CAT 2020, Pandemic, and more – Prof. Himanshu Rai, Director, IIM-Indore, in an Exclusive Interview with Allwin Agnel, Founder and CEO, PaGaLGuY.

In this exclusive interview, Prof. Himanshu Rai, Director – Indian Institute of Management – Indore (IIM-I) talks about his journey with IIM-I so far, preparations to conduct CAT 2020 amidst this pandemic and a few valuable tips for the CAT 2020 aspirants, with Allwin Agnel, the Founder, and CEO of PaGaLGuY.

How has your journey with IIM Indore been so far? 

My Journey with IIM Indore (IIM-I) has been extremely satisfying so far. IIM Indore’s mission statement focuses on IIM-I being ‘Contextually Relevant’, having World-Class Academic standards, and being Socially Conscious.

My journey so far has been through these three paradigms. We have ensured that all our courses are contextually relevant. We continue adding different electives as required by the industry and are pivotal for students’ learning.

Based on Industry requirements, we have included numerous Certificate Programmes on Big Data, People Analytics, Product Analytics, etc. We have also started a few programmes in Dubai, thus expanding our geographical reach. 

We have earned the triple crown accrediation as per world-class academic standards: Accreditation of AMBA (reaccreditation), AACSB, and EQUIS for IIM-I under my tenure.

These Accreditations not only place us in the Top 100 B-Schools in the world but also bear testimony to the Institute’s efforts in the last couple of years. 

The third element has been the dearest to me. We run multiple programs to imbibe the required qualities of being socially conscious, and becoming responsible leaders of tomorrow. 

A lot of the factors are not considered while ranking Institutes in NIRF. How do you look at the rankings and what is your plan of action to maintain the momentum and improve on the NIRF list?

We are looking at the different elements of the Triple Accreditation and NIRF and trying to improve on each of these. I am not merely focusing on the NIRF Rankings.

My bedrock has been gauging ourself on the NIRF dimensions every academic year and improving on each of these dimensions is far more important to me than the overall rankings. 

It is relatively easy for a new B-School to be on top of the charts simply because of smaller student intake but for an institute like IIM Indore, which has the highest intake among all IIMs, getting a higher rank is that much more difficult, because faculty-student ratio is a big determinant in all the dimensions.

The caliber of the faculty that IIMs recruit is usually the best of the best, and it is impossible to find such world-class faculty in large numbers. Therefore, we look at the rankings in a multi-faceted way, emphasizing the strategic focus of fulfilling the required standards for the accreditations, and the rankings. 

You’ve spearheaded CAT in 2010. What are some major challenges that you face this year while conducting CAT amidst this pandemic? How have you planned to conduct it? 

We’ve announced that CAT 2020 will be conducted on November 29, 2020, and the biggest challenge is laid out by the pandemic itself. The pandemic is still an unknown territory and it would be futile to make projections for November. Therefore, we will be focussing on areas that we can control. 

The major challenges that I foresee are: establishing social distancing and confronting issues of COVID symptoms. So, we have ensured that our testing partners implement strict social distancing at exam centers irrespective of the prevailing condition then.

We’ve also ensured that newer technology (like iris identification) facilitates overcoming the possible spread of COVID through cases like using fingerprints in the identification of the candidate. We have also made provisions for isolation facilities at all test centers. 

We have not seen much growth in the number of MBA aspirants taking the CAT in the last 5 years. Do you think the value of traditional MBA courses has dimmed, especially during this pandemic?

I disagree, and here’s why:

We have seen the variation in the number of applicants in the past as well. And there are multiple reasons for it. 

The moment the CAT took the online route, several candidates who were not interested in joining a management institute but taking the exams for other reasons, stopped taking the exam.  Further, people have realized that an MBA is worth doing only from a good institution.  

I foresee an increase in the demand for an MBA education in the country by simply going by the global dynamics and geopolitical issues surrounding the pandemic. In the time of the pandemic, people chose to do their MBA rather than postpone it, citing the unknown future of the domestic and world economy. 

What do you foresee as the new normal in education delivery? Do you feel the IIMs are better placed than the private institutes because they are Govt. funded? 

We’ve always had blended programmes – online + offline classes at IIM-I. What this pandemic has changed is the degree of acceptance of the online and blended programmes.

