Rishikesha T. Krishnan took over as Director of the Indian Institute of Management Indore on January 1, 2014. He explains his views, concerns and plans for the management institute in this free-wheeling interview.

In the short while you have been here, what is the one thing you really like about the institute?

So far, the best part has been that everyone has been so friendly – faculty, student, staff – everyone. There are definitely several strengths which are quite visible. Infrastructure, the weather, the quality of the faculty and the students; all of these have been quite positive.

How is IIM Indore different from IIM Bangalore? In which ways are the institutes similar? What is the one most significant thing you would like to change?

IIM Bangalore has expanded quite a bit on the faculty side in recent years. When I first joined IIM Bangalore, the faculty strength was similar to what IIM Indore has today, around 60-odd faculty members. But now there are more than 100 faculty members at IIM Bangalore. So IIM Bangalore has become a much larger place at least in terms of faculty. If you look at the number of students, Bangalore and Indore are quite similar. Obviously, when you have that kind of ratio of students to faculty, there will be more pressure on faculty to teach. Faculty in IIM Indore spend more time on teaching and I think we need to, particularly in some departments, reduce the faculty teaching load a bit so that they can focus more on research, case writing and other activities.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I don’t believe in the command-and-control style. In any case, academic institutes, in my view, don’t run on that style. I would certainly like to have a lot of communication, interaction and participation in all decision making and I actually believe in that for both faculty and students. I would also, over time, like to move to a system where students are a big part of the decision making process.

Do you think IIM Indore should be looking at online courses and open source content extensively, given that there is a dearth of it in the Indian context?

I think one thing that should be clear is why you are doing those things. I think that adds an important dimension to this. There are some national level initiatives which have been started and hopefully we will also be a part of those. For example, as you might know, in engineering, the IITs have already created a lot of online material under NPTEL, which was pioneered by IIT Madras, where videos on all engineering subjects were made available. We have some constraints on the number of faculty members. I would not like to load our faculty with even more things unless we are able to hire more faculty members and get a better distribution of workload.

These are all good initiatives and the more important thing at this point of time is that we should have a better presence on the internet; whether you talk about social media, the institute Web site or any other methods that you might talk about. I think on the Web, IIM Indore is not really well represented right now and that is something we need to change. Maybe it’s not about creating a lot of video content, but some video content should be available; for example, a prospective student who wants to join PGP should be able to sample what a class at IIM Indore looks like and that will help him/her make a decision to come here. That’s something we need to enhance.

What do you think is the main difference between teaching and directorship?

Teaching and directorship are quite different. You see the mix of activities that I do during the day, they are extremely different from what I used to do as a faculty member. As a faculty member, I spent most of my time reading, writing, going to my class, and though I was performing an administrative role in Bangalore also, it took a very small percentage of my time. Here, on the other hand, most of my time goes in meetings, signing papers, reading files, communicating with people outside the institute. So I think the mix of the activities I engage in is completely different.

Why are management institutes in India lagging behind their global counterparts?

That is a very complicated subject. First of all, you will have to see on which parameters we are lagging in. If you look at most surveys, Indian schools are doing much better than they were doing before. For example, the one year programmes in Ahmedabad, Bangalore and ISB are among the top 100 programmes of the world. I think where the Indian schools traditionally had a problem and where we have not been doing as well as schools abroad is on the research and knowledge creation dimensions. There are multiple reasons. One is that we started primarily as teaching schools and the focus was on running good teaching programmes. We were relatively slow in making research a key dimension for measuring faculty performance. But all that is now changing. We have now realised this, whether you look at it right from the ministry level or at the institute level, it’s very clear today that what we were doing earlier is not enough. We need to run good academic programmes but we also need to have a decent amount of knowledge creation happening in the institutes. And that is very important because there is a lot of interesting stuff happening in India today. Globally, more and more people are looking towards India and China to understand how business will be different in the years ahead. We have a lot of scholars from the West spending time in India, particularly trying to see whether there are new paradigms or new theories which are emerging. So it would be very foolish on our part if we were to simply ignore that and not take advantage of it. Even from the perspective of timing, this is the right time to focus on that. Of course, like anything else, it also poses challenges because as faculty, we in India did not historically pay so much attention to research. We need to help people polish their skills and we also have to make sure that our incentive systems and the way we manage our institutions allows people enough time to focus on research. All those changes are happening now in all the institutes and I am sure they will happen in IIM Indore as well.

You have authored a few books on innovation. Do you think India is ready to be the innovation powerhouse for the coming generation?

