‘The number of good b-schools in India is too less’: UCLA’s Dr Uday Karmarkar, who may join MISB Bocconi as dean

Dr Uday Karmarkar
Dr Uday Karmarkar, founder and director of the Business and Information Technologies Project (BIT) at the University of California’s Anderson School of Management. BIT studies the impact of new online information and communication technologies on business practices worldwide. Karmarkar is in consideration to be the dean of MISB Bocconi in Mumbai, which is the Indian presence of the SDA Bocconi School of Management, Italy.
Dr Karmarkar, who originates from Mumbai, was visiting India to observe the schools progress. Before anything, Dr Karmarkar was quick to add that he was being considered for the role of Acting Dean for a certain period in the coming academic year. If and when that happens, he will take a leave of absence from UCLA. At present, he is the academic advisor for the school.

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What business sense does it make to open a campus in Mumbai considering that none of the top-ranking b-schools of the world are here?

There are lots of business schools here, some of which are very creative. There is SP Jain which is also international, there is Narsee Monjee, Sydenham or Jamnalal Bajaj. Yes, these are not among the top three of India but they are all good schools. Top three, I would rate IIM Ahmedabad and then IIM Bangalore and then ISB Hyderabad, though ISB is different in model and format. Say, you have stayed and worked abroad for some ten years, saved up some money, and now want to do an MBA back home. Would you want to go to the IIM Ahmedabad dormitories? No. ISB is a that kind of school to go to.

Wasnt Singapore still a better choice considering its international student base?

Singapore is a great place for shopping and food courts. It has students from everywhere but the fees are also high. Singapore has set a standard it is like the Switzerland of Asia, but where is the business activity? Bombay has the activity, it is now surrounded by activity. From big companies to street manufacturers, chemical plants, Bollywood, its all here. There is the Bombay Stock Exchange. I am biased towards Bombay, of course. IIMs are located in far-off places, such as Kozhikode. I understand the need for regional development but for business development, what could be better than Mumbai? In Mumbai, it is unfortunate that MISB Bocconi could not be located in Bandra-Kurla Complex or Nariman Point because the real estate is so costly.

Does this mean that you are not trying to portray MISB Bocconi as an international school?

MISB will be a very Indian school. Yes, there will be international faculty and facilities but the school will be very Indian. Europeans are interested in doing business with India. Indians can smoothly move from one to the other. They can get along with people without having to speak their language. My wife is Sindhi and I am Marathi. I dont know Sindhi and she does not know Marathi but we have been together for 40 years. MISB will have both IIM and ISB influences.

Internationally, schools are known for something, such as Stanford for entrepreneurship and Wharton for Finance. What will MISB Bocconi want to be known for?

Indian schools do not have a reputaiton. You are right about international b-schools but Stanford is also know for its finance and marketing. MISB will earn its reputation when placements happen two years from now. Italian companies are going to be investing in a big way. We will be known as a school with great finance connections — so we would possibly be known for financial services. The faculty will have strong corporate world connections. Mind you, many b-schools in Mumbai are well-connected to the corporate scene. Bocconi Univeristy is all about management and economics, it is not about science or engineers. The dean of the school in Italy is a supply-chain guy and I am into technology and operations so we will strive for a broad spectrum. Indian schools have failed to focus. I did tell a school in Mumbai to specialse in financial services and be known for it. But the response was “We will get the faculty and decide on which direction it wants to go.”

But why should students come to your school? Italian schools are not exactly the most sought after by Indians.

We already have a huge number of students who apply to Bocconi in Italy. Now they can come here. Yes, traditionally, Europe is not the first choice for Indians, US is. In the earlier years, UK was. But it is all changing now. Those who want to get into the good schools can come to us. What if an international student wants to study in the IIT b-school? It is a great school but think of its hostels, will an international student want to stay there?

So are you looking at IIM rejects?

Yes, those who do not get into the IIMs due to the flawed exam system will be the ones opting for MISB. Those who do not get in because they have scored in the 96th percentile and not the 98th percentile. We want equal number of poets and equal number of quants. We will take people from 80th percentile if we have to make sure that we do not have a class full of engineers. What if we are talking about music management or a retail fashion store? How will engineers fit there? There are different qualities that we are looking at.

But this is unlikely to give MISB a great reputation by Indian standards.

Our reputation will come in with our placements. First year, there will be summer placements and next year the final placements. There are a number of Italian companies which are going to be doing business in India and Bocconi will be their first choice for employees. Indian has been under the radar for many years but Italy sees India differently.

But the interest in MBA is going down globally, so why now?

The number of good schools in India is so less. There are the top older IIMs and there is ISB and there aren’t so many seats. Where do students then go? What if you wanted to go to a good school if the top IIMs are not going to take you and you cannot make it to ISB? As for the reducing MBA interest, it’s because of the rather long recession in the US. I guess people are holding their plans to do an MBA now but they will eventually get one.

It is ironic that you want to come into India at a time when b-schools here are shutting down.

It is a temporary phase. The numbers will go up eventually. And it is good that schools are closing. They should. Except for the top schools, where are the good schools? It is better that they close than not. We have a handful of schools which are good. There are hundreds which are bad. The good ones will thrive.

Apart from MISB Bocconi, you have also been associating yourself with rather new and unproven schools in India. Why do professors from b-schools abroad or b-schools themselves want to associate with Indian b-schools?

I have been associated with b-schools in India for a long time. I have been with Shailesh J Mehta School of Management, IIT Bombay for a while. As for the school in Karjat (near Mumbai), it does not have a name and yet to be a brand but I liked what it was doing and therefore agreed. If this school survives, all the problems will go. I will work with any school in India that asks me to. There is a lot of interest for the Indian education scene abroad. Many want to do business in India. Some professors are driven by contribution. I am interested in business education.

The shortage of good faculty is also a glaring issue in India. How will you tackle that? What about the poor record of management research in India?

We will get faculty from Bocconi Italy. There we have faculty from all over the world (Russia, US, UK, Europe, Asia) and they will come here to teach. Research in India is an alarming situation. The number of hours I put into teaching back in the US is equal to that put in by faculty in India but I also have a commitment towards research. Lower pay to faculty coupled with some other factors makes it what it is. At MISB we could poach faculty from other b-schools or get Indian graduates who are teaching abroad who want to come back home. India is an explosion about to happen. We have a nasty government which is laying our money to waste but the money is there nevertheless.

Why are you offering a certificate programme at MISB and not a full-fledged diploma?

Yes, some rules in India by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) are not permitting us to give degree in India. Apparently, AICTE also wants to decide which textbooks should be taught in b-schools. Back home in the US, even my dean does not tell me what should be there in the book I teach from. There are no equal opportunities in the education system of India. In a place like California there is a three-tier education system. There are the elite, state and community colleges for different sets of people. Those who go to the state and community colleges can bootstrap and move ahead in life. It is a question of opportunity. You put an Indian in the US and he will do well, such as the CEOs of Citibank or Coca Cola who are all first-generation recruits.

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