School for leaders
Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad has held on to the popular perception of being the country’s numero uno B-school Prasad Nichenametla Reportseducation Updated: Nov 04, 2009 12:07 IST
The football game has the Louis Kahn grounds all charged up within minutes.
A group of young men and women are shouting hard, alleging foul-play. While the teams on the ground are shoving each other, their enthusiastic supporters on the sidelines are providing full-throated encouragement. Arguments follow... and with the game resuming, the fight for the ball only intensifies.
The players are jostling, tackling and shouting at each other. They are out to prove who is the ‘boss’ on the ground.
No, this isn’t a football match gone out of control. It’s just a bunch of tomorrow’s corporate leaders at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) letting their hair down.
It’s called futcha-tutcha and the crowd is just indulging in a game of football.
Once the game is over, the ‘rivals’ go back to being friends again.
But jostling with teammates and rivals is only a minor part of what students at India’s numero uno B-school do.
What is it that keeps IIM-A on top in survey after survey?
The intensity of the courses is what separates IIM-A from the rest, seems to be the unanimous opinion of students, faculty, alumni and recruiters.The case study approach (derived from Harvard Business School) meticulously mastered by the IIMA, (which all other B-schools now emulate) not only involves stories of big companies like Infosys but of the ordinary man on ground like a chaiwala outside the IIM gate. Unlike other institutes, the pedagogy revolves around the case study approach, which is supplemented by classroom lectures, seminars and with new batches coming in with new concepts the cases are refurbished every year.
Then, there are surprise post-lunch quizzes announced on the mess notice board.
Every dormitory is shared by seniors and juniors that helps in the dissemination of knowledge and strong bonding that in many cases lasts for life. Some juniors could be up to 10 years older than their seniors and have several years of work experience.
“This is something you will never get to see in any engineering or other institute. The kind of handholding and knowledge transfer that we gain from seniors is amazing,” says Himanshu Nema, a second year PGP (post graduate programme in management, the flagship course) student who is an engineering graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.
Classes start early, at 8.45 am. Many professors prefer to shut the class doors after the stipulated time, so, it is commonplace to see students skip breakfast and make a dash towards the new academic block of the iconic red brick structure designed by American architect Louis Kahn.
“That is why snacks are served during breaks… you can’t ‘manage’ it with an empty stomach,” says Anirban Tarafdar (25), a second year PGP student.
Class participation, quizzes, project work, assignments and examinations — a typical day at IIM-A serves as a precursor to a top executive’s workday, where he gets only about five hours of sleep.
A special (some say most dreaded) feature of IIM-A is the WAC (Written, Analysis and Communication) assignments. “Though given almost a week in advance, the nature of the assignments are such that most students struggle to complete it,” Rohan Desai, a second-year PGP student said.
So, students have to work day and night (literally) to complete it. And unlike many universities, the deadline is never extended (as in real life corporate situations).
Samir Barua, director, IIM-A, who was also a student here (joined the institute in 1976 for his Phd after an M Tech in Industrial Engineering from IIT Kanpur) recalls an incident when “someone in the batch has put some cigarette butts into the WAC submission box”. Result: all the submitted assignments went up in flames.
“The mischief must have been done by a student who had not been able to finish his work. It rocked the institute and the management threatened students with dire consequences. But the culprit was never caught,” Barua, for whom IIM Ahmedabad is an association of more than 30 years, says.
That is an example of the bonding that IIM-A engenders among its students.
What else about the institute attracts students and recruiters?
“It’s the brand name, obviously,” says Tarafdar. It’s a reputation that the institute has earned the hard way — by producing dozens of CEOs and leaders of institutions ranging from Wall Street (Ravi Mattu, former head, equity and fixed income, Lehman Brothers and Ajay Banga, ex CEO, Citi - North America) to the country’s largest private sector commercial bank (K.V. Kamath, non-executive chairman and former CEO & MD, ICICI Bank).
“IIM Ahmedabad played a formative role in my career. It gave me outstanding exposure to the theory of leadership and management, and to concepts of finance. Equally and perhaps more enriching was the interaction with students from diverse backgrounds, which gave me new perspectives and formed the basis of some friendships that have lasted to this day,” says Kamath.
The old school tie plays no mean role in the perception about IIM-A’s superiority. With a high-powered alumni network returning year after year to recruit more talent from their alma mater, the brand keeps growing stronger.
“The idea of coming to an institute like IIM-A is not to learn just from the professors but from everyone around,” says Anant Kabra, a first year PGP student.
The global recession and the slowdown in the Indian market has taken a toll on average salaries received by IIM-A graduates this year. But it hasn’t really changed students’ preferences on specialisation.
“Our students realise that they are making a career and not taking a mere job when they sit for placements. People who are interested in finance as a career still tend to sit for finance jobs despite the recession since they believe this is a good time to enter the industry and experience both the crests and the troughs,” says Professor Saral Mukherjee, chairman, placements, IIM-A.
But despite the lower salaries this year, the institute’s brand equity remains untarnished.
Many people rate IIM-A higher than some of its more famous US and European rivals. “I have been to other countries like Sweden but the environment IIM-A provides is far superior,” says Ajith Mooken, an exchange student, pursuing business administration at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland said.
May be that’s why IIM-A keeps topping surveys with such boring regularity.
2009: Rs 12.13 lakh
2008: Rs 17.8 1 lakh
Placement season days
2008: 5 days
2009: 9 days
Chairman, ICICI Bank
Dancer and social activist
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