“External environment does not seem to fully realize the potential of IIM Indore as we see it” – Prof. Rishikesha T. Krishnan, Director of IIM Indore
Rishikesha T. Krishnan took charge as the Director of IIM Indore on 1st January 2014. He completed his Masters of Science degree from IIT Kanpur in 1986 and Stanford University in 1987. He is a Fellow of IIM Ahmedabad (Class of 96). Prof. Rishikesha T. Krishnan has served in advisory councils and review committees under the Govt. of India including Task Force on the Future of Aeronautics in India, Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India. He has also authored successful books such as ‘From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation: The Challenge for India’ and co-authored ‘8 Steps to Innovation: Going from Jugaad to Excellence’.
He talks about India’s role in today’s world, challenges and his vision for the institute in an exclusive interview with Management Canvas and Media & PR Committee of IIM Indore. The video of the same could be found here:
In the short while you have been here, what is the one thing you really like about the institute?
So far the best part has been that everyone has been so friendly – faculty, student, staff – everyone. There definitely several strengths which are quite visible. Infrastructure, the weather, the quality of the faculty and the students; all of these have been quite positive.
How is IIM Indore different from IIM Bangalore? In what ways are the institutes similar? What is the one most significant thing you would like to change?
IIM Bangalore has expanded quite a bit on the faculty side in recent years. When I first joined IIM Bangalore, the faculty strength was similar to what IIM Indore has today, around 60 odd faculty members. But now there are more than 100 faculty members at IIM Bangalore. So IIM Bangalore has become a much larger place at least in terms of faculty.
If you look at the number of students, Bangalore and Indore are quite similar. Obviously, when you have that kind of ratio of students to faculty, there will be more pressure on faculty to teach. Faculty in IIM Indore spend more time on teaching and I think we need to, particularly in some departments, reduce the faculty teaching load a bit so that they can focus more on research, case writing and other activities.
What do you think would be the main difference between teaching and Directorship?
Teaching and directorship are quite different. You see the mix of activities that I do during the day, they are extremely different from what I used to do as a faculty member. As a faculty member I spent most of my time reading, writing, going to my class and though I was performing an admin role in Bangalore most of the time, it took a very small percentage of my time. Here, on the other hand, most of my time goes in meetings, signing papers, reading files, communicating with people outside the institute. So I think the mix of the activities I engage in is completely different.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I don’t believe in command and control style. In any case, academic institutes, in my view, don’t run on that style. I would certainly like to have a lot of communication, interaction and participation in all decision making and I actually believe in that both for faculty as well as for students. I would also, over time, like to move to a system – even in student activities, where students are certainly a big part of the decision making process.
Do you think IIM Indore should be looking at online courses and open source content extensively, given that there is a dearth of it in the Indian context?
I think one should be clear about why you are doing those things. I think that adds an important dimension to this. There are some national level initiatives which have been started and hopefully we will also be a part of those. For example, as you might know, in engineering, the IITs have already created a lot of online material under NPTEL, which was pioneered by IIT Madras, where videos on all the engineering subjects were made available. There is now a Ministry of HRD initiative to do something similar in management and we are definitely going to be a part of it. Of course we are also trying to see what the best way of doing that today is. NPTEL was started in 1999, so it is a 15 year old initiative.
If you are starting a new initiative today, is video the best way or should we be looking at other methods: that’s an open question. As I mentioned in the beginning, we already have quite a large array of courses and programmes here. We have some constraints on number of faculty members. I would not like to load our faculty with even more things unless we are able to hire more faculty members and get a better distribution of load over people. These are all good initiatives and the more important thing at this point of time is that we should have a better presence on the internet; whether you talk about social media, the institute website or any other methods that you might talk about.
I think on the web, IIM Indore is not really well represented right now and that is something we need to change. Maybe it’s not about creating a lot of video content, but some video content should be available; for example, a prospective student who wants to join PGP should be able to sample what does a class at IIM Indore look like; and that will help him/her make a decision to come here. That’s something we need to enhance.
Why are management institutes in India lagging behind their global counterparts?
That is a very complicated subject. First of all, you‘ll have to see on what parameter they are lagging. If you look at most of the surveys, Indian schools are doing much better than they were doing before. For example, the one year programmes in Ahemadabad, Bangalore and ISB are among the top 100 programmes of the world. I think where the Indian schools traditionally had a problem and where we have not been doing as well as the schools abroad is on the research and knowledge creation dimension. There are multiple reasons. One is that we started primarily as teaching schools and the focus was on running good teaching programmes. We were relatively slow in making research a key dimension for measuring faculty performance. But all that is now changing.
We have now realized this, whether you look at it right from the ministry level or at the institute level, it’s very clear today that what we were doing earlier is not enough. We need to run good academic programmes but we also need to have a decent amount of knowledge creation happening in the institutes. And why that is very important is because there is a lot of interesting stuff happening in India today. Globally, more and more people are looking towards India and China to understand how business will be different in the years ahead. We have a lot of scholars from the West spending time in India particularly trying to see whether there are new paradigms or new theories which are emerging. So it would be very foolish on our part if we were to simply ignore that and not take advantage of it.
Even from the perspective of timing, this is the right time to focus on that. Of course, like anything else, it also poses challenges because as faculty, we in India did not historically pay so much attention to research. We need to help people polish up their skills and we also have to make sure that our incentive systems and the way we manage our institutions allows people enough time to focus on a decent amount of research. All those changes are happening now in all the institutes and I am sure they will happen in IIM Indore as well.
