‘Soft Skills are key for Success’ : In conversation with Prof.Caselli and Mr.Giuliani of MISB Bocconi

Coverage of MISB Bocconi on InsideIIM continues – this time there was a conversation with Alessandro Giuliani (Managing Director, MISB Bocconi) and Stefano Caselli (Professor – Finance at SDA Bocconi, and MISB Academic Director).

Alessandro Giuliani has a business background – and he recently launched the Indian campus of Bocconi University. He acts as the managing director of MISB Bocconi. Stefano Caselli is the academic director of MISB Bocconi. He is a professor of Finance at SDA Bocconi, Milan, and serves as Vice-Rector, Internationalization for Bocconi University.

We interviewed them over a plethora of topics – from their views on the selection process, diversity, pedagogy, as well as their insights on various aspects of business and academics.



How has been your experience been in setting up MISB Bocconi in India? What is the USP of MISB Bocconi?

AG: The experience has been complicated, but exciting. We did extensive market research. There was already a good amount of knowledge about India in Bocconi, because Bocconi has several exchange programs with top Indian business schools, and a double degree program with IIM Ahmedabad. The largest foreign population at the MBA school is Indian, the number being almost as high as Italians. With market research we discovered that we can provide some added value to Indian post-graduate education, especially in areas like soft-skills, global exposure and corporate connect, which are gaps in Indian higher education. We found amazingly bright students. For sure, they were much stronger on quantitative skills, which was what we were expecting. It has been particularly exciting to see how the program which we have crafted around these areas has made students grown in their soft skills.

The USP of MISB Bocconi is very simple – it’s like going abroad and staying in India  – and having a double program. The USP is the exchange semester in Milan, and the faculty which is outstanding.

How has your business background helped in setting up MISB Bocconi in Mumbai? Why was Mumbai chosen  – given that it has so many infrastructure issues as compared to say Delhi, or even Bangalore?

AG: I had already set up two businesses here, in India. That helped a lot in understanding and navigating Indian bureaucracy, and adapting to different environments. India has so many different states, cultures and languages, and I had already faced those problems in the previous businesses.

The decision to set up in Mumbai was based on one of our core areas, strengths and USPs – the corporate connect. One of the gaps in Indian higher education is the absence of good corporate-academia interaction. You have amazing schools, in the middle of nowhere. That makes it difficult to collaborate with companies.Our university was founded by an entrepreneur who wanted to give back to the city and he founded the university at the city centre. That has enabled Bocconi to be well-integrated to the corporate world which is what we want to do here. Like Milan, Mumbai is the financial, business and media capital of the country. Within 500 meters, we have at least 15 of the big multinational companies, we’ve had a lot of corporate projects at the school, and we have had 64 accomplished speakers over the last 12 months.

 To professor Stefano – how do you balance academics and administration?

SC: I think that whoever you are – entrepreneur, professor or manager, the challenge is to stretch the hours. In Bocconi, there is a tradition for many professors to run managerial activities in the school. So what I am doing is not unique, it is part of the DNA of many professors at Bocconi – to run both research activities and teaching, and to also manage relationships of the B school. My task is to manage all international relationships. I believe there is a great synergy between the two aspects of my work in Bombay (work as academic director, and work towards building international relationships), given that Bombay is such a vital part of our strategy of internationalisation.

Have you tailored the Mumbai program separately to suit Indian students?

SC: Our motto is Indian roots, and global perspective. Coming to format and content – any program, anywhere, is a mix of standard content and tailor-made/new content. Standard content means that some part of the course has to represent the basic concepts – the backbone, an idea, a pillar of knowledge, which are universal. But at the same time, you need to create cases, examples and exercises that make sense with the context within which you are teaching. For e.g. when you have to teach what is an IPO: an IPO is the same in every part of the world. But, when you have to explain the process, with good and bad examples – it would be ridiculous to give an example of an IPO from Italy or Spain, in Mumbai. It makes more sense to give an example from Hong Kong or Bombay or New York. That means I have to adapt.

Moreover, in electives we really customize the content according to the context. For e.g. in accounting, we have to adapt the concept of accounting to the Indian context, not just adapt, we have to have on board the expertise. We have professor Balachandran – a very famous professor working with NYU. He decided to join our school, because he was well known in SDA Bocconi. When we talk about corporate governance, digital marketing, retailing, it is all tailor-made for the Indian context. So in a sense, you have to balance – a completely standard course would be useless, a completely Indian course would be useless as well.

Based on your experience – what are the similarities and the differences in the Indian and Italian way of doing business. 

AG: The two countries are very similar in many ways. People are very similar in terms of basic things like for their love of cars and food, but also the economic structure of the two countries are very similar – we are both based on small-medium enterprises and family businesses. Those are two areas where Bocconi excels- we are No. 1 in the world for family business and one of the top institutions for small and medium enterprises. So that is another reason which makes a lot of sense for us to be here.

In terms of actually doing business here I always say that only an Italian can set up a business school here in India because India is very similar. Whether it is about doing business across a table to being comfortable with ambiguity, we get along very well. We find ourselves at home.

SC: We are impressed, for example if we talk about corporate governance of major corporations in Italy or in India – the main issues like succession etc. in these areas are very much similar. The backbone of business in Italy is made by the SME’s, it’s the same story in India where there are lot of SME’s plus big corporations that are family owned.

