning what we did was we got very bright young faculty and let them grow and that has been successful. While we continue to ramp up through that we will also bring in senior people laterally whose reputation then will allow us to get more people.
Was the school impacted by all that has happened to your founder, Rajat Gupta?
Interestingly, the school did not feel the impact. If I look at the three parameters which are the only three I know: my admission numbers are not affected, companies coming for placements are not affected, and the number of faculty who joined me or wanted to join me are not affected. Those are the only three parameters that I look at. For all of us who have been close to Rajat, of course it’s not been happy, this institution would not be what it is today without his foresight.