'IT sector inclination will skew learning process' - ISB Admissions Director

AICTE recognition is not relevant to a school with global aspirations but still ISB will abide with the law of the land, assures Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad's Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Mr Ranga Rao. In an exclusive interview, Mr Rao downplays the

participation of engineers and IT professionals in ISB's one-year MBA in favour of diversity of backgrounds and speaks of the institute's evolution in its five years at length.

How much has ISB achieved in its 5 years?

What we have achieved depends on what we set out to do. The most fundamental premises would be of having a globally comparable business school education, as good as it would be in any part of the world. We have a model where we get faculty from the best B-schools all over the world and partner with schools like Wharton, Kellogg and LBS in terms of in designing the curriculum and updating the electives. We try to get the best from different geographies and put it all at one location.

Secondly, we offer concentration and not specializations because leaders cannot really specialize; they need to have an overall global perspective. In that sense we have been able to connect with several sectors like real estate, retail, et cetera. Thus we are connected with the demand and supply scenario.

Thirdly, we have begun seeing diversity of students a key thing at ISB. Why is diversity important? It’s not about variety, but about making the learning experience as diverse and complete as possible. Thus we select students who have the learnability, ‘teamability’ and ‘leadability’ – the three abilities – and judge what they would bring to the class and what value addition they can get to a study group having a woman manager, an entrepreneur, a doctor or an IT professional. Then we see what these students would take away from the experience.
Taking away is depends not on what you bring to the table but what the other students bring to the table. Such groups then look at problems such as logistics or marketing in a compact and all round view. Thus what you get in the end is like a very well cooked dish with all the flavors and tastes.

Fourth, we are among the top four institutes in the world taking the highest GMAT scores. Our average had actually gone up to 714 but then we realized that GMAT scores are just one part of our learning model, the analytical skills of an individual. We wanted to concentrate on other aspects such as diversity and avoid taking only engineers and IT professionals. When I go for presentations (to prospective applicants) and ask how many of them are engineers, around 90 pc of them raise their hands. When I ask how many are from Infosys, around 99 pc hands go up.

As a matter of fact this set an alarm bell ringing a few years back. If we were to incline towards IT and numbers-oriented individuals then we probably would skew the learning process. We want to maintain the diversity of the class, otherwise we could have had a separate class for TCS or Infosys employees.

We have 25 pc women students and that is a great thing in the Indian context. Quantitatively 25 pc is close to the 35 pc in the rest of the world. We are looking for more women to join ISB. The number of entrepreneurs at ISB has increased significantly over the years. We admitted 10 doctors this year compared to 6 in the previous year.

If you see our vision statement we have three key components. Firstly we want to be globally ranked, second component is to be research driven and third component is to be independent. People ask me how ISB compares itself to the Indian Institutes of Management and frankly I don’t answer that because we all are very different. But we feel very gratified – I hope I am not sounding pompous – when IIM Ahmedabad, which has a PGP-Executive program, says on its website that their course can be compared to the one-year course at ISB. They are a 40 to 50 year old premium institute and they mentioning that they want to be compared to a five-year-old institute is a great feeling for us.

Do you think you are losing applicants to the IIMs’ PGP Executive courses?

No I don’t think we are, because of the lead start that we had. I think we have established ourselves as a brand and the pull is so much that the number of applicants has gone up by 32 pc this year. The variety of applicants has increased and today the highest number among GMAT takers from India comes to ISB. Five years back the majority went to Harvard, Kellogg, or Wharton. Today ISB is the first preference for most Indian GMAT takers, wherever they are in the world. f we analyze this we are not losing much to PGPX, though we may be losing people to top global programs in the USA.

What is the change in number of applications you received over the last two years?

We had 2,000 plus applicants the previous year and this year it was 3,000 applicants so an increase of around 32 pc.

How many international students are joining ISB classes?

Our international students who are foreign citizens holding foreign passports went up by a factor of five over last year. But if you look at pure international foreign born foreign passport holding students we had 2 last year and 6 this year, a three-fold increase. I think those numbers are very influential and next year in terms of financial aid we are undertaking something with an international student body called AIESEC. There will be 10 interns from different geographical backgrounds studying at ISB. Secondly we are working with a lot of companies and institutions all over the world, which fund the scholarship to make the program more attractive. One example is of a largest savings bank in Spain which is paying the entire tuition fee along with medical insurance and maintenance. So next year we will have five Spanish students. I am sure that by next year our international students will be at least 10, if not more.

What are the potential future changes to look forward to at ISB?

We will move to 560 participants for which another school will be built. We want to be research driven so we will need to increase our own faculty which is increasing by five every year. We need around 50 or 60 fulltime faculty. The charm of the model will remain in the learning imparted by visiting faculty along with research reports by our permanent faculty. Third, we would be getting in more diversity, more entrepreneurs, more women and more international students. Not for the sake of it but for the learning.

How does your association with Wharton, LSB and Kellogg trickle down to real deliverables to the students?

