Join us for a captivating conversation in the latest edition of #EducationThoughtSeries, where Prof. Lakshmi Kumar imparts her invaluable perspectives on leadership, education, and the dynamic realm of business management.


MBA as a programme boasts a storied history spanning over 75 years, characterised by a relentless evolution in response to the shifting demands of the dynamic business landscape. In India alone, the proliferation of over 5000+ B schools underscores the significant demand for management education yet also raises questions about the necessity of such a multitude of institutions. However, within this proliferation lies a fascinating transformation.

Initially, graduates of MBA programmes were often funnelled into generalist positions within departments such as sales, finance, or HR. They would typically spend a year or two gaining experience before progressing within the same department or exploring opportunities elsewhere within the organisation. However, recent years have witnessed a paradigm shift, particularly with the rise of generative AI.

The emergence of specialised roles has reshaped the hiring landscape, with employers now seeking individuals who possess not only general management skills but also expertise in specific domains. This shift reflects the evolving needs of businesses in an increasingly complex and competitive environment, where depth of knowledge is valued alongside broad managerial acumen.

In response to these changing demands, educational institutions like IFMR Graduate School of Business have adapted their programmes to equip students with the necessary breadth and depth of skills required to excel in today’s dynamic business environment. As the Dean of IFMR since 2022, Prof. Lakshmi Kumar stands as a beacon of knowledge and innovation, guiding aspiring professionals towards excellence.

With a tenure spanning over two decades at IFMR, Prof. Lakshmi brings a wealth of experience and insight to her role. Her journey within the institution, which began in January 2000, has seen her assume various administrative positions, culminating in her appointment to the esteemed office of Dean. Throughout her career, Prof. Lakshmi has demonstrated a passion for unraveling the intricacies of financial behaviour among low-income households, analysing rural livelihoods, and scrutinising Government-provided basic services.

In this latest edition of #EducationThoughtSeries, We delve into the insights and wisdom of Prof Lakshmi Kumar as she shares her perspectives on leadership, education, and the ever-evolving landscape of business management. 

Q1. You have been part of the education sector since 2000; what made you choose the path of academia as a career?

Ans: My journey into academia was quite serendipitous. At 21, upon relocating to Mumbai with intentions to pursue an MBA from a prestigious institution, I unexpectedly encountered a pivotal moment. A  chance encounter with the principal of my apartment complex led to a suggestion: ‘Why not give teaching a  shot?’ Intrigued, I embraced the opportunity. Stepping into the classroom at the age of 22 for my inaugural lecture, I experienced an immediate connection. The dynamism of engaging with students and the gratification of imparting knowledge sparked an undeniable passion within me. From that point forward,  there was no wavering. Education became my unwavering focus, and the allure of academia held me captive ever since. 

Q2. In your opinion, what are the top three latest trends in the business world that will significantly impact the demand for MBAs in the next 3 – 6 years?

Ans: Well, with so many new technologies present today, it’s like making an astrological prediction. When you examine trends, it becomes apparent—allow me to echo my earlier response—that corporations are seeking individuals who can specialise and swiftly adapt to their evolving needs. While the MBA programme offers a general education, whether it adequately prepares you for the corporate world remains a question. 

However, one thing we impart to our students is the importance of agility. Upon entering the corporate sector, opportunities may differ from expectations. For instance, a role in risk management may evolve into something broader, like corporate finance. The key is to embrace any opportunity that arises, a mindset shift from years past. I often share my personal experience of initially handling tasks like photocopying and speech writing, despite aspiring to be an economist. Every job presents a learning opportunity. 

One significant trend I observe is the willingness of students to adapt. Flexibility is paramount for career advancement. Secondly, AI is increasingly influential, offering avenues to streamline tasks. We integrate AI  tools like ChatGPT into our classes to familiarise students with its capabilities and limitations. While some speculate about humans being replaced by technology, we believe it enhances efficiency rather than replaces us entirely. Just as banking evolved from ledger books to core banking systems, technology augments our capabilities. In the coming years, I foresee technology enhancing efficiency rather than supplanting human roles entirely. It’s crucial for us to harness these advancements to demonstrate our value to corporations.

Q3. In what ways does IFMR ensure that its students stay abreast of these trends and acquire the skills demanded by the industry, particularly given that the demand for professionals or experts capable of addressing these trends tends to increase in tandem with their emergence?

Ans: There are several ways in which IFMR accomplishes staying in line with the current trends in the business world. Firstly, it’s crucial for us to engage with corporate partners who recruit our students. They actively participate in understanding our curriculum so that we incorporate not just theoretical knowledge but also practical applications. Take, for instance, a subject like digital marketing. While it has its theoretical underpinnings, its practical aspects are equally important. To ensure this balance, we ensure that nearly all our elective courses involve collaboration between corporates and academia, ensuring that what we teach remains cutting-edge. 

Secondly, we maintain a board of studies comprising experts who provide valuable inputs. We regularly convene meetings where these experts contribute their insights, keeping our curriculum up-to-date and relevant. 

