Be optimistic, resilient, and rise to the occasion: Dr. Sanjiv Marwah – Director, JK Business School

This discussion is a snippet from a detailed conversation between the Director of JK Business School, Dr Sanjiv Marwah, and the Founder of PagalGuy, Allwin Agnel.

It has been more than six years of your association as the Director of JK Business School. How has your journey been so far?

The experience at JK Business School is my second innings as director of a B-School. However, it has been more than a decade of my association with the B-School. The founder, Govind Hari Singhania’s brilliant initiatives have shaped JK Business school into an institution of quality. Mr Singhania has travelled extensively, and his global experience has ensured the students received a wide exposure. He initiated the Govind Hari Singhania Immersion program, pumping in rupees twenty lakhs a year since 2015. The Immersion program funds several students as well as teaching and non-teaching staff with the means to travel and explore the world.

Our founder also ensured an excellent diversity in the batches. The school admits students across the length and breadth of the country, including rural India. Batches have students from sixteen to eighteen states of India on an average, going up to twenty-three states in some batches. The school has strived for the best gender ratio too. Most batches comprise between 40 to 50% of women students. The school enrolls students from various streams besides Engineering and Management.

Although we lost our founder seven years ago, his vision of learning beyond classrooms has been the school’s philosophy. Imparting lessons at the school is a small part of the learning curve. JK Business School has established the student’s learning is comprehensive and ongoing vide groups as well as one-to-one sessions. The school supports students in remedial education wherever necessary.

JK B school has endorsed tech-driven functioning from its inception. We have invested extensively in technology since Abhishek Singhania took over as chairman. The tech-driven B-school makes it one-of-a-kind compared with other schools in the proximity.

Although online teaching existed earlier, the pandemic has pushed schools to operate virtually in the past year. Can you tell us how your institution has managed the crisis and what pedagogical changes you had to adapt to the present way of functioning?

The education sector, like every other sector, has faced a challenging year. JK Business School was prepared for imparting lessons virtually well before the pandemic struck. We had embraced technology in imparting lessons by installing Google Suite and maintaining a blended learning program.

What changes did JK B-School adopt?

The lockdown prevented physical contact with people. Adopting technology beyond learning has helped our school in coping with the crisis.

The classroom sessions shifted from 15-20% online learning to 100%.

Group discussions (GDs) and Personal Interviews (PIs) are an integral part of the selection process of the PGDM recruitment program. Organizations conduct PIs and GDs at campuses to hire the cream for their companies. Training students and preparing them for PIs and GDs for recruitments is extensive and protracted. But coaching students when they are in different locations can be onerous. Our school began the process six before the recruitment drive. We coordinated with students, faculty, alumni, and experts from outside, all spread across different locations, to steer the recruitment training. We told the students that these were challenging times and prepared them to tackle the processes. We equipped them with sufficient knowledge and fine-tuned the soft skills and delivery required for GDs and PIs. We impressed on them how video interviews were different from face-to-face interactions. Technology helped us big time in tutoring students for the final recruitment.

Students delivered the desired outcome we prepared them for. Ten students graduating this year have made it to Ernst & Young. Ten is the highest number of students in a batch to land EY, given four to five students in a batch usually do.

‘Fitbit’ is a thirty-minute fitness session for students every evening. We do not use any equipment here. Some students work out with machines under the guidance of trainers. The sessions continue online now.

JK B-School has over twenty clubs that conduct various activities, all of which have shifted online too. We have conducted debates online where the school’s four houses participated.

We have an excellent team of faculty and other staff who have strived to shift activities online. Most of us have put in ten to twelve hours of work instead of the former eight to ten hours that we used to work. One-on-one online sessions call for rigorous preparation compared with physical interactions.

About twenty percent of the batches have joined the hostel as we speak. We expect fifty percent attendance in about two weeks. There is the hope of returning to normalcy soon.

MBA graduates seek jobs related to strategies, research, or consulting. But from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry requires graduates who could generate revenue on the first day of work. But that is not the case with many traditional graduates. Have you made any changes in the curriculum to suit the industry requirement?

No, we have not made any curriculum change. 

Last year was a surprise for all. We all had to adapt to the new normal. But we can hardly overhaul the syllabus or curriculum during testing times. We have taken sufficient initiatives to ensure we achieved the learning outcomes we had planned.

The industry requires employees as well as recruits to acclimatize with the new work from home environment. Since students have been studying from home, they have adapted to the work from home situation too. The present generation of students are prepared and have the edge over the older ones. They can plan and conduct meetings online, connect with people across different locations, execute all the work they need to do and are in sync with the digital working scenario.

The problem of theory-practice disconnect is a perennial one from the time my generation had pursued MBA degrees. The theory imbibed in the classroom may not gel with the corporate world. This divide between school lessons and the workplace is an ongoing battle and schools are unlikely to shed it twenty years from now.

Academics and curriculum are unfortunately not in sync. Sometimes the academia leads and the corporate follows. And other times, corporates show the way and academicians write textbooks and carry them in the classroom. But the lag in follow-up exists.

Corporates’ patience is waning, thanks to technological progress. This development creates expectations of work-ready recruits. For example, working with Excel macros skills is mandatory for an executive. You mentioned excel macros skills in your resume once, but now it is presumed you are comfortable working with macros. Corporations look for ready-to-plunge executives in graduates. We have been working on preparing our students to get corporate ready when they graduate.

What are the reasons students should choose your school over any other B-school that a student is considering for now?

