The HBS classroom in Mumbai
There is nothing really so scholarly about Taj Lands End in Mumbai but the classroom recently opened by Harvard Business School hosting research programmes and executive education courses, definitely gives one the highbrow feeling.
In fact, on the day that HBS is hosting a short term programme in the classroom, the part of the hotel takes on a different hue. "It is like going to school in a five-star hotel. The luxury and comforts make learning a different experience," said one of the participants in today's programme which was on the subject of real estate. Two floors up from the huge lobby of the hotel and beyond a labyrinth of corridors, all arrow-marked Harvard Business Classroom , the classroom is there in all its entirety. Styled exactly like a classroom at Harvard Business School in the US, a step inside, and the grandeur of the five star host is soon forgotten.
The chairs are draped in red upholstery and the carpet is given a tan finish like how it is in HBS. The wall panels are brown in colour and there are some ten black boards in the classroom, six of which roll up the wall after usage. Two clocks, one with Boston time and the other Indian, placed on the rear wall, reinforce that the class is a HBS initiative. Cleverly-placed monitors and cameras make sure that at no point is a faculty's back turned towards the class and at every moment the class can see the faculty 'facing' them.
According to some some participants who had come in early to check their seats on Wednesday, the only change from the actual HBS class are the tall, almost-French like windows at the rear of the class. The Mumbai classroom windows not only open to a flowery and green porch on the outside, but the clam sea looming wide from beneath makes the view ethereal. You don't get this view from the actual HBS classroom. This is a lovely change, said an official from HBS. There are some 82 seats in the room but for the Develop India Real Estate Strategies and Successful Organisations course (a four day session which started on Wednesday), some 54 seats were occupied.
While the classroom was all decked-up to emanate the real HBR look, one wondered actually on the kind of audience that would patronise the kind of learning being doled out. For instance, why would people connected to the real estate industry in India which is by and large still unorganised, pay Rs 2,04,750 (plus taxes which works out to some Rs 2.35 lakhs according a participant) and attend a lecture by professors who are possibly so far from the way the industry operates here?
The HBS classroom in Mumbai
In India, real estate, fringed by a few big names, is still mostly run in a very 'local' manner. A lot of work is outsourced and people are not known to be too committed. Sharp market mechanisms of supply and demand and little check on the quality of construction/materials are some factors that have earned the industry an 'unprofessional' tag.
Are HBS faculty aware of the intricacies of this trade?
To which one of the students, rather participants, Amit Sarda from Simplex said that he had enrolled in the class to learn more. It would be good to know what experts have to say about the industry and if it is coming from Harvard professors, why not. When asked whether HBS faculty could really give tips on running an industry which is still rather unorganised, Amits answer was that the real estate market is changing. Earlier issues like TDR directed how the market was treated, today it is a lot about design and aesthetics. And am sure in this class, I will get to know about these newer developments.
One participant said that even if HBS teaches theory, it is still update information which is not easy to come by in other circumstances. "The theory will be in accordance to world trends and that is knowledge as well."
Another participant Ashraf Bawa who had come all the way from Bangalore said that it is important to know what is happening in the industry globally. Mr Bawa, who is the Director of Vishwas Bawa Developers added that he likes the idea of meeting people from the real estate industry and learning something new as a group. He agreed that even after so many years the real estate industry is not run in a very organised fashion in India. Yes, there is a lot of local flavor to it and there are different skills required to stay in this industry. A course such as this will keep me clued on different tools and practises that I can use. And it is always good to know developments in other countries.
When asked about the hefty fees, most students said that participating in a programme conducted by HBS, ornaments the bio-data like nothing else, and in a way covers the costs. Besides, for many of us, it is not possible to do an academic programme so late in life and when our business needs us physically on a regular basis. Taking a break for four days in a different environment can be refreshing, said a student.
The HBS has lined up programmes in business, government and academia and on a bouquet of subjects such as corporate social responsibility, building global enterprise, case writing and course development for the next few months in the classroom.
In fact in the enclosure just outside the HBS classroom, there are desks and chairs and research students were seen discussing their case work with HBS officials. Eversince HBS opened its India Research Center in Mumbai in 2006, its faculty has written 90 new cases on companies in South Asia that are taught in HBS's educational programs globally. In 2008 Harvard Business Publishing established a wholly owned subsidiary and started offering executive education courses in Hyderabad and Mumbai.
But the classroom in Taj Land's End was thrown open only in March this year, giving the hotel a new look and shedding a different light on 'teaching.' For most of Wednesday and for the next three days, this corner of the Taj Lands End is definitely going to be oozing of a rather different kind of opulence, a very cerebral one.