IFIM Focused on ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ with new Curriculum, Admissions, & Industry Engagements: Dr Atish Chattopadhyay, Director, IFIM Bangalore

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MBAUniverse.com News Desk |
December 21, 2019
In a highly cluttered MBA Landscape, IFIM Business School Bangalore is attempting to break-free. First, in February 2018, this unfancied B-school earned the AACSB Accreditation. Then, in July 2018, Dr Atish Chattopadhyay joined IFIM from IMT Ghaziabad as Director. Since then IFIM has taken a series of steps. MBAUniverse.com spoke to Dr Chattopadhyay for an in-depth review.
Dr Atish Chattopadhyay, Director, IFIM Bangalore

In a highly cluttered and complex Indian Management Education Landscape, where more than 3,000 MBA Programs are being offered by IIMs, PGDM B-schools and Private/Public Universities, its indeed a herculean task to build a distinct identity and reputation. Challenges are even greater for a PGDM B-school that doesn’t have an IIM-tag, nor does it have a larger University-brand and resources. But, in every decade, a few B-schools prove that it can indeed be done.

A B-school that is attempting to leap-frog and break-free from the clutter, is Bangalore based IFIM Business School. First, in February 2018, led by its Founder Sanjay Padode, this unfancied B-school became only the 6th B-school in the country to get the coveted AACSB Accreditation. Then, in July 2018, Dr Atish Chattopadhyay, well known for his non-conformist approach and turn-around initiatives SPJIMR Mumbai, MICA Ahmedabad and IMT Ghaziabad, joined IFIM. Since then IFIM has taken a series of steps to take the big leap. While it takes time for results to show in our Education sector, some green shoots are visible. For instance, its initiatives were recently selected for AACSB’s ‘Innovations that Inspire’ award. It has tied up with leading global B-schools like Darden and ESCP to offer cutting edge programs. And it reported to have completed Placements 2019 in January itself with high average salary. 

MBAUniverse.com spoke to Dr Chattopadhyay for an in-depth review of recent initiatives and the results from same. Edited Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: You joined IFIM Business School in July 2018 from IMT Ghaziabad. How has IFIM evolved, before and after your joining…
A: The experience has been exciting because institutions require different leaders at different phases of their life cycle. IFIM as an institution has passed through two distinct phases in its journey;  1995 to 2010 was about the foundation years, when the institute moved from rented premises to its own campus in Electronic City; 2010 to 2018 was the period when the institute prepared itself for global accreditation and became only the 6th school in India to be AACSB accredited. The journey post 2018 is about making an impact with its new positioning of ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ focusing on new age roles in new age industries.

There are two ways of looking at a challenge – one, consider it a ‘challenge’ that you need to overcome, and the other, is to look at it as an ‘opportunity’. When I look at IFIM at its present stage, I see a lot of opportunities unfold, because of three key factors:

  1. The founder, Sanjay Padode, is both professionally qualified and is a successful Entrepreneur. This makes a huge difference as it allows a culture of experimentation, risk taking, exploring new ideas, bringing in passion and have a willingness to do things which are different, disruptive and futuristic; which is missing in larger established institutions;
  2. Its unique location – right in the heart of Electronic City, Bangalore – The Silicon Valley of India. So, the advantage of having easy access to the entrepreneurial ecosystem located in the Silicon Valley of the India; and
  3. The institute has received the coveted AACSB Accreditation which opens the door of the global academic community.

Our 'Request for Problems' have received very encouraging response as business leaders, particularly founders of new generation enterprises have come forward to provide interesting problems for our student groups to solve. The response that we have received from our industry partners like Scripbox, Sahamati (who are in the Account Aggregator space), Davinta Finance, Bosch etc. is phenomenal.

The interesting aspect is that the executives from the companies providing the problems work with our students. The benefit to the company is that they get an approach to a real issue they are facing, and their key executives get trained in a top global B-school with certification jointly from IFIM and the partner school. The company executives also get an opportunity to observe the future and potential recruits over a longer period, see them working in a group on a problem which is contextual to the company. This makes recruitment stress free and relevant. The model is far more engaging than a “Mela Model” where they usually take an instant call on recruitment. That is the big change that we are bringing.