The ROI in any MBA program is the job offer it accrues. The corporate connections our faculty have built and how they engage with recruiters pay dividends in the dream offers the students receive. Our industry partners are more than happy to recruit our graduates who display the potential the recruiters seek.

Our faculty members are continuously working on bringing top recruiters while also training and preparing students to come through the selection process. I would like to stress the quality of placement, not securing any job. Ten graduates from the current batch have secured placements in EY. The international package on offer is Rs. 24 lakhs and Rs. 16 lakhs for the domestic market. We have achieved this in a problem year too. The industry had a setback, but a ‘V’ shaped recovery came through too. Placements are back on campus, and we are gradually getting back to earlier times.

The student pays Rs. 5.5 lakhs as fees and walks out with a Rs. 20 lakhs package, and this is the best ROI a student looks for.

The school boasts of a campus in the heart of the country. Gurugram is a place filled with industries looking to recruit young minds. All students must engage in a minimum of one project, and some students take up two to three projects. 

We have a diverse student body from across 18 states in the country, with a perfect blend of culture and gender ratio of girls up to 50%. Both boys’ and girls’ hostels have 24/7 security. Keeping aside the pandemic times, residential courses facilitate learning beyond the classroom. 

Trainability is an essential aspect of the selection process. How do you evaluate a candidate’s profile? Are there any pedagogical changes you make in the selection process?

The selection of the student is an essential parameter for the success of any business school. The kind of diversity that we have seen in the batch also throws in some challenges. It requires a serious and concerted effort to provide a good learning outcome system to the students who arrive on the campus and spend a good part of two years with us.

One of the initiatives the school has taken up this year is unique in India. Assessing students’ managerial competence is a parameter in a few universities in the US and Europe. We have taken up evaluating students on their managerial competence.

Most business schools in India base their candidate selection on the student’s CAT/ MAT scores, WAT (Written Ability Test), GD, and PI processes. We have dropped GD.

Our WAT comprises a 24-hour game for which we have a licence. The game keeps students occupied with discussions on their business acumen, a basic understanding of business, and strategies. The game enables the students to book their interview slots at the end of 24 hours.

People learn management and business studies at the school level today. Students get early exposure to business processes and basic functioning. We integrate business operations and strategy into the game. The game induces them to invest financial and human resources, make a business out of it, and max their business performances over four to six quarters.

The faculty members conduct interviews at the slot the students take. The IT-driven, three-member faculty interview process is engaging. 

This is our selection process for this year.

The education industry has had a rough ride over the last year. What do you see as a new normal for the education industry in the days ahead?

JK B-School had embraced the new normal in the education sector well before COVID-19 hit us – blended learning. We had envisaged 20% of blended learning. Going forward, we might have to maintain 30-40% of imparting lessons virtually.

We are looking at self-learning programs, which would append and accentuate the basic business program. We are in the process of partnering with LinkedIn for the LinkedIn learning program. People used to include Google certifications and Microsoft certifications in their resumes. Now they would consist of LinkedIn certifications, which would be in diverse areas.

Learning happens both online and offline. Any learning requires a teacher to underscore the student’s certification. The teacher or mentor would guide students in their approach to learning, focus on the outcomes, and advise the student on the future course of action.

Among the several points that add value to a resume, our school provides authentic certification opportunities too.

Do you have any message that you want to share with aspirants preparing for MBA entrance exams?

Do not estimate or guesstimating what the B school is trying to achieve, because all business schools have different parameters for different reasons in their selection process. It is not about whether you are good enough, or you are the brightest one, or you are the greatest one, or you are the most intelligent one, that you will get into a business school. It is whether you have the right fit.

If you are a good student, and you want to make a career, apply to many B schools and you stand a chance of selection at a few of them. When you get interview calls, focus on converting them, try to get through a couple of business schools, and take your pick. Both the B-school industry and the schools themselves are huge, there are several players. But do not target just one B school because the approach of different business schools is varied. Focusing on one or two schools can land you in the soup. Focus instead on what and where you want to be.

Look for the business schools that fit the kind of profile that you seek. Work on getting admission in some of them. You will get admission in some of them that fulfil the criteria you have set for your dream school. Finding the right institute does not depend on how good you are but on where you fit.

What do you want this generation, the millennials, to learn from this pandemic? 

This is a once in a lifetime experience. We might have heard of pandemics from our grandparents. My grandfather told me about the pandemic:

‘It wiped out most of the population

The challenges India faced in the British Raj

Taught everyone a lesson in resilience’

Resilience is critical in surviving a pandemic. When the pandemic set in, we advised students to postpone their travel plans. We had to cancel classroom lectures. We shifted to online classes.

Some of the faculty members were wary of the virtual classroom. An exasperated program convenor refused to go online. She said that seeing students in the class energized her, but a computer screen was too impersonal to motivate her. But with sufficient counseling, all the faculty members accepted the situation.                                   

Students took classes from their homes, and the faculty delivered lectures online. We have come a long way from conducting virtual classes and GDs. Everybody in the school has participated in various activities, and all the faculty members have attended meetings. Faculty members have conducted one to one mentoring of students.

We have survived this journey because of our resilience. I would like to tell students to remain optimistic, be resilient, and wait for the situation to improve.

There are many opportunities in this world. It is easy to succeed in a country like India where competition is limited. Chances of you failing are slim if you 

Apply common sense

Believe in what you do

Are optimistic

Work hard 

Work towards realizing your dream in the business or the passion that you hold dear.

You get money easily abroad, but the competition is much higher.

Strive to succeed in an environment where you meet others like you. But given the market share in our country, you can certainly do well.

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