Column: Indian School of Management - in Practice

Sunday, July 24 2016, 10:32 AM
Is there an 'Indian' School of Management? Are there unique ideas, though-processes, skills that have the potential to impact the world? Management author and thinker Sandeep Singh believes so.

This weekly column on -- 'Indian School of Management - in Practice' by Sandeep Singh -- aims to explores the 'elements' of business as practiced by Indian entrepreneurs spread across industry in India and put them in points, grids, matrix, charts etc. so that they can be taught at management institutes and be of practical use in day to day working life of practicing managers across the world.   


"We all must have often heard the cliché "India can be a frustrating place to do business".  It is, indeed surprising for a civilization that worships:

  • Goddess Lakhsmi for Wealth
  • Lord Kuber for meticulous Treasury Management
  • Lord Vishwakarma for Machines & Tools
  • Lord Karthikeya for Construction
  • Goddess Saraswati who leads us from darkness to light; and has a tradition of Closing & Opening of Books of Accounts on Dipawali with prayers to her. 

Anyways, who cares about the evidence in India? What matters is whether or not the conclusion is politically convenient. Economic historians in India have always been seeking explanation of India's economic backwardness in culture-the other worldly values of the Hindus or the immobilizing effects of the caste system. Gandhi distrusted technology but not the businessman. Nehru distrusted businessmen but not technology, and we mixed the two up (Gurcharan Das). In India, in recent times, most grow up with few resources and learn to make do with them. The ability to manage with little gives one the leverage to explore new opportunities and take risks. We have been referring to poor rate of economic growth post independence very disparagingly as "Hindu Rate of Growth", little realizing that before the British took over India, it was one of the most developed economies with a sizable chunk of global trade. (Prof. Yashpal). The recent spurt in growth post liberalization speaks volumes about the truth of Indian business genius. 

"Indian School of Management" (ISM) is not just an economic idea, but an amalgam of civilization, politics and economics. All the three are harmoniously linked. ISM implies that 'continuity' which permits change and that 'change' which retains continuity. In short ISM is built on the traditions and traditional skills on immediate and proximate resources as the core, with the modern and western as well as the remote resources as need based activities.   

Dominique Lapierre wrote in the India Today, Millennium Series "The alleyways of Pilkhana are full of hundreds of small workshops where thousands of men and children produce everything conceivable, from truck parts to spindles, bolts, aircrafts tanks and even turbine meshing to a sixth of a micro millimeter….One day I met two Americans who had come to Calcutta to buy surgical instruments for their hospital in California. 'Where do you buy your instruments?' I asked a little surprised. They took me to one of the slums workshops where a group of emaciated men were producing, amid a smell of burning oil and hot metal, scalpels and artery clips, whose steel was rated of a quality at least equal to that in instruments made in Sweden or Germany.

Baba Kalyani put the above in proper perspective when he said "In India, our competitive advantage does not lie in cheap labour," he says "It lies in cheap brain power" (Fortune October'05) 

As I read about Karsanbhai's Nirma success to Mumbai's Dabbawalas managerial skill, C. K. Ranganathan's CavinKare innovations to Logistics management of Amul, (and for each of this known examples we have 100 unsung success stories),  I visualize the legacy of the leaders of independence movement. Just like them these entrepreneurs are: 

  • Not constrained by what India is.
  • Are concerned about what India could be,
  • They imagine a new India,
  • India that will be world class,
  • Understand how to build institutions to support and develop that vision 

Shiv Viswanathan says in India Today Millenuim Series, "The greatest innovation of modern Indian pedagogy is the Tutorial College. "Brilliant" was subversive and he subverted Macaulay, the 'father' of modern Indian education. Macaulay had claimed that not all the civilization of the Orient was worth a shelf of western books. The tutorial college was eminently pragmatic about it. It accepted the statement and reduced western civilization to a mere shelf of books. Think of it. Brilliant and Sultan Chand & Sons have done more for science than all the TIFR and IIT put together. More importantly half of IITians would not have got in without Brilliant, Agarwal and innumerable classes in the bylanes of Kota or other similar enterprises." 

Narayan Murthy realized that distribution of wealth must be preceded by the creation of wealth. Deepak Parekh realized that business should serve the interest of society. 'Solving India's Housing Problem' was not a PR slogan for HDFC. It was putting value creation for society at the heart of business.  

F. C. Kohli motivated his team by clearly spelling out his vision for TCS. In his words "There is a new revolution of information technology, which requires neither mechanical buoyancy nor mechanical temperament. Primarily it requires the capability to think clearer, and this we have in abundance."  

Growth from within, as a principle, saw Sumant Moolgaokar spur many ancillary entrepreneurs to set up firms in and around Chinchwad in Pune. He, in fact, actually encouraged employees to leave Telco employment and strike out on their own. 

Indian Businessman did not try to manage the future from present, which would have led them to the trap of incrementalism ,but they opted for the process of radical development – managing the present from future, just the way our Freedom Fighters did." 

This weekly column 'Indian School of Management - in Practice' is authored by management thinker Sandeep Singh. The column aims to explores the 'elements' of business as practiced by Indian entrepreneurs spread across industry in India and put them in points, grids, matrix, charts etc. so that they can be taught at management institutes and be of practical use in day to day working life of practicing managers.   

Sandeep Singh is the author of bestseller "Business of Freedom – an Initiative for School of Indian Management". He also runs Swadeshi School for Training in Indian Knowledge (SWASTIK). Readers can reach him at [email protected]  

Next Week: Indian and Western Franchise Model