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'MBAs can benefit from learning Chinese'

The Indian origin expert, Bala V Balachandran, who is to have an endowed chair in his name at the Kellogg School of Management in the US, says a management student today "has to learn the culture of each country".
IANS | By Ashok Easwaran, Chicago
UPDATED ON JUL 01, 2008 11:38 AM IST

Bala V Balachandran, the Indian origin expert who is to have an endowed chair in his name at the Kellogg School of Management in the US, says a management student today "has to learn the culture of each country".

"Today's MBA has to understand that the world is a village and he or she has to learn the culture of each country," Balachandran, who is retiring after 35 years at the Illinois-based Kellogg School, told IANS in an interview.

The Great Lakes Institute set up by him in Chennai has the slogan 'global mindset, Indian roots'.

He says it is the only management school in India where learning Chinese is mandatory as Balachandran believes students could reap tangible benefits by learning Chinese.

"Most American executives will not stay more than a couple of years in China. They cannot adjust to the culture. An Indian MBA who knows Chinese could be an appealing alternative," he said.

The first Indian to join the faculty at Kellogg School, Northwestern University, in 1973, Balachandran has been a professor of accounting and management there.

At a farewell to Balachandran, Kellogg dean Dipak Jain announced that a committee has been assigned the task of raising over a million dollars for an endowed chair in his name - a rare honour.

Referring to the post-Enron emphasis on corporate ethics at business schools in the US, Balachandran draws a fine line.

"You can get an A plus in ethics and still be a crook. Knowing ethics is different from being ethical. Business leaders need passion, but more important is compassion," said the management guru who considers Ratan Tata an outstanding leader with these attributes.

Nevertheless, he said, the trend in the US is shifting towards greater corporate responsibility.

"For long, in the corporate world, winning mattered above all else. Harvard had the 'game theory' that laid down that life in the corporate world was much like a game of poker. You could lie because the end justified the means. But now the focus is shifting from short-term to long-term gains. This also means focusing on issues like the environment, which does not bring immediate returns."

Balachandran noted three lessons learnt at the Kellogg School.

"One is you need to be an effective teacher. You also have to be a good researcher because it is only through research that you can bring authentic personal experience to your students, as against quoting from research by others. And, finally, you have to strike a balance between rigorous academic excellences with cutting edge business experience."

At the outset of his career, Balachandran switched from engineering and industrial administration to accounting because "accounting is the language of business leaders".

Balachandran said he would continue to be a part-time professor at Kellogg. He said his retirement from full-time teaching there would enable him to devote more time to the Great Lakes Institute and to his grandchildren.

Within four years, the institute has risen to rank among the top management institutes in India.

After a master's degree from Annamalai University, Balachandran came to the US and earned a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University. He has served as the department chair of accounting at Kellogg and also chaired the strategic planning committee for Kellogg in the mid-1980s that helped shape the direction of the school at a critical time.

Balachandran conceived the first India Business Conference at Kellogg in 1992, the year that the economic reforms were launched in India. Over the years, the conference has become hugely successful and has been copied by other business schools in the US.

He was also deeply involved in the setting up of the India School of Business in Hyderabad under the joint sponsorship of Kellogg and Wharton. He was in charge of the curriculum and staffing at the school.

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