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We will have to work with stock exchanges: Rajendra Srivastava, Dean, ISB

Indian School of Business is looking to step up hiring of senior faculty and strengthen its existing programmes with a renewed focus on finance, says its dean, Rajendra Srivastava.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jan 08, 2016, 05.17 AM IST
The Indian School of Business is looking to step up hiring of senior faculty and strengthen its existing programmes with a renewed focus on finance, says its new dean, Rajendra Srivastava. In an interview with ET, he says he is in talks with the chief financial officer at Dell to co-teach with him a course in financial innovation. He says he is planning to sharpen ISB’s focus on research, which, he says, is the key differentiator that keeps Indian institutions from climbing up in global rankings, besides collaborating more closely with industry and government. Edited excerpts:

ISB started on such a strong note, yet it lags behind IIM Ahmedabad in rankings. Why is that so?

To me, what drives reputation is thought leadership. I don’t agree with your assessment in thought leadership. ISB hasn’t been participating in published rankings. I think it’s better to provide the information than not provide it. In the future, we will participate. When it comes to thought leadership, I don’t think we’re in an adverse position at all. There’s more research coming out of ISB than IIMs, let’s be straight about that.

Is ISB looking at backward integration and offering undergraduate courses?

It’s not in the plans right now. I think there’s a lot of scope in India for a management degree right after graduation. I can see our collaboration with some universities where we take honours students, like in our Young Leaders Programme. I think it’s a good market.

Most of the earliest backers of ISB, such as co-founder Rajat Gupta, have been discredited. Has this affected ISB’s reputation?

I think ISB stands on its own feet now. After MIT, Stanford and Harvard, ISBs get the maximum number of GMAT applicants. This could have two reasons: one is reputation and also that we’re in India. We will expand our recruiting efforts. If you add GRE, it increases the pool. Reputation-wise, I don’t see an issue. Just on my way here, I’m getting calls from universities and individuals asking us how they can help. So the effects on reputation are there. I don’t see conversation taking place about people in the past. Unless faculty leaves because of that, it’s a non-issue.

What is ISB’s main focus now?

We have a good chance of being at the top in Asian thought leadership. I think we have a good chance of being at the top here and don’t have competition. I don’t want it to upset the IIMs but there isn’t really a culture of research in the leading journals. I see us achieving the academic side far more easily than for the corporate world saying that ISB is the only place to go.

You take the IIMs and they’re incredibly tough institutions with great heritage. Indian and Asian senior management comes from there. We are just adding ourselves to that. It will take a little bit longer for us to establish a global reputation. We have a great Indian reputation and our placements are good. This year we are up in number and average salaries. I don’t, at the moment, see companies all over the world recruiting here.

Why is it that we don’t have any institution from India on the top today?

We don’t do research. The ideas are coming from Indians, but not in India. I will try and bring some of those Indians to ISB too.

Several institutions have spoken about increased government interference...

We need flexibility. With too much regulation, you’re restricted in the effort. Look at SP Jain, they’ve done rather well and so why are they expanding in Australia, Singapore and Dubai? Maybe they’ll answer that. But the issue is, like any other industry, education is also in flux. The joke is, after the Catholic Church, it’s the industry that’s changed the least. Our graduation uniforms haven’t changed in 600 years.

So, how will ISB change in, say, five years?

We can think of ISB as a good western-oriented school in India or as one of the best schools in the world that happens to be in India. I like the second position and that’s what I would like to do for ISB. Our board is full of ambitious people and it’s time that an Indian institution be in the top 10 of the world. We will also revisit our courses. I don’t want to pre-declare them. But there are areas like finance where I see big changes in India and we have to be prepared for the new financial environment.

We will need involvement with the financial sector and work with the stock exchanges. I have committed teaching a course in financial innovation and am currently talking to the CFO at Dell to co-teach it with me. There are other areas where we already have programmes which we will strengthen. We had a conversation today with MIT and are looking at specialist programmes that will look at global supply chains. Our main programme is a PGP programme but in Singapore we had great success in specialist master’s programmes.

We already have the family business programme. Our goal is to take our family business programme to the top or two, three in the world. Whether it’s healthcare management or supply chain management or family business management, I want to scale it up, for which we need to work with large companies as well as the Flipkarts of the world. By and large, we’ll bring in more local knowledge and content into it. Flipkart is successful because they had to take the Amazon model and adjust it for India. We need to look at how things need to be done here and not there, whatever there may be.

How do you plan to deal with the paucity of skilled talent in India?

You wouldn’t believe how expensive the cost of good faculty in India is. It’s very, very high. There’s a real shortage too. Everyone is fighting for the little talent. My immediate action plan is to step up recruiting. We have lost faculty and I need to hire senior faculty. I also need clinical faculty to balance theory with the practice faculty.

We have bright faculty, but they’re young. Sometimes people trust grey hair. We had to lose some staff — at the two ends of the continuum. A couple of ours were stolen by SMU (Singapore Management University) and then we lost some people who didn’t make tenure standards. At ISB, we’ve done some quick and dirty calculations and we can easily increase the residential faculty by 50% over the next two-three years. Our hiring goals aren’t incremental.

Are you planning to forge more partnerships with industry and place greater emphasis on research?

Yes and yes. Our founding partners were Kellogg, Wharton, LBS and MIT. Those partnerships will be there. There will be other partnerships that will come up. I will look for partnerships in the East. We will be looking for much closer collaboration with industry and government.

We have 12-13 million people entering the workforce and we need to skill them and while we’re in higher education, we need to get involved in seeing what can be done to improve the educational environment. We will set up a corporate immersion programme for our faculty to spend a month or so with the Tatas or the Birlas or Flipkart.

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