Dr Janat Shah, director of IIMU
Dr Janat Shah, director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Udaipur already has a detailed strategy in place for the next ten years and aims to make IIM Udaipur better than IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Bangalore. A product of IIM Ahmedabad who spent two decades working with IIM Bangalore, Shah has a year-on-year plan in place. In one of his very first interviews, the director gives a lowdown on his future endeavours.
What has been your biggest challenge as director of IIM Udaipur?
When I joined office on June 1 this year, there were no classrooms, no internet facility and no faculty. My most immediate and toughest task was to get proper infrastructure in place. We managed to set up classrooms, hostel blocks, get internet connectivity and the faculty. We wanted to ensure that when students joined, their parents feel their children were in good hands. Though we have good faculty, the search for qualified teachers is a never-ending process.
What are your plans about faculty?
Most B-schools in our country including the IIMs face staff shortage — not only in numbers but also in terms of quality. We have set high standards by getting visiting faculty like Prof. Shyamal Roy of IIMB ( who was dean at IIMB) and Prof. Chokkar who was dean at IIMA. These visiting faculty would mentor our permanent IIMU faculty. We also get lot of guidance and support from Prof Jahar saha ( ex director IIMA) who is mentoring us in all academic matters. I have told my faculty that it is not necessary for them to stay in Rajasthan in order to work with us. For example, we have a staff member who prefers to travel from Delhi. I am also on the look-out for faculty who are MBAs with about 20 years of experience. They would just need a PhD degree from a reputed institute, which I may help facilitate. I expect that 15-20% of our faculty will come through this section. We are also focusing on research. A group called Friends of Rajasthan is helping to co-ordinate our faculty with that of major schools in the US. This way, our faculty would get to know a lot more about new researches.
Does Rajasthan as a destination create problems for you?
In a way yes, but I dont think it will be for long as soon people will know more about the place. Rajasthan is very well-connected and slowly and surely it will become a sought-after destination.
How has the city accepted the IIM?
Most gladly. People have been very co-operative and friendly. The city organised a run for us. We also managed to get a 1 Gbps connectivity from day one because the state government and BSNL were keen to do it for us. The Vice Chancellor of Mohanlal Sukhadia University (IIM Udaipur functions from the MSU campus) comes ever often to speak to my students and motivate them.
What are you giving back to Udaipur and Rajasthan?
We will unfold our plans gradually but for the time being students are being made aware of this city and its great culture and history. They are being taken on excursions so that they understand the state’s heritage. NGO visits/work are big on our agenda and students will be actively working with NGOs.
What are the constraints of a new B-school?
Constraints are few and advantages are more. Since we are new, we can set norms and do things our way. We dont have to follow a legacy. We are all working hard to set up new ventures and platforms, which can keep going for years. It is important that a right culture sets in.
Will you increase intake next year?
Yes, of course. This year, dues to limited time for construction, we enrolled only 57 students. No point taking in more students if we are not prepared for them by way of infrastructure. We are in the process of adding new classrooms and hostel facilities, next year the intake will go up to 120 students. Our 253-acre campus will soon come up in Balicha, which will have the capacity for 180 students.
Will you be changing criteria to accommodate more women and non-engineers?
The current batch has eight girls, which roughly works out to 15%, plus we have 15% non-engineers. We want to take that figure to 20% each. This will be in place from next year. During admissions, we did not go all out for the freshers or for the non-engineers. We didn’t want to tamper much with what is the IIM legacy on this front. We had kept an upper limit of 72 students and finally took 57.
Any drastic changes you want to bring about?
The IIMs in India have a long tradition and history and I dont want to really change it from the core. I am an IIM Ahmedabad alumnus and want to make IIM Udaipur better than IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Bangalore. It is only when we create a great culture here and keep high academic standards that good faculty and students will want to be part of IIM Udaipur. Our focus at the moment is on making teaching as pragmatic as possible.
Any particular ideas on the teaching standards?
We have looked closely at the curriculum of IIM A,B,C and XLRI and also the work done by Harvard Professor Srikant M Datar. Keeping all ideas in mind, we are working towards creating something new. As I said, we have nothing to fall back on, which gives us a chance of creating here. We want to create what will be used for years to come, something which reflects the present times. We also have the IIMU Professional Mentorship programme which is intended to help students benefit from the knowledge, experience and hind sight of IIM Alumni, both during their stay at IIMU and beyond. This will be accomplished by providing each student access to an individual mentor and all students access to a group of mentors, in certain collective settings. This mentorship programme is expected to supplement the PGP programme as an add-on and not replace it and to help provide a long-term and broader perspective on career development of the student. There are other initiatives like the Centre of Excellence in public policy and tourism to be started in the next trimester, the International Business Program (modelled on Harvard Business School Learning by doing approach) and the Rural Immersion programme.
How are summer placements faring?
As yet, some 50% students have been placed. This is our first year and when we meet companies, we tell them about what we do. We are also trying for more international placements. Already 10% of the students have been placed internationally. The fact that we are in Rajasthan does not go against us during placements. If you see the recruitment in the IIMs, they are same companies recruiting everywhere. We have video-conferencing facilities anyway. The only disadvantage I can see is that fewer live projects can be handled since there are few corporates in and around here.
Are you aware that the scenario in other management schools in Rajasthan is quite dismal and institutes are closing down?
Yes, but the shake-up had to happen. It is best that the institutes that started in a bid to just make money close down. Management is an easy avenue for people since the investment is low and many of them get approved by the All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The education scenario in Rajasthan is quite different compared to other states, people here are conservative with traditional values. We will help upgrade it. We will also do extensive research on Rajasthan but all this will take a while.
There seems to be a new IIMs versus older IIMs divide?
Honestly, this is a wrong debate. India needs some 20 big institutes. Can all institutes come and and work together? May be not. It is not the case of an IIM having a number attached to it. Yes, there are issues like admissions, etc which we can come together for. In terms of faculty, we get that with our personal contacts. There is no divide among IIMs, only a few disagreements that too sometimes. All IIMs are different and at different stages of their journey. IIM is a brand in itself and I am the best example of that. A product of IIM Ahmedabad, a professor at IIM Bangalore and a director with IIM Udaipur.