Introduction Decades ago, I worked for around two years at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA). I was a member of the research team at IIMA in the Personnel Management and Industrial Relations area. At that time, there was no Indian School of Business (ISB). Today, this is ranked on par, or sometimes, better than even IIMA. Since I have attended hundreds of sessions with the best brains in India (both students and teachers are similar in their brainpower), I had watched with big interest at close quarters some unique features. Later on, I got to know that these were more or less similar to those at IIM-Calcutta and the IIM-Bangalore. Today, IIM-A fights a neck-to-neck race with the ISB, and the IIMs at Kolkatta and Bangalore are also trying to close in. Along with the ISB and the IIMs, the thirty-odd other branded B-schools, like the Management Development Insititute, Gurgoan, the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University, the Xavier Labour Relations Institute, Jamshedpur, and the S.P. Jain Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai, among others, are also benchmark institutions.
The main distinctive features of the ISB, IIMs, and the branded B schools are a) Top-notch faculty b) Quality of research c) Quality of students d) Teaching methodologies and e) Links with industry.
Top-notch faculty The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, has had top-notch faculty at any point in time. Each one of them had at least two post-graduate degrees and doctorates from abroad. They were regular faculty, most of whom stayed on the campus. They were allowed to consult on some fixed number of days. Each faculty member was a consultant to World Bank, UNICEF, IMF, and so on. They were given massive research grants and attended international conferences, for which the expenses were only partly borne by the IIMA. Even in the eighties, IIMA was earning large amounts through its executive development programs. Today, even the new IIMs like the IIM, Tiruchirapalli has Executive Development Programs for industry practitioners, and more often than not, the quality of discussions in the executive development programs was just too good. The industry experts go back and implement many ideas discussed in these programs. This has been a regular feature and the revenue earned was substantial. This continues to his day.
Each of the IIMA faculty members had at least eighty research papers in refereed international journals. None of the professors would even look at data that was not supported through high-quality research. The use of statistical methods is one big difference in the IIMs and the branded B schools. It is not that only IIMA has such top-notch faculty members. Today, even the relatively new IIMs have faculty members of high quality.
Quality of research As mentioned above, the Faculty Members would engage themselves in cutting edge research, often supported by the research staff in a big way. For example, there were hundreds of working papers produced even in those days. Those were days when the internet revolution was in its very early stages. Everything was in print. Today, one is told, ninety percent of the working papers are electronic. A working paper is a detailed research-based collection of a particular concept. For example, "Industrial Relations over the past three decades". This would mean that I collected data about strikes, lock-outs, Government policy, the stand of the trade unions, attitude of employers, et al. It was a big collection of all facts, from the world-class library. To this day, I have not seen a single library in my life that had so much data stored in bound volumes. You name it and you have it. The kind of data was absolutely world-class. No working paper would be less than one hundred pages. It would have everything with references to the sources of such enormous data collection.
Apart from the above, the Faculty Members actively involved themselves in creating case-studies, often by visiting the organizations and collecting all data. Any case-study would be intense. For example, there were two case-studies about the Tata group in those days. The case-studies would cover the entire gamut of whatever it took to bring all facts in one case study. For example, even in those days, the globalization efforts of the Tata group was duly noted. Everything taught in the IIMs is still based only on case-studies. The concepts are discussed for a limited time only. The students have plenty of presentations to be done. This would also supplement the extremely high quality of discussion that would take place.
Quality of students To this day, the branded B-schools and, in particular, the IIMs, admit only the cream of the society. No recommendations are ever allowed. Everything is based on the CAT examination that is modeled on the GMAT. The examination itself is so tough and highly mathematics-oriented. None can pass the CAT examination without any preparation and practice for over one full year. The group discussion that would follow and the personal interview would make it even tougher and only the cream of the society and those with excellent standards of spoken and written English would quality. The students were highly competitive and none would be complacent. Their working hours, outside the even to eight hours of regular classes, would be another ten hours on an average. Most would work for a total of around eighteen hours to remain competitive. Burning the midnight oil is common across all B-schools.
Take the example of the Bharadhidasan Institute of Management, Tiruchirapalli. This institute was then headed by one late Prof Pyralal Arya, then employed with the BHEl, Tiruchirapalli. With limited resources, this professor, who was deputed to take over as director, immediately signed an MOU with BHEL, Tiruchirapalli, to train the students. Prof Arya was from the IIMA and closely followed the case method of teaching. The visiting and even core faculty members were from the same BHEL, They were senior managers with decades of experience. They brought to bear their rich practical experience and this helped the institute to quickly attain a branded B school status. Today, it often finds a place among the best 30 B schools in the country and has become a good B school for the brightest brains from across the country. Alongside the TA Manipal Institute of Management, the Loyola Institute of Business Administration, Chennai, the Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai, and Christ University, Bangaluru, it is one of the few branded B schools of South India. There are just a few more, but they are not as good as these few branded B schools.
Teaching methodologies Take the Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Gujarat, for example. This highly specialized institute has a big focus on providing quality managers to the rural sector and the agro-based industries. Apart from the core subjects, everything taught here is based on the existing rural realities and the emerging scenarios. This institute was itself the brainchild of the founder of the fabulous National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), the late Dr. Kurien. The institute has had the specialization from day one. Its distinct focus has been intact to this day.
Apart from the case-studies, the students are forced to make any number of presentations. The peer pressure to perform is intense. Added to this is the concept of paid internship. Most IIMs have the luxury of paid internships and these internships by the students are highly meaningful, for the students to contribute to the organization, more like the regular employees.
In total contrast, the implant training in most unbranded colleges is a total farce. Not a single pie is ever paid to any MBA student and the faculty members do not even care to visit the company. Most students roam around the industries, desperately trying to catch the attention of the HR Managers. This is a ritual of the worst kind. Since the quality of students is very poor, the implant training is never taken seriously by the industries and they are often made to just while away their time.
Links with industry Mukesh Ambani is one of the big-time promoters of the ISB, So have the likes of ICICI Bank and several other industrial organizations. It was set up almost two decades ago and is a totally autonomous institution. However, it has several links with the industry not only in India but abroad as well. It has professors who specialize in family business management. It's executive education programs are also world-class. The links with industry keep on enabling this class of B schools to go far ahead of the University B schools. The likes of S.P.Jain Institute of Management, Mumbai have active faculty members from the top Mumbai companies and these managers come with tremendous practical experience. They make a remarkable difference to the standards of teaching. The inputs are always practically oriented in nature and content. This is a common feature of each branded B school. The top sixty B schools have always been different and will continue to be so.
Conclusion The ISB, the IIMs, and the rest of the branded B schools have many things in common. A few points have been discussed in some detail in the aforesaid paragraphs. Unless the unbranded B schools do the catching up, they are doomed to go down under and simply wind up, sooner or later.