He is a Padma Shri awardee who sits on board of companies like Godrej and Crisil and is a consultant to a long list of companies like TCS, SAP. Bala V Balachandran, distinguished professor at the Kellogg School of Management, Chicago is also a dean at the Chennai-based Great Lakes Institute of Management. He shuttles between the US and India juggling both jobs, spending three months every year in India. Great Lakes, alongside ISB is the second private B-school that has been set up with a very strong linkage with top global B-schools. Mr Balachandran talks about the state of B-schools in India, the challenges that lie ahead for professional education in India and the Great Lakes Institute.
What do you think are some of the big challenges for Business Schools in India?
It will be better if I keep the comparison between the top 10 B-Schools in India and the United States. Here I think that as far as the IIMs are concerned, the professors are supposed to give 65-70% of their consulting fee to their college. In the US if I do consulting I keep the entire money. So where is the incentive here to do real research? In the US faculty spend up to 50% of their time in empirical research and that I see lacking in India.
How do IIMs compare with the best in the world?
IIMs, especially IIM Ahmedabad, are dream schools. Students at Indian Institutes of Management are diamonds — in fact polished diamonds. I got to be an idiot to make them rotten. But I think IIMs need to increase research work and do less of classroom teaching.
Funding is a big issue. We get a lot of our funding in the US from philanthropic-minded American companies. It is beginning to happen in India too. This kind of realisation began barely three years ago. Adequate funding is a very important aspect for B-schools to maintain their quality.
Going forward, how do you see professional education evolve in India?
Professional education has to shift from being generic to being more customised. For example, if I take TCS, Cognizant executives, what they need is more customised solutions in their executive leadership programme. We have to find ways to convert entrepreneurs into innovators. We need to find ways to bring academics closer to reality.
How would you compare Indian students with their global counterparts?
Indian students are very good — they score 120% in left brain-related work. But barely use 20% of their right brain. Indian students have a very analytical mind. But they need to pick up on softer skills, relationship building, and so on.
From your experience, tell us how important you think networking is in today’s world?
It is of the utmost value, very important. Since I was 28-30, I actively began cultivating relationships. But I believe in nishkama karma — don’t meet people with an agenda or expecting returns. Just do your job, results will automatically come. It is important to get over that mindset of networking with an agenda. And you will realise that you have an amazing network of people who endorse you, who you can reach out. Every month, I set a target for myself to meet so many people.
What’s your take on the growing number of returning Indians?
A lot of Indians like me left India due to the controlled nature of the economy at that point of time and everybody called it India’s brain drain. Now things have changed — many Indians educated and working in America are returning to India because India has changed. India is the new land of opportunities. There is brain drain from the US now. In fact, returning Indians find that even though the salary here may not yet equal the salaries in the US, but in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms Indian salary actually beats the living standard that one could afford in the US.
It’s been two years now since Great Lakes was set up. How has been the experience so far?
We have had 100% placement. We are so happy — placements got completed in 2.5 days with an average salary of Rs 9.3 lakh. Our USP has worked — we are a school of global excellence in quality of education at Indian price.
Some would say that 100% placement is no big deal in a booming economy like India. What would you say is the USP of the school that sets it apart?
Besides being cheaper we have visiting faculty — the best of them — coming from Harvard, Kelloggs, INSEAD, Wharton teaching the course. Sixty-five to 70% of the faculty is visiting.
To all this I would want to add that all the students have to do an empirical study — joint publication with a faculty member. This helps our students work and collaborate closely with the faculty member even though they are visiting.
I also believe in experiential learning — since our one-year programme does not have summer internship, for a month between November and December we ask our students to undertake real projects, it is mandatory. We are also making sure all our students understand and learn Chinese language. Above all here there is an emphasis on individual social responsibilities — our students have to work with under-privileged children and NGOs during their course.
Is there anything different that a B-school in an economy like India should be doing?
We are offering lot of electives keeping in mind the needs of SME sector and entrepreneurs. For example, we offer a course elective on entrepreneurial marketing.
You mentioned about a large number of high-profile visiting faculty? Isn’t getting such faculty a problem?
We already have seven full-time faculty members. We expect that to go up to 20 in two years time. I have worked for 25 years in the United States and am well networked with Indian faculty there. I see many of them are looking at opportunities to teach here and come back. Even as I talk, the chairman of finance in North Eastern University is leaving to join us. Today our (ISB, Great Lake) salaries are at par with those in the west.
Is there any issue around Great Lakes not getting AICTE clearance and hence being asked to shut down?
To make matters clear, we had applied for the AICTE approval in March 2006 itself and so far we have not got any reply. Possibly, the one-year, fast-track programme is not in their scheme of things at the time of our application. We are pursuing the same with them and hopefully arrive at an amicable solution soon.