Presently, India is ranked sixty-sixth in the Global Innovation index. There are certain innovation fields where we are progressing well but due to lack of advanced technology, India faces certain challenges in the field of innovation. We also face challenges in our organisations in terms of structure and processes necessary to support the vision of being more creative and innovative. Barring a few exceptions, most organisations in India have not been able provide conducive environments for innovation.

While we have a considerable number of creative people, the system is not very good in bringing them to organisations. These people who have studied in our educational system struggle in the Indian context but do extremely well in a different environment, like in the US. Silicon Valley, which demands extraordinary creativity, boasts many entrepreneurs and CTOs from India. This is the distance that India has to cover to become the next powerhouse.

We certainly have some advantages. People in India have brought out the concept of frugal innovation very well – Arvind Hospital in Madurai performs cataract surgeries at the lowest prices in the world with some of the highest quality from across the globe. The same can be said about the cardiac surgeries performed in Narayana Hrudayalaya hospital in Bangalore. They have produced success rates at par with the finest hospitals in the world even when charging low fees.

What did you like about your predecessor Prof Ravichandran’s work in shaping up the institute?

Prof. N Ravichandran has done several good things for the institute. One of the most important changes that he has brought about is in the magnificent infrastructure of the institute. Most of it was not present when he took the position of Director at IIM Indore. He has played a very big role in shaping the grandeur of architecture at IIM Indore.

He was also a great believer in scale – he scaled up the number of programmes offered by the institute as well as the student intake. I credit him for his vision on the importance of scale and scope in an institute’s development. He will be remembered for introducing the Integrated Programme for Management Course here – it had invited criticism from many sides but he was steadfast and passionate about its usefulness. The credit for IPM’s success in future years will be given to him.

Coming to the IPM programme, the first batch will be moving into its fourth year in the coming academic session. Will they be integrated with the PGP programme students?

I have been discussing this with various members who have different views on the subject. My personal view is that the most beneficial arrangement will be integrating the PGP and IPM programmes. The IPM students bring a fresh perspective as they have gone through a programme that covers liberal arts while the majority of PGP students are engineers. Thus, students of both programmes stand to benefit from each other. Keeping in mind the controversies that might take place, I would like to say that the advantages of the two courses working together would outweigh any disadvantages from a fresh outsider’s perspective that I take. Of course, any decision will be taken after considering everything and passing it through proper channels.

What are the challenges you now face as Director?

IIM Indore has expanded on multiple dimensions – the number of students, programmes and locations, which have resulted in a fairly complex arrangement to be administered. The challenge lies in managing this complexity and will have to be dealt with by bringing in more faculty members, better internal systems and a strong focus on high quality and consistency.

Another challenge is conveying the image of IIM Indore to the external environment which does not seem to fully realise Indore’s potential as we see it. These are areas where I will be focussing my attention in the early part of my tenure.

Will you be guiding any research or taking any courses here?

I will teach for sure but not immediately. I would like to take some time to understand the system here, interact with people, and build relationships outside the institute which requires flexibility. Had I jumped right into teaching, I would not have had time for things that require immediate attention. I will definitely take up teaching in the next academic year, though I haven’t decided the exact content of the course.

Finally, would you like to give a message for the IIM Indore student community?

IIM Indore is a very well endowed institute in many ways, especially in terms of infrastructure, qualified faculty and other facilities available for students. The institute is making a lot of investment in creating the right infrastructure and atmosphere for learning, especially the faculty. Seventeen members have been deputed to Harvard Business School for a course in Participant Centred Learning, which is the largest number among any B-school in India has sent there. But I suspect that the student body is not taking full advantage of all that the institute offers. According to me, they should push harder, be more confident and be ready to take any challenges that come in their way. I would like to see them as more enterprising, entrepreneurial and taking full advantage of opportunities and exposure here.

I have come across students who say that IIM Indore lacks a strong alumni base, which is partly true as the institute’s first batch of PGP graduated only in 2000, which is about forty years after IIM Ahmadabad and Calcutta. But I would like to convey to them that they are the future alumni of the campus and should focus on being brand ambassadors of their alma mater in their respective companies. They should focus on making sure that the coming batches of IIM Indore get the best chances in projects, talks and connections by convincing their employers with their hard work and perseverance.

I urge students to focus on the positives of the institute and ignore the minor fallacies that are bound to be present. They should figure out how to make IIM Indore an even better place. I, along with all the faculty members, are willing to work with the student community in making IIM Indore an extraordinary place of learning, thus overcoming the deficiencies of being a younger institute.

(M Divya Deepthi is a PGP student at IIM Indore.)