February 04, 2020
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The Blue Label: II'm A Winner

Before they become brand creators, the to-be hotshots of Indian business get to rely on their biggest brand: IIM

The Blue Label: II'm A Winner
Satish Kumar
The Blue Label: II'm A Winner
Among the least significant but usefully metaphorical aspects of the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad (iim-a) are two boards at its gates that say ‘Entry’ and ‘No Entry’. The first is for the 200 chosen ones and the other for the 49,800 young men and women who try to get in every year but fail.

"IIM" is one of the most powerful brands created in independent India. The world’s top corporations have woken up to the potential of this clutch of B-schools in India as happy recruiting ground for some of the finest young management brains, not only in India but in the world. From Wall Street to the marriage market, iim means magic.

Of course, other B-schools hold slightly different views. Says the director of one: "iim alumni are spread all over. They’ve become ceos, so networking for jobs is better. Our students have to strive harder to establish themselves unlike the iim graduates who have a big brand to back them."

Be that as it may, the iims remain some of the toughest B-schools to get into, in the world. The iims’ Common Admission Test (cat) is tougher by far than the American gmat. If you’re rich and powerful, you could get your child into Harvard or Wharton but not into the iims unless s/he clears cat.

The IIMS are also the richest B-schools in the country. They have the best infrastructure: air-conditioned classrooms and hostels, the biggest libraries, Net connectivity in every room through miles of fibre-optic cables snaking under the campus. Says iim-a dean Jagdeep Chhokar: "We may not have hot water running in every tap but I think we have most of everything else."

Life is tough for the students, especially in the first year of the two-year course, which plunges them into a maelstrom of case studies, assignments, projects, termpapers, surprise quizzes, classroom discussions and exams. By the time he finishes the first year, a student has actually done—in one year—a BCom, a BA in psychology, BScs in statistics and economics, cost and chartered accountancy and degree courses in operations research and sociology. Plus about 10 other courses. Life is nastily hectic. Says an alumnus of iim Calcutta (iim-c): "At some point in the first year, everyone wonders why on earth they got in here." Attrition is high. By the end of the second term (each year has three terms), it is not unusual to find a batch pared down by 10-15 per cent. Perhaps that is why a sign on the softboard in Chhokar’s room reads: "Irreverence and flippancy are essential to maintain sanity."

The second year has far lower work pressure but competition becomes brutal as placement season nears. While firms compete to grab the best and the brightest, students are also under tremendous pressure to pick the highest-paying/most prestigious jobs. Indeed, in a way, the enormous societal and peer pressure to get the right appointment letter may often limit the student’s worldview.

Trouble is: the salaries are so high they look like telephone numbers. The highest salary an iim-c graduating student earned this year was $225,000, that’s Rs 1.06 crore a year. The highest salary for an India-based job went to an iim Bangalore student: Rs 14.2 lakh per annum. The highest median salary for an India-based job was Rs 7 lakh (iim-c) and the highest minimum salary was a hardly-to-be-laughed-at Rs 4.75 lakh (iim Lucknow, iim-l). As many as 84 foreign job offers were made this year at iim-c, where the batch strength is about 220!

Accuses Dr R.A. Yadav, director of Delhi’s Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management: "After all these years, the only thing you hear about the iims is that their students earn high salaries. What about research, what about contribution to knowledge creation?" Indeed, iims themselves are uncomfortable with this image. Says Jahar Saha, director, iim-a: "The salaries our students get are the least important thing." According to him, it’s the intangibles like the cluster of human minds striving to amass and impart knowledge that counts. It’s an intense hub of learning where there is a common passion to sustain "a simple fact that whatever we do, we do it well" and forever there is an intent to "stretch the limits".

Says Dr Pritam Singh, director, iim-l: "We believe that the world is in need of leaders and not managers. There is a huge leader crisis globally." Says Prof Debasish Chatterjee, who heads iim-l’s Leadership Centre: "Crisis of leadership is basically a crisis of values giving birth to a bunch of self-seeking professionals." Declares Singh: "Here at iim-l, we want to groom leaders who will be like social architects building nations and bringing about a global renaissance."

Prof Raghuram, in charge of iim-a’s pgdm programme, says the institute tries to impart an element of ethics. "Just how mercenary can you get?" he asks. "It’s important that we produce not just bright managers but also nice people."

Do they? iim-a especially has the reputation of producing arrogant snobs. Chhokar calls it "a sense of quiet confidence" but many in industry disagree. The other charge is that iim alumni are manic job-switchers, hardly ever sticking to a company for long. Says Lt Gen R. Sarin, director-general of Amity Business School, based in Noida, just outside Delhi: "What the so-called B-grade management institutes offer corporates is stability. Our students are taught to be loyal to the company they join. iim graduates typically take two to three years before they settle down to one job. That is their culture." In the last few years, though, complaints about job-hopping have subsided a bit.

But the biggest challenge the iims face is finding quality faculty. Says Dr Amitava Bose, director, iim-c: "Faculty shortage is a problem. Unfortunately, after passing out, students are fleeing the academic world. I think this is largely our fault as we have not been able to project ourselves as role models." Saha says that this is a global phenomenon but admits the problem is acute in India. The seniormost iim professor draw a gross package of Rs 30,000 a month, whereas he could earn 10 times that if he shifted to industry. "The trouble with faculty being badly paid," says Prof Sebastian Morris of iim-a, "is that one-third of the consultancy work chosen is run-of-the-mill stuff that in no way contributes usefully to their primary teaching goals." Professors can keep 50 per cent of what they earn through consultancy, the rest is routed to the institute.

The other problem is that though the iims may not exhibit obvious symptoms, they suffer from the disease that they are government institutions and some "norms" bind them. One is of course professorial remuneration. Another is that an institute like iim-a, which teaches its students how to rightsize their organisations, cannot easily fire any of its own 450-odd support staff".The man-to-productivity ratio is one-fifth of what’s desired," says Prof Morris.

Yet, the IIMS remain unmatched, institutions India can be truly proud of. "Each teacher and student here carries the burden of a complex mixture of tradition and aura," says a professor. And as tomorrow’s ceos prepare on these campuses for their assault on corner offices across the planet, here’s a dispatch from our correspondent Manu Joseph from the iim-a campus: "From a surface glance, it seems that there are a lot of nice people here. They are practicing for a play, eating in groups in the mess, helping earthquake victims, giving voluntary management service through a noble in-house set-up called Student’s Organisation for Managerial Assistance, reading peacefully in the library and violently kicking a certain Aman Nayar’s butt because he made a lot of them stand in line for the photographer. Coordinator Jasneet Singh whispers: ‘You see them behaving like monkeys right now but most of them are studs.’ One can read 1,200 words a minute, another climbs the Himalayas whenever he can, someone is a state swimming champion, achievers all their lives, sometimes in many departments, they’re all here, congregated under one roof to ‘group discuss’ a very difficult life. But they do snatch talent nights and things in that category. During good times they have ‘a tubful of Rasna’, according to Jasneet, who adds somewhat coyly: ‘Please don’t laugh. Gujarat is a prohibition state.’ Good times are welcome punctuations in a two-year sentence that takes most of them to the very brink of human endurance. When they are not in the class, they are preparing for it. Second-year student Pramod Shenoi, who has already been placed with Lehman Brothers, says, ‘For every hour of class we need to prepare for two hours.’ On an average day, students are either poring over case studies, for over 10 hours. Often, they are sitting in groups all through the night. Things are nastily hectic out here. ‘But institutionally there is a belief,’ says Prof Chhokar, ‘that such is life.’" It’s the same in every other IIM too.

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