IIM-I was among the first ones to shift their programs to the online mode amidst this pandemic, and the major challenge that we faced was the acceptance and not the technology. I am happy to see my faculty swiftly adapting to this change and coming up with newer pedagogies.

It is really important to understand that online teaching is not classroom teaching done in front of the camera.  It is a different pedagogy altogether.

For eg: If you used a combination of case methods and role-plays in the class previously, now you might not be able to do role plays in the online mode, and thus you might have to rely more on case method and lectures.

Hence, it is critical for the institutes of higher education to understand which courses fit well in the online mode, and defer the courses suited to the offline mode to the post-pandemic period.  

Institutes will also have to focus on creating efficient learning management systems to aid students with poor bandwidth. Private institutions should view this situation as an opportunity.

As an institute of national importance, we ought to help other institutes to enhance their academic standards. Therefore, we started a Faculty Development Programme, an online programme – ‘how to teach online’.

Traditionally MBA graduates have preferred doing jobs on Research, Creating Strategies, and Consultation, but not sales. Industries are now hiring individuals who can generate revenue from day one. How do you deal with this industry need and your traditional curriculum?

I partially agree with you but this is not the case today. Companies, especially start-ups, look for a shorter turnaround time and thus reduce the on-boarding and training period. For example, when I joined Tata Steel after my graduation, our training period was one year, and two years for the previous batches. 

But today that has changed. The need is not for selling skills; industries now demand the skills to collaborate, work in a team, negotiate, and influence people. And this in turn may lead to selling. At IIM-I we include these skills in the courses in our electives.

You’ve expressed in one of your interviews that ‘An Institute should be able to contribute to society, city, state, and the nation as a whole and be socially responsible’. How do you instill this value system in your Institute? 

At IIM-I we are actively trying to solve problems at regional, state and country level. We are determined to solve at least one problem that the nation/state/city/region faces. For eg: what struck me after taking charge as the Director of IIM-I was the problem of traffic that Indore faced.

Within 100 days of my taking charge, we presented a solution to the concerned departments on how to improve the situation of traffic in the city. We have also received a mandate from the Uttar Pradesh government to aid them in addressing issues of traffic in five cities as well as replicating the Indore model of cleanliness in some of the cities there.

The institute would also work to revive and energize local and traditional industries under the Uttar Pradesh government’s flagship one-district-one-product scheme. The institute also hosts a rural engagement program where the students stay in the villages of Madhya Pradesh, interact with them, understand their problems, and offer solutions to them. This is our attempt to practice what we preach. 

In what ways do you think has IIM Indore contributed during this pandemic? 

A set of our faculty researched multiple issues around the pandemic, for instance,a colleague has done brilliant research in terms of a predictive model – that spoke about how many COVID-19 cases are we likely to have in the state of Madhya Pradesh and the nation.

Likewise, we are also researching on how to address the issue of collective anxiety that people face during this pandemic. We’ve also collaborated with FICCI and Apollo Hospitals on an exit policy for MSMEs in Madhya Pradesh. I am glad that our suggestions were implemented during un-lockdown.

During an interview, what are the key things you are looking for in a candidate? 

We look for the candidate’s:

  • Scholastic capability 
  • General awareness 
  • Communication skills 
  • Ability to work under stress

You’ve mentioned ‘Mahabharata’ as your favourite book. What Management lessons have you drawn from it which are contextually relevant to today’s times? What suggestions do you have for CAT 2020 aspirants?

I discuss this at length in two of the courses that I take on the topic. 

I’ve used the lessons from Mahabharata for my Ph.D. in Negotiations, which I now teach in my Negotiations course.  My book on Negotiations is based on the lesson from Mahabharata. It talks about five dimensions of negotiating ability: Artfulness, Diplomacy, Detachedness, Fair-mindedness, and Sagacity. 

I tell my students and CAT aspirants, that we learn from the Gita that the only thing that is in your hands is hard work.  ’कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन!’ – You put in your best and do not bother about the results. Continue to work hard. Failure is not final but merely an opportunity to learn. Take it as a lesson that teaches you your shortcomings. Life is beautiful and there is a lot more to it than the pursuit of a degree.

All the best!

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