What is your perspective on the luxury industry of India, how India and Italy can collaborate? Can students from India have an opportunity in the luxury Industry of Italy?

AG: This is one of the areas where we can give a lot because luxury as such in India is not present yet although the customers are present. They have their own luxury experience abroad as of now. But, luxury is bound to come here therefore we have launched a Luxury Retail Academy here in collaboration with IBM Consulting and we believe that we can give a lot. Most of luxury brands are setting up shops in India so we are quite excited that it will open up the luxury market. A lot of students who come to us get attracted to this specialisation which is offered as an exchange semester in Italy. So it is one of our areas of excellence which we leverage.

Professor Stefano – What are your views on the role of technology and automation in fields like banking and credit risk management?

SC: I think that technology is changing the retail banking system. Retail banking systems should focus mainly on distribution – where IT, internet and mobile have a huge role to play in profiling and providing the appropriate products to the customer at the right time. The mistake that retail banking systems did was to focus on advisory support rather than distribution for retail customers – who need only basic products, delivered on time. Distribution based on mobile and internet can be a source of competitive advantage. India has an incredible advantage in retail banking – the Indian system is much more advanced than many major banks in Europe. In credit risk management, automation may have a big role to play, but in retail banking, distribution is the most important.

Can you elaborate on the Finance Programs of MISB Bocconi?

SC: In the first year, we build the foundations, the pillars of knowledge by teaching topics which are relevant to managers, businessmen, entrepreneurs and so on. In the second part of the course starting from the semester in Bocconi, we want students to be specialising in the appropriate career track and our work begins with the Corporate Connect program which allows us to match the expectations and profiles of the students with the requirements of the market.

In Bocconi, students can select among 4 specialised courses. In Mumbai we advise the students on what is the best track for them to specialise in, based on their profiles. They can choose between investment banking, retail operations, luxury and so on. We have been contacting finance firms for placements which ask us what are the kind of subjects taught for a finance specialization – they have been happy to see that most of which is taught in Bocconi demonstrate a very strong finance background.

 How do you look at the Online Open free Courses like Coursera

SC: My feeling is that there will not be any crowding out of traditional classrooms, there will be complementarity- courses in class will remain the real value add. But in this case, it will accelerate your growth specially since you give a chance to your alumni to continue in their educational activity, letting them keep in touch with the University. Online courses can represent this linkage.  Executives can use them to complement their knowledge and these courses can also be used as a tool to spread knowledge to all over the world for students who do not have any access to school. We do see complementarity but we do not see substitution.

What is MISB Bocconi doing to attract big Corporates and why should any Big Corporate hire students from your school?

 AG: Within the two year program, we have incorporated certain initiatives like the special series of speakers, we have a project in the month of August where small groups of students are sent to top executives of companies with one faculty to solve problems for them.

Then we have an executive program which is a tie up with companies and then we have a set of activities which we use to interact with companies. Our students generally get a very good feedback from the companies- good for them to hire. Companies are coming back to us for final placements after they recruit for summer internships- they feel we add value by giving certain soft skills and global exposure.

Do you think B-Schools should bring more women to their classrooms given that companies also are trying for better gender ratio on their floors? 

AG: We are happy to increase the ratio of women in MISB as much as possible but merit is what we look at in terms of entrance and  scholarships. The system should look up to women from the very beginning to enter schools and higher education.

SC: Our parameter is merit, we want on board the best person according to their CVs. In doing that, we have to pay a lot of attention to attract more women, to add more women is beneficial for the program, the school and specially for corporations. A few years before there were huge debates on this topic – now the story is different since the rankings of Financial Times and other rankings include an element of gender diversity. In many parts of the world, we now find new laws for gender diversity- for board diversity and top managements. We are paying a lot of attention to identify the best women for our Batch in MISB.

Going forward, what is the road-map for the school? Are you looking at increasing the batch size or are you looking at increasing the number of programs offered in Mumbai?

AG: We have a very limited batch size which we would be following for the initial batches in order to place it better. Going forward we would scale up a bit, we would never be a very large school at least in the short term. But we would scale up while retaining  the same quality.

SC: We do not want to introduce more programs. But we want to increase the scale of activities for example the Centre of Excellence and Executive Education since we see a lot of potential here. A part of the game is to manage Corporate Connect. So we want to, in a certain sense, enlarge some activities but for PGP-B, we want to scale up, but step by step keeping a very high standard in terms of quality because we here for merit, we are not looking for big numbers. We want to do the best step by step, enlarge the PGP-B but not to multiply it enormously.

What would be your message for the batch of MBA students graduating in 2014 as they are about to step into the industry?

(a short message from both Professor Caselli and Alessandro Giuliani has been recorded for the benefit of our viewers. You can watch it below)


(This is a Promoted Feature Story and the Editorial Team at InsideIIM has played no part in creation of this Story)

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 Interview with Siddhant Kedia, student – MISB Bocconi

SDA Bocconi Asia Center

SDA Bocconi Asia Center is the Pan Asia hub of SDA Bocconi, Italy. In Mumbai, we deliver our flagship program, IMB - International Master in Business, which is a 22 months program of 2 modules of 11 months each. In the second module, students get an opportunity to complete their specialization in our Milan campus at Bocconi University for 4 months.