You have authored a few books on innovation. Do you think India is ready to be the innovation powerhouse for the coming generation?
Presently, India stands on the 66th rank in Global Innovation index. There are certain innovation fields where we are progressing well but due to lack of advanced technology availability, India faces certain challenges in the field of innovation. We also face challenges in our organizations in terms of structure and processes necessary to support the vision of being more creative and innovative. Barring a few exceptions, most organizations in India have not been able provide the conducive environment for the same. While we have a considerable number of creative people, the system is not very good in bringing them to organizations. These people who have studied in our educational system struggle in Indian context but do extremely well in a different environment like that in USA. Silicon Valley which demands extraordinary creativity boasts of many entrepreneurs and CTOs from India. This is the distance that India has to cover to become the next powerhouse.
We certainly have some advantages. People in India have brought out the concept of frugal innovation very well- Arvind Hospital in Madurai performs cataract surgeries at the lowest prices in the world with some of the highest level of quality across the globe. The same can be said about the cardiac surgeries performed in Narayana Hrudayalaya hospital in Bangalore. They have produced success rates at par with the finest hospitals in the world even when charging low fees. But we have not been able to replicate these models in all areas. Frugal innovation demands the concept of high quality of work at low prices- which we have not been able to replicate in all areas. So that’s what we need to do- find ways of being frugal, low-cost, efficient and uncompromising in quality standards.
What did you like about your predecessor, Prof. Ravichandran’s work in shaping up the institute?
Prof. N. Ravichandran has done several good things for the institute. One of the most important changes that he has brought about is in the magnificent infrastructure of the institute. Most of it was not present when he took the position of Director at IIM Indore. He has played a very big role in shaping the grandeur of architecture at IIM Indore.
He was also a great believer in scale- he scaled up the number of programs offered by the institute as well as the number of student intake. I credit him for the vision to be able to see the importance of scale and scope in an institute’s development. He will be remembered for introducing the Integrated Program for Management Course here- as it had invited criticism from many sides but he stood steadfast and was passionate about its usefulness. The credit for success of IPM in future years will be given to him, and he will be remembered for it as long as the institute exists.
What are the challenges that you face now as the Director of IIM Indore?
IIM Indore has expanded on multiple dimensions- number of students, programs and locations which has resulted in a fairly complex arrangement to be administered. The challenge lies in managing this complexity and will have to be dealt by bringing in more faculty members, better internal systems and strong focus on high quality and consistency.
Another challenge is conveying the image of IIM Indore to the external environment which does not seem to fully realize the potential of IIM Indore as we see it. These are areas where I will be focusing my attention in the early part of my tenure.
Coming to IPM, the first batch will be moving to its fourth year in the coming academic session. Will they be integrated with the PGP students?
I have been discussing this with various concerned members who have different views on the subject. My personal view is that the most beneficial arrangement will be integrating the PGP and IPM programs. The IPM students bring a fresh perspective as they have gone through a program that covers liberal arts while the majority of PGP students are engineers. Thus, the students of both programs stand to benefit from each other.
Keeping in mind the controversies that might take place on my personal view, I would like to say that the advantages of the two courses working together would outweigh any disadvantages from a fresh outsider’s perspective that I take. Of course, any decision will be taken after considering everything and passing it through proper channels.
Will you be guiding any research or taking any courses here?
I will teach for sure but not immediately. I would like to take some time to understand the system here, interact with people, and build relationships outside the institute which requires flexibility. Had I jumed right into teaching, I would not have had time for things that require immediate attention. I will definitely take up teaching in the next academic year, though I haven’t decided the exact content of the course.
Lastly, would you like to give a message for the IIM Indore student community?
IIM Indore is a very well-endowed institute in many ways, especially in terms of infrastructure, qualified faculty and other facilities available for students. The institute is making a lot of investment in creating the right infrastructure and atmosphere for learning, especially the faculty. 17 members have been deputed to Harvard business school for course in Participant Centred Learning, which is the largest number among any B-school in India. Three more faculty members will be taking the course this year. The visiting faculties in IIM Indore consist of a huge range of people from wide variety of industries thus providing students ample exposure to the real business world.
But I suspect that the student body is not taking full advantage of all offerings of the institute. According to me, they should push harder, be more confident and be ready to take any challenges that come in their way. I would like to see them as more enterprising, entrepreneurial and taking full advantage of opportunities and exposure here. They should soak knowledge from their experience here and move ahead with conviction. I appreciate the students who are taking steps in this direction and would advise them to continue doing the same.
I have come across students who say that IIM Indore lacks a strong alumni base which is partly true as the institute’s first batch of PGP graduated in 2000, which is about forty years later than IIM Ahmadabad and Calcutta. But I would like to convey to them that they are the future alumni of the campus and should focus on being brand ambassadors of their Alma Mater in their respective companies. They should focus on making sure that the coming batches of IIM Indore get the best chances in projects, talks and connection by convincing their employers with their hard work and perseverance.
I urge the students to focus on the positives of the institute and ignore the minor fallacies that are bound to be present. They should figure out how to make IIM Indore an even better place. I along with all the faculty members are willing to work with the student community in making IIM Indore an extraordinary place of learning, thus overcoming the deficiencies of being a younger institute.
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