Having taught at Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School for the last 20 years, Ashish Nanda brings in an impeccable global academic and research experience to the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) as its newly appointed director.
An IIM-A alumnus himself, Nanda shares his views on where the premier B-school is vis-a-vis global institutes in an interview with Vinay Umarji. Excerpts:
How does it feel like to be back to your alma mater as the Director. Your comments on the appointment, especially when you have been working with an institute of global repute like Harvard.
I have been at the Harvard for 20 years. I went there as a doctoral student, taught at Harvard Business School for 13 years and have been faculty at Harvard Law School for 7 years. I would say that virtually every day I went to the campus with excitement and enthusiasm.
I had reached a level where I was achieved something and I was doing very well. It was during the 30th reunion of our 1981-83 batch at IIM-A campus when folks of the Board of IIM-A asked me if I would consider this position. I shared this with my wife as a joke, saying 'how nice of them to consider me'. My wife said no, you ought to think about it more seriously.
And the more seriously I thought about it, the nicer it made me feel. I am 53 years old, I feel a lot of who I am today is because of what I learned from the institution.
It feels good to come back and contribute to the institution. It feels like life coming to a full circle. Secondly, by working with the institute will allow me to learn a lot more. I hope to contribute in a meaningful manner. I also went back to my Harvard dean and other my colleagues and they were very supportive about this too.
What are your plans, purpose and vision for IIM-A? How do you see your job cut-out?
I will first want to talk to my institute colleagues. However, I desire to see IIM Ahmedabad as a globally well recognised institute which nurtures top global academicians and practitioners and offers quality education. I would also want to see as many opportunities being provided to students and faculty to be productive and innovative.
What or How, according to you, is the global as well as Indian management education scenario? What roles can IIMs, especially IIM-A play in enhancing the same?
I think management people have recognised that it is extremely critical function. I think this has been recognised by institutes around the world over a period of time. If you look at any vibrant economy in the world, you will see the importance that economy pays to good management education.
There are schools who have developed an ability to take good individuals and give them the resources to become effective managers and executives.
IIM Ahmedabad is one of those institutions. If you look at the top panoply of global business schools, you have a few in the US and some in Europe. When people talk of top B-schools in Asia, many of them say that IIM Ahmedabad is a hidden jewel. They know how wonderful institution it is, how terrific are its students and how committed are its faculty.
But IIM Ahmedabad does not have the same presence internationally as some of the other (global) B-schools. And I think that is an opportunity that we face to take our rightful place as one of the top global institutions. We need to be able to say with a degree of confidence and pride on a global stage that this is truly a top notch global institution that offers quality education.
At a time when the market spirits are down, how challenging do you see your role as the Director of a premier B-school?
We cannot be responsive to just short term challenges. Our hope is not to just help people succeed in the next six months. We want to instill in them values and educational training that will stand them in good step for the rest of their lives and career. We will be responsive to the business cyclic challenges of the present.
We will do that both in terms of the placements and giving them the right kind of skills but we will also make sure we don't get too caught up with the short run. Rather, we will give them good education and standing in the long run. We will ensure we don't overreact to the current situation.
What are the three basic yet urgent needs of IIM-A that you would like to fulfill? How?
I won't be able to answer that since I am yet to assume charge of my office.
You talked about offering quality education. One of pre-requisites for that is availability of quality faculty and quality research. How do you plan to address that at IIM-A?
I studied professional service organisations which was my area of research. These are human capital intensive organisations such as consulting firms, law firms, investment banks and academic institutions.
Very often their constraint to growth is not external market opportunities but internal capabilities. One of the big constraints of how good you will be is how good are your people. It is extremely important to invest into getting the best quality of people and to create an environment where they feel nurtured and they are able to develop their skills.
If you really want high quality management education, you have to have an environment where faculty who teach are first of all created. We, at IIM-A, have FPM program which gives them that kind of experience and knowledge.
And we will have to give them an environment where they find academic career exciting and productive.