[Exclusive] 'Being a top b-school is partly path-dependent' - IIM Ahmedabad PGP Chair

We take a look into how the wheels turn inside the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad, Indias top-ranked business school in an informal chat with Prof Ajay Pandey, the PGP Chair on an idyllic May afternoon on campus. *IIM Ahmeda…

We take a look into how the wheels turn inside the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad, Indias top-ranked business school in an informal chat with Prof Ajay Pandey, the PGP Chair on an idyllic May afternoon on campus.

IIM Ahmedabad has always been known as a general management school. But do you tailor your program to serve area-specific specialization?

The starting point of students once they are in an IIM is more or less the same and first year of the program has courses, which allow them to evolve an overall perspective on businesses and organizations. In second year the student, based on his or her career choice and interest, opts for a set of electives, which is indicative of his or her interest even though there is no formal specialization. That way, no IIM offers specialization. But that doesnt prevent recruiters from testing, which student is strong in a certain area or has more interest in an area or sector. What matters in the Indian context is that a student is interested in a certain sector and role and the recruiter is interested in that student as well. What also happens is that the perception about a certain IIM is largely created by applicants and recruiters. So if in a certain year say, an IIM happens to have large number of students interested in finance jobs or roles in financial sector and they get recruited in such roles by best known recruiters, then other potential recruiters and applicants begin calling that IIM a strong finance school.

So do you change the curriculum every year based on recruiter feedback?

We dont change the curriculum every year, but incremental changes do take place all the time. For example at the area level, the areas (finance, marketing etc) keep a watch on the environment related to them as well on the state-of-the-art of knowledge in their respective areas and incorporate them keeping in mind the objectives of the program.

At some level, however, recruiter feedback does come into play. When a recruiter makes a statement, students react in terms of elective choices or in terms of learning objectives. Courses that were not in demand may suddenly come into demand or there may be a relative shift in learning objectives of the students.

What do you think keeps IIM Ahmedabad on top as the best B-school in the country year on year?

Its tough to put that down objectively, but there is some path-dependency also involved. Once you are perceived to be on top, it is tough to dislodge you. An institute perceived to be at the top finds in easier to attract best applicants, which in turn keeps it at the top as it becomes widely known as attracting the best talent. To a lesser extent, the same could be also said about the ability of an institution to attract other resources.

This is not to say that the programs have no role to play in making an institution well-known. The applicants, faculty and the program(s) are jointly the determinants of quality of an institution.

What are the main differentiating factors between the PGP of IIM Ahmedabad and those of the other IIMs?

There is no conscious effort to position the IIM Ahmedabad PGP in a certain way which is amenable to ready classification. Any educational program gets positioned not only by its content and associated rigour but also by the processes, experiences through which participants go through and also by the kind of participants and the outcomes, which get associated with a program over time. The program, as a result, acquires some positioning implicitly over time. How it gets done is an open question. My guess is that there is some element of self-fulfilling prophecy involved and a lot depends on the internal culture. Over time, each IIM has an emergent internal culture which is well known among applicants and which contributes to the perception for that IIM. It also tends to be self-perpetrating as the legacies are passed on.

In terms of practices followed at other IIMs, yes, one could say that we were the first to use the case method in India while Calcutta had a different academic approach. IIM Bangalore followed a system (of teaching and pedagogy) similar to that of IIM Calcutta but around 1992, it started moving closer to the case method. That happened because the IIMs are faculty driven institutions and a large number of faculty who joined IIM Bangalore back then took the collective decision to change the system.

Does one IIM look at the syllabus followed at other IIMs while developing courses?

It happens but not in a benchmarking mode. For example in finance, you have to begin from the elementary accounting, time value of money and so on. From that level, in a core course in finance, you have to take the batch to higher level on a number of topics within a specified number of sessions. The changes in core courses therefore are much less frequent as the core courses, by definition, try and cover a certain minimum required level of understanding of concepts, tools and techniques.

Unlike core courses, electives offer much more possibilities for changes and indeed, quite a lot of content change in the program takes place through electives.