Q: OK. Is IFIM PGDM Curriculum really different from what other B-schools offer?
A: Yes. Our new curriculum introduced with the current Class of 2019 is aligned to the needs of Industry 4.0. We are probably the first institution in the country to have a curriculum which aims to groom ‘T’ shape professionals for the new economy.

If we are talking about new age roles and new age industries, we need to understand what are the knowledge and skills that are relevant for the same. We undertook a study in association with NHRD.

Our research revealed 10 needs of the industry which we call IFIM-NHRDN Industry 4.0 needs.  Few interesting things came up. Mainly there is a need for re-skilling at various levels, emergence of a multi generation workforce, integration of digital technology and communication, wellness as an important element of self-management, solutioning and service orientation assuming more significance than the strategy formulation. The new platform-based economy giving birth to new roles, rendering the conventional professionals “Fossilized”. For example, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), is being replaced by Chief Marketing and Technology Officer (CMTO).

Having understood these industry needs we wanted to find out how we can address these needs. We moved around Europe and the USA to understand and identify the top schools globally to partner with, which have the capability to deliver on such cutting-edge knowledge and skills. Our partnership with top globally ranked schools like Darden – University of Virginia, ESCP – London and McCombs – Austin are an outcome of such efforts.

We have also been able to foster meaningful partnerships with reputed organisations like INSOFE to launch the first of its kind program in the area of Data Science.         

The biggest advantage of the curriculum is that it offers the students the opportunity to experience and learn at the same time. We believe that Doing leads to Knowing; In our curriculum 33% of total credits are dedicated towards practice courses focusing on skill development. These initiatives prepare the students, along with the fundamental courses of management, to learn the broad skills required to perform as a leader in the long run; constitute the horizontal bar of the ‘T’. While the vertical bar is the major or the specializations which requires one to have deep knowledge of a specialised area. The key differentiator of our curriculum is; whereas the bottom of the ‘T’ for other schools is flat, the ‘T’ for us, is like a sharpened pencil. It is a pointed ‘T’ as an outcome of the super specialization, which is unique and different from any other school in the country.

Q: Tell us a little more about your tie-ups with McCombs at Texas at Austin, ESCP London, and University of Virginia?
A: As a School, we want to impart in our students those knowledge and skills which are cutting edge and can accelerate their career. We have tied up with the top ranked schools globally; Darden, University of Virgina for MarTech, ESCP London for FinTech and McCombs, University of Texas at Austin for analytics and blockchain. The students will have the opportunity to learn from faculty of these top end institutions as they will undertake courseware, field projects and industry visits during the three-week immersion.

Q: OK. Moving on, what are the key changes you have brought about in the Admissions process.
A: Unlike other B-schools, our admission process is to ‘select’ and not to ‘reject’; it is a ‘selection process’ in the true sense of the word. Our new admission process has three components: Innovation Potential Test (IPT), Group Exercise (GE) and Personal Interview (PI). It is in alignment with what we look for; Someone who is innovative and can come up with new ideas, can work in a group and dirty his/her hands.

Q: Recently AACSB selected your Research/Innovation Incubation initiative as one of the unique Asian innovations. Can you tell us more about it.
A: We have unique initiatives like Design Thinking and Innovation Incubation, where participants first go through a workshop on design thinking to work on problems and come up with an idea to solve it.  They either take a problem that the company is facing or develop an idea of their own. If they work on a problem and get interesting findings, they publish it as a research outcome. If they come up with an innovative idea, they present their idea to those who can fund them, like a venture capitalist. I am happy to share that the Research/Innovation Incubation initiative is now figuring among one of the ‘Innovations that Inspire’ in the list of AACSB-accredited B schools within the Asia Pacific region.

Q: How have AACSB Accreditation helped you in last few years?
A: The biggest advantage of AACSB accreditation is the signal it sends to the aspirants, faculty and the global academic community; that we are Mission oriented, have the right processes for meeting the Program Learning Outcomes, we have qualified faculty who are relevant and that we thrive for continuous improvements.

