“All two-year MBA programs can be condensed into 12 months” – First part of the interview

Dr Bala, B-Schools in India do not consider students as stakeholders. How much of a role are you in favour of giving to students?

You know what. I want them to completely run the institute. That’s why I want to create leaders, not managers. I want them to be good managers, but leaders who go beyond management.

How different would it be from your experience at JL Kellogg Graduate School of Management, with the kind of students who are there or how it is run?

See, I don’t see a family bonding even at Kellogg. Right or wrong. Maybe it is more wrong than right; I have a ‘benevolent dictator’ role at Kellogg. Now, when I have that power (at Great Lakes), why should I not use it? Why should I be benevolent? I am going to leave the whole thing to them (students). So suppose I make a legacy that all the alumni and faculty who worked with me take the whole institute, then they become owners. And when they are owners, I don’t see the need to worry about anything. Some will be rich owners, some will be poor owners. The rich owners put money, the poor owners put service and their time and it is going to flourish.

But there is only one Dr Bala Balachandran.

I don’t care. Many people do not agree with me. My own feeling is they may think I am an idiot.

What if they are not you?

I don’t care. But, I am creating me in this place. I can show you some people. I think they are going to outperform me. I am confident of that. They have the energy and the excitement and also the right values. They have the feeling of giving, rather than taking. See, the problem comes when you want to grab somebody else’s share. When you say, I am competing for giving, rather than taking, then where is the issue?

I am not going to say that all the 128 graduating students are going to be like this. But all I need is ten fellows, five fellows per year. And India can be great. India has the potential, the resources and if the Government and the bureaucrats do not block everything, then they can take over.

How do you think Indian students compare with their peers at Kellogg?

I would say the Indian students are very analytical and use the left side of their brain a lot more than their right side. They lack in soft skills. Whereas the Western student can talk smoothly and use the right side of his brain more. Indians do not communicate properly, they remain shy and have very poor body movement.

How much time do you spend between Kellogg and Great Lakes?

I am at Great Lakes three months of an year. The three months being staggered through out the year.


What B-schools in India do you see as competition to Great Lakes?

We love competition. I want to view at least three IIMs as competition. They are better than us, no question about it. So I want to see what I can take from their success. Similarly, ISB has done some really great things and I would rather like to see what I can learn from ISB. I won’t view these as competition because competition comes only if the resources are scarce. India needs at least 30-40 great business schools. Great Lakes as an institute, won’t shy from selling itself. In my opinion, the real world class institutions of India are the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

What about the IITs and the IIMs?

IITs and IIMs are great because of their students. I do not know whether the faculty is putting the same amount of time, not because they need more money. For example, the kind of salaries I get in an international institution allows me to do research. So therefore I really feel a research active faculty is needed for world-class publications. If our faculty is able to publish in the top-tier journals of the world, then I will call it world-class.

Why aren’t Indian B-schools able to produce high quality research?

Because they are all trying to make money.

What about the IIMs?

Well, I do not know. One thing I can tell you. It is the IIM professors that are doing the work in Kellogg. So why do the same people, when in India could not do it, when they go to US they do research and become a role model for others. The reason, in my opinion, is the kind of environment and the kind of leadership that exists there does not exist at these places here. The students or alumni guide themselves. The salaries given to the faculty here do not enable them to have a big luxurious flat with a nice car which we can afford in US and therefore now if I have extra money, I give. As I said, how many people are able to donate money in crores?

India doesn’t have a donating culture.

No. No.

Is there something to the effect that Indians who graduate out of Indian B-schools don’t want to donate back to their alma mater?

I won’t say they don’t want to give. Because, in my opinion, I feel, we all owe a moral liability. The tuition fee paid in an IIM or an IIT is not market tuition fee, it is subsidized. So the students owe something back. For example if the tuition fee is $26,000 per year in Kellogg or Harvard and I’m paying less than $3000, I owe them the $23,000 then. Nobody thinks that way in India.

Nobody teaches that way too.

Yes, I know. But I think when you become a little old, and when you earn a good amount of money, it changes. Now India is going to make a lot of money in India itself. For example, one of my students at Kellogg/Carnegie Mellon makes more money in India now than what he was making in US. He is going to give money to some school in India.

What are your main focus areas that you are going to concentrate on for students at Great Lakes?

Team Leadership, meritocracy and customer centricity.

What are your future plans?

I pray for five years time to put at Great Lakes. I’ll pull it off and leave it to the people for them to run.

Dr Bala, it has been great talking to you. Thank you very much talking to PaGaLGuY.com and we wish you all the very best with Great Lakes.

Thank you. It is my pleasure.

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