So are the core courses the same across all IIMs?

Yes, they are largely the same.

Which means that the big chance to create a differentiator is in the second year.

Potentially yes, but in reality it is open issue as to how much differentiation can be brought about just through content changes. Real differentiation takes place only when there are large enough segments in the applicant group, recruiters (or users of the program) who self-select themselves to an institution based on the program content. If the segments within the user group (with respect to content) are small or are not supported by the underlying economics (payoffs are not commensurate), then the scope for differentiation degenerates into differentiation on price or payoffs and not on the content.

Who do you consider to be competitors of IIM Ahmedabad, locally and globally?

We dont know if wed like to apply market dynamics to an institution like IIM Ahmedabad, but at the same time we know that theres definitely a lot to do at least globally. The issue of slotting the institution is difficult, given the fact that we are a faculty driven place and there are multiple dimensions involved. There is no overriding narrowly deinfed vision which is driving the institute in a certain direction, unlike some business schools here in India or abroad, which may have chosen to define their mandate narrowly. In fact, IIM is an Institute of Management and it chose not to be called a business school when it was set up.

You increased the PGP batch size from about 200 seats to nearly 280 seats. How has the expansion been and what were the challenges that you faced?

I dont think there was too much problem with increase in PGP. As of now, we have added PGP Executive and PGP-PMP. These courses are running on the same resource base of around 90 faculty, which has been IIM Ahmedabads faculty strength for many years. The figure of 100 faculty seems to be a kind of a glass ceiling for Indian b-schools including IIMs and I think only one or two institutions may have crossed it temporarily and that too by hiring practitioners rather than academics.

How tough is it for you to get faculty?

There is a larger problem of quality faculty across all Indian business schools because the supply is very limited. Still, I would say that the problem is relatively less difficult for the three of us (IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Calcutta and IIM Bangalore) than it is for some others. The Fellowship program by IIMs was partly started for this reason and some of our faculty members are Fellows of IIMs. Had it not been there, we would have faced a bigger problem.

The CAT exam has had an element of surprise in the past two years and some feel that it is being to dislodge the coaching institutes' business. What is the thought process behind the changes in CAT pattern?

I cannot comment on that but I dont think its being done to dislodge coaching institutes. The larger issue remains that we dont want people cracking the exam on the basis of the number of hours spent in a coaching institute.

We are gradually seeing IIM graduates refuse premium job offers because they want to start their own businesses. What do you think has sparked this off?

I have no clue on that and the numbers involved are still too small. If asked to speculate, then my guess is that as a society we in the middle class are coming out of survival mode. Many people in the current generation are less worried about getting a job, which was not so 15 to 20 years ago. If theyre constantly asking themselves what use is the MBA program is to me? then theyre obviously in survival mode. But the moment they stop asking that kind of question and view the program as a learning opportunity and not just a route to get well paying jobs, they are open to trying out on their own as entrepreneur or in exploring various different ways in which they can pursue their interest.

Some well-known India schools have started domain-specific MBA courses to serve the need of specific sectors, like retail, aviation or stock markets. Do you see the IIMs offering similar tailor-made PGP?

I dont think so. If youre asking whether IIMA is sensitive to the needs of these sectors, then the answer is yes. We introduce electives for such sectors as and when there is a student demand. Really, its all about packaging. The B-schools that you have in mind club a few relevant electives together in the second year and package it as a domain MBA.

can i get to hear from any senior who did his/her summer mgmnt internship from Johnson and johnson India??
any help appriciated.. its kind of very urgent..

if possible do mail back on

thanks in advance


saw it just today... great one... !!

In my opinion, it has been the whole process of getting into an MBA, which helped me clarify and build the focus, of the path ahead.

A good B-school is one, which gives you a lot of oppurtunities, but at the end, its upto you to explore each one of them, or the ones which can help you achieve those long term goals.
All this may sound a lot of "gyan", but gyan also comes from experiences.

if you want to know more click here:


the thing about survival mode was tooo good