Thirdly, our alumni network plays a pivotal role. With over 2000 alumni spanning 22 years, we maintain close connections with them. Alumni are not only encouraged to teach elective courses but also participate in various committees, offering insights into current trends and industry needs. By leveraging the expertise of our alumni, we can effectively bridge the gap between academia and industry demands, ensuring that our curriculum remains at the forefront of industry advancements. 

Q5. What is IFMR’s stance on students utilising ChatGPT during class, and do you perceive it as potentially influencing their intellectual development or contributing to the seamless advancement of the course?

Ans: People think ChatGPT is like a superhero in the digital realm, swooping in to save the day with its incredible abilities. Can you even imagine a world without it? With AI constantly evolving, we’re on the brink of even more mind-blowing innovations that’ll turbocharge our productivity. But let’s address the elephant in the room: students are sometimes tempted to take the easy route by copying from ChatGPT for assignments. Just like we catch them copying from Google, our trusty software spots any shenanigans. While ChatGPT can dish out some seriously impressive answers, we’re all about nurturing independent thinking. We’re happy to show students how to use ChatGPT for tasks like whipping up email templates or event agendas in a flash. Seriously,  it’s like having a personal assistant on standby! But, when it comes to assignments, we’re all about fostering genuine learning experiences. It’s all about flexing those brain muscles and expressing ideas in your own unique way. 

Q4. As we delve into discussions about the MBA curriculum, we often delve into its integration with industry dynamics, student involvement, and practical business exposure. Can you elaborate on how your institution aligns its fundamental framework with the ever-evolving demands of the industry and what methodologies you employ to remain at the forefront in comprehending these industry needs?

Ans: We engage in a plethora of management development initiatives, serving as a magnet for corporate entities eager to augment their workforce capabilities. From bespoke executive MBA initiatives catering to corporate cohorts to bespoke sessions designed for mid to senior-level management, our institution has been a preferred partner for corporate upskilling endeavours over the past two decades. 

This enduring collaboration has endowed a considerable segment of our faculty with invaluable practical insights garnered through extensive exposure to corporate environments. Embedded within this experiential learning is a keen emphasis on practicality, compelling our professors to attentively heed the feedback provided by corporate stakeholders regarding the competency requisite for their workforce. 

Such symbiotic exchanges not only ensure the infusion of practical wisdom into our pedagogical approach but also afford our faculty the opportunity to distil industry-relevant competencies integral to our curriculum.  Beyond the confines of structured programs, this ongoing dialogue engenders an environment conducive to the cultivation of competitive skills indispensable for our students’ professional journey.

Q5. When a student considers pursuing a PGDM or an MBA program, one of the most important factors, if not the most important, is placement. How does IFMR ensure that its students have access to not only high-quality placement opportunities but also ones that align with their objectives?

Ans: Well, with our batch size of 240 students, we approach student objectives with precision, dividing our efforts into two distinct streams. Firstly, our focus remains steadfast on achieving the highest C2C (Convert to  Confirmed) placements, aiming to elevate our average C2C rates year after year. Secondly, we are deeply committed to securing roles that resonate with our students’ ambitions. Even if their dream role isn’t immediately available, we ensure they land positions that align closely with their aspirations. 

When engaging with our extensive network of corporate partners, numbering in the hundreds annually, we make the calibre of roles our students are seeking abundantly clear. Through sustained connections with industry leaders spanning consulting, finance, marketing, and beyond, we facilitate placements that match our students’ career goals. 

In essence, our commitment is unwavering: if a C2C placement rate falls short of expectations or if a role doesn’t sync with our students’ objectives, we gracefully step back from further discussions. This ensures that our students embark on their professional journeys with placements that not only meet but exceed their expectations. 

Q6. Given the importance of factors like placement and networking in the mentoring opportunities offered to students by MBA schools, how does IFMR ensure its mentoring programmes and alumni network are relevant and aligned with students’ needs, facilitating their growth in the industry?

Ans: So, over the past two to three years, we’ve been consistently organising alumni gatherings, which have seen excellent attendance. For instance, we had one in Mumbai in October 23 and another in December 23 in  Chennai, both of which were attended by approximately 80+ of our alumni. We prioritise staying connected with our alumni not just for our benefit, but to continuously improve our offerings. We frequently seek their input on how we can better serve them. Whenever we reach out to them for assistance with student placements, whether for internships or permanent positions, they’ve always been very supportive. 

Our alumni engagement is deeply integrated into our activities; we regularly engage with them through various channels, such as inviting them to give lectures or mentor students preparing for interviews. Approximately  50-60 alumni consistently provide invaluable guidance to our students on interview preparation. Additionally,  we facilitate a buddy system where interested students are paired with alumni who are eager to support them. However, we’re cautious about ensuring this connection only revolves around job-seeking, as we want to maintain the integrity of the relationship. Our alumni network extends worldwide, with members achieving notable success in various fields, including finance and entrepreneurship. We take great pride in the achievements of our alumni and the global impact they’ve made.

