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IIM didn't teach me how to change systems: Puneet Dalmia


Prerna Raturi  |  New Delhi 

Puneet Dalmia
Thank God my days at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, had taught me what hard work was. Even so, nothing had prepared me for the gruelling hours of studying, juggling projects, case studies and theory that awaited me at the Indian Institute of (IIM), Bangalore.

We had three semesters every year and the pace of learning was obviously much faster. Let me confess that I even cribbed at times. But in hindsight, I realise that IIM taught me the importance of diligence.

Also, I can safely say that if an engineering course taught me how to fix implements and appliances, a course showed me how to fix systems. And I learnt how to diagnose a situation, which helps you put the problem in the right perspective.

What my experience at IIM didn't teach me was how to change systems. It is considerably easier to diagnose a problem and then come up with a strategy. What the course fell short of teaching me was that is not always a mechanical process. One has to remember that systems are made of people and, to deal with them, you need

I still remember how, after I passed out of IIM and opted to work for the family business "" Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Ltd "" I was told to handle the marketing of the business. I studied the company and the market in detail, and proposed an advertising budget.

My recommendations were turned down! That's because the company had been working in a certain way and was now trying to cut costs. It took a lot of convincing, talking to those who mattered, using facts, figures and case studies, before I could make them see my point of view.

I realised that even though I may have been more educated, there were people who had more experience and, thus, a better understanding of the systems.

In theory, we had been taught to study a situation, work out strategies and make recommendations. It is on the job that you learn how to deal with people, how to find a way to work against the frustration that you face when people don't understand what you are saying and improve your communication accordingly.

I also feel that students from the IIMs come out of the institute with a chip on their shoulders. You step into the corporate world thinking you are one of the elite: CEO material.

Then comes the first job and you start at the mid-level, if not at the bottom.

It takes some doing to come to terms with the real world. You find it tough to make an impact in the organisation, because to do that, you have to have humility, patience, be a good listener and so on "" which you are not, since you come out of B-school feeling you are a cut above the rest.

When I started my own venture "" "" and was about to strike a deal that would have got me Rs 100 crore from the venture capitalists, there were people who warned me that the value of the company was inflated. But that was the time of the dotcom boom; everything looked so rosy, so promising, and I thought that they could not come to terms with my success! However, their fears proved to be right.

Soon, the entire industry fell apart like a pack of cards. The experience was one of the most important learnings of my life. We had to go in for cost-cutting, changing the business model and so on.

Not only did we have to let go of a plush office, we also had to hand over pink slips to some valued employees. That was one of the most difficult tasks of my life. I wish my degree had taught me to cope with that.

One more limitation I see is industry interaction. However, I am not too sure what the B-schools can do to simulate the corporate environment in a classroom; summer training is not enough.

It's like the experience of practicing at the nets being totally different from that of playing at World Cup level. Sure, practicing at the nets helps, but you are not ready for several other nuances of the game that you face only when you are at a match for real.

One option is that B-schools only admit students who have prior work experience, but I'm not too sure if that is the best model for India. I remember sitting next to a 50-year-old American farmer during an exchange programme in Seattle.

He said he wanted to do a management course because he wanted to improve his processes and systems in farming. Management education in India is still looked on as something that fulfils a different promise "" a good starting point to a promising career.

is chairman, Jobsahead. He graduated from IIM-B in 1997.

First Published: Tue, April 06 2004. 00:00 IST