Kellogg and Wharton initially designed the program whereas the LSB joined in later. The idea was to structure the program to make it very globally relevant and sensitive as possible and focus on emerging markets. LSB, Kellogg and Wharton brought in their respective competencies. The view from their parts of the world on certain domains adds value to the program, which otherwise could have been a very Indian or an Asian program. What I personally feel is that the research done by our faculty, the research done in the centers of excellence in association with Wharton and Kellogg makes the program more connected to business.

How has the admission process at ISB evolved in the last two years?

As I mentioned earlier diversity is one thing we have begun looking at very seriously. The admission process is now online. We have better essays coming in and the set of questions we ask are very comprehensive.

What is the lowest GMAT score at which ISB refuses to look at the admission form?

Perhaps in the past batches we had people with scores less than 600 but currently everyone has a 600 plus score. But I still wouldn’t term it as the cutoff score.

You look for experience in community service in your application. However, the culture of social work does not exist in India. So a lot of individuals try to embellish their resumes with blown up accounts of social work. But what is your advice to people who have not done community service?

I grant it that such a culture doesn’t exist in India and we do get a sense of this while checking the applications. I keep telling people repeatedly that it is not like a checklist where we tick-mark on the basis of GMAT scores, community service, et cetera. Secondly, we are not looking for the number of years of community service but the consistency throughout school and college. What we’re basically looking for is to see whether they have teamability or whether they naturally like to volunteer. That we check through anything that is consistent, whether participation in cultural activities, sports, community service and so on.

How tough is to place the largest MBA class in India?

Luckily until now there has been no problem. In terms of numbers we have increased from having 145 companies to 200. Also several International companies from various sectors are coming to ISB. It has been no trouble so far for us.

When people talk about one crore salaries, it is totally blown out of proportion. We keep saing that if you come to ISB, come here for the learning and not for the packages offered. Then something like the one crore salary comes in our way but then again it is something we like to play down. We are also very careful in managing expectations. We don’t do magic here. We just provide you the platform to empower you. Ultimately how one uses the power is up to them.

What are the main challenges you face while placing such huge batch?

I won’t be very competent to answer questions about placements. But I think looking at the composite structure of the class profile, we need to place everyone in his or her preferred domain. At the same time we need to relate the demand and supply factor. All sectors don’t pay the same salaries. Some sectors have a boom and lean period. The challenge is also in managing expectations. We check during admission what the expectations of the students are from ISB. Moreover meeting expectations of the recruiters is also a challenge for us.

How easy is it for ISB participants to change their domain immediately after ISB?

It is not easy; after all, it is a very competitive world around. It’s about the profile that you bring in and the value addition that you get from the course. For instance, an Army major's competency is logistics. If he can utilize that skill in another domain, he can move very easily. So if the skill sets are not transferable, domain change doesn’t really happen. If some engineer who has worked on a shop floor says I want to get into McKinsey, it is tough. It can happen later if he moves into consultancy work for some years.

What is the update on the AICTE recognition bit?

AICTE is important because at the end of the day one has to go by the law of the land. It’s our responsibility and we need to relate to what is happening. But our take has always been that we don’t come under the purview of AICTE and the definition of education in India. It is not that we are not looking for that recognition, but we believe that today we have positioned ourselves on a global platform. We try to be independent to maintain the flexibility required in the global sense, which would be affected if we were not an independent body. But at the end of the day we will follow what the law has to say.

Do you face any obstacles while arranging for resources because you do not have the AICTE recognition?

Not at all! With due respect to the AICTE, I read a newspaper article that questioned whether the AICTE recognition had helped institutes in any way. Let’s look at the top ten institutes in India. Has AICTE helped them? Not necessary, or maybe. That’s one way of looking at it.

People talk about the ISO 9000. In my opinion, does it really guarantee you anything? One cannot still be sure even after having the ISO certification. AICTE probably reflects the comfort level of the government but in case of education, the resources and competency come from global sources.

Why is the fees Rs 15 lakhs at ISB?

The visiting faculty module is an important part of curriculum. We need to take care of their expenses. Secondly, we are planning to increase the batch size to 560 so we are building a new school. Two more centres of excellence have to be built. There are a lot of commitments, which need to be fulfilled. But I don’t see the fees increasing further. As long as we are providing globally competitive education at one third of the cost, it’s a good thing.

What brand value do you see of ISB in the global market?

It is an emerging brand. Whatever we do, we would want to be among the top 20 schools worldwide. Once the AICTE approval is done, we would be featuring in India too. Secondly, for people wanting to do global businesses, wanting to work more with India and carry out research, we would like to be seen as place of choice.

In terms of being positioned like Wharton is for finance or Stanford is for entrepreneurship, we have a long way to go. They have been around since several decades whereas we just started five years ago. But in these five years, we started with entrepreneurship, then analytic finance followed by logistics. Besides we are building a global platform for research. We are trying to tell people what the industry is looking for along with what the world is researching on.


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