Q7. What criteria or considerations does IFMR prioritise when selecting students for its MBA program? What are the five factors that determine an ideal fit for IFMR?

Ans: As the dean, I’m not here to list off a checklist of five criteria; I have just one: attitude. It’s the spark we look for—the energy and the passion you exude for embarking on the MBA journey. MBA at IFMR isn’t just another academic pursuit; it’s a whirlwind of subjects ranging from statistics to finance, economics to marketing, and operations to hedgehog… well, maybe not hedgehog, but you get the idea. We’re talking about a curriculum that throws you into the deep end with six subjects right off the bat. Sure, we’re here to support you,  especially with those tricky math problems, but let’s face it, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill degree.

Take, for instance, the contrast between studying economics and management. While economics majors dive deep into the intricacies of their field, management students face a whole new playing field. It’s dynamic, it’s challenging, and it’s precisely why we’re on the lookout for learners with the right mindset. At IFMR, we thrive on case studies—they’re the bread and butter of our teaching approach. We want students who come prepared, who don’t just sit back and nod along to lectures but actively engage with the material. 

Why? Because that’s where the magic happens. It’s in those interactive discussions that connections are made, ideas are born, and problem-solving skills are honed. We’re not just building scholars here; we’re nurturing future industry leaders. So, when we say we’re only interested in your attitude, it’s not just a line— it’s the cornerstone of what makes an IFMR student stand out. Do you have what it takes? That’s the question we’re asking.

Q8. Examining India’s educational landscape, characterised by sustained government funding across budgets, India strives to emerge as a leading educational hub. What, according to you, are the five compelling factors that render it an appealing choice for pursuing an MBA?

Well, without a doubt, India’s education sector is booming. However, I still don’t believe that the government is allocating enough funds to the education sector. As a percentage of GDP, it remains abysmally low compared to similar countries. While you didn’t directly ask about it, education can be segmented into primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Setting up IITs and IIMs after independence was undoubtedly a commendable move as they have become centres of excellence. However, continuously establishing more  such institutions across the country may not be prudent. Each state already has one, and considering the quality in relation to government funding, there are concerns. The excessive funds allocated do not necessarily correlate with the quality observed, especially when compared to the development of education sectors in developed countries like the USA. While I hesitate to compare with the UK due to their current economic challenges, in the USA, each state has its own universities, often subsidised by the state, alongside some of the best private institutions. Do we really need more in India? It’s uncertain, especially considering the necessity of attracting quality international faculty. The Indian education system produces good faculty from select institutions, highlighting the need for a balance between hiring internationally and fostering domestic talent. 

However, our focus should also extend to primary and secondary education, where governmental investment is crucial. The private sector dominates much of tertiary education, and I believe it can adequately address the demand. Furthermore, facilitating international collaborations could significantly benefit the sector. By allowing partnerships between Indian and international universities, we could expedite progress by importing successful international practices. Rather than reinventing the wheel, leveraging existing institutions and fostering collaborations could elevate the quality and pace of advancement in the education  sector. 

Q9. As someone who has been in the industry for over 15 years and serves as the dean of IFMR, how would you define success, and how do you measure your personal or professional success?

That’s a very difficult question to answer because I never looked at success in the sense of achieving a title.  However, I would be wrong to say that when I joined IFMR as a faculty member, I didn’t aspire to publish and advance in tenure. Yes, I did want that. So, according to me, academic success is when you have good publications and when people actually cite your work. That’s the primary measure of success. Additionally,  being able to teach effectively is crucial. Sometimes, one may excel in research but struggle as a teacher.  Therefore, another form of success for me is when former students approach me years later, whether it’s in  a mall or a restaurant, and say, “Ma’am, I remember your class and what it taught me.” That fills me with happiness. I think that’s another way I measure success. I don’t gauge success by titles; they just come with the job. It’s a responsibility we all should strive to fulfil. 

Q10. How would you define an MBA in less than 10 words? 

A One-stop degree To get into a higher trajectory of growth.

In conclusion, Prof Lakshmi Kumar’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of education, research,  and leadership. As Dean of IFMR Graduate School of Business, her unwavering commitment to academic excellence and societal impact serves as an inspiration to students, faculty, and industry professionals alike. 

Prof Lakshmi sheds light on critical issues facing economies and communities, fostering a deeper understanding of complex phenomena and driving positive change. Her dedication to bridging the gap between theory and practice, evidenced by her active involvement in field-based studies and management development programs, underscores her role as a catalyst for innovation and progress. Her insights will continue to shape the landscape of business education and research, guiding us towards a brighter, more sustainable tomorrow.

IFMR is accepting applications for MBA batch 2024-26, APPLY NOW 

Discover the ins and outs of the IFMR MBA Programme! Connect with fellow MBA enthusiasts, dive into campus life, and get firsthand insights from current students at IFMR GSB. Let’s chat. Join: [Official] IFMR GSB – Premier Business School in India for MBA | Batch 2024-26 | PaGaLGuY

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