The accreditation has opened many doors for collaboration with top schools across USA, Europe, Asia and Australia. Graduates get a degree which has global recognition, thus enhancing employability. We have been able to attract international students in our program from not just South East Asia, but also from South Korea and Africa.

Faculty gets the opportunity to partner with their counterparts across the globe. Today, IFIM Business School has been able to attract faculty from schools like McCombs - Austin, ESCP London, Darden-Virginia, SUNY Albany, University of Miami and University of Wollongong to teach in our Bangalore campus.

Q: Finally, where do you see IFIM in next 2-3 years?
A: The initiatives, we have undertaken, will make an impact both on the graduates and the industries particularly those which are next-gen. Over a period, this will create a unique and differentiated positioning for IFIM Business School. 

Today, the business media gives too much of importance to number of applicants, ranking, graduating salaries etc. That I think will get revisited; it would be more about how you ‘select’ than how many you ‘reject’. As more and more schools in India, meet quality standards in-terms of Global Accreditations like AACSB, the needle will shift towards Engagement. Schools, would be judged on the value added in their programs, rather than the Cut-off Percentile of the incoming class. Performance of the graduates will be judged based on how they perform over a period, and how they adapt to new technologies to make an impact, rather than which school they graduated from. Graduates of IFIM Business School will be well prepared to take advantage of these changes, including sensitivity towards social issues and distributive justice.

I think that grooming a new breed of new-age professionals; who are valued for their impact on practice, on the people with whom they work, and on the society at large, is where we would like to make an impact.

These initiatives are in line with our Vision and new Positioning and are helping us move forward.

Q: Thanks for sharing these interesting initiatives. However, what will you say if we asked you WHY has IFIM taking this non-traditional approach?
A: It’s an interesting question, because in the cluttered Indian management education marketplace it is very difficult to differentiate between schools, as majority are poor clones of the IIMs, where Entrance Test Scores are a key determinant of quality. We have taken the more difficult route by focusing on the Value Addition through the process of Teaching-Learning to impart those knowledge and skills which are futuristic and will prepare our graduates for beyond tomorrow.

Today if you look at the global context, the top ten companies by market capitalisation has undergone a dramatic shift in the last ten years, with the entry of the likes of Alibaba, Tencent and Facebook. Question is, what made them successful and will the conventional model of education work to groom professionals for the roles of tomorrow? Are we imparting those knowledge and skills in our schools which are relevant to the jobs of the future?

I think that’s where IFIM’s differentiation comes – we are focussing on Roles which are futuristic, by grooming Professionals for the Roles of Tomorrow. The key differentiation of IFIM lies in taking a conscious call of moving away from the convention and investing to groom professionals for new age roles like MarTech, FinTech, Digital Transformation Specialists etc. I am not aware of other schools which have consciously focused on these aspects.

As a business school we are not targeting those conventional recruiters from the Jurassic Age like FMCG, Investment banking etc. We are focusing on new age companies like the Scripbox and the BYJUs of the world.

Similarly, we are looking for aspirants who need not be the ones who have belled the CAT, but the ones who are entrepreneurial, have new ideas and can dirty their hands to make a difference. In-short, they should be like us.

Q: So, how has been the response from students for new initiatives like Super Specialization…
A: The response has been very good. For the current class of 2019, the global super-specializations were optional. The very fact that we have a hundred odd students opting for the same, is a clear indicator of the strength of the concept. What is most encouraging is the alumni participation, as they supported the initiative by funding ten merit scholarships.

Q: What has been the impact of IFIM-NHRDN Study, conducted in 2018...
A: This study has given a new direction to the Indian Management Education fraternity to integrate with Practice and focus on Skills for the Future. Our interventions like ‘Super-specializations’ and pedagogic innovations like ‘Learning by Solving’, I feel will be game changers.

Students are working in teams to solve problems provided be our industry partners and come up with solutions. The program has the following components:

A Masterclass by Faculty from International Partner Schools. Group work including field and office visits to address the business challenge aided by tutorial support and blended learning. Three weeks of coursework plus a project at an international partner school. Presentation to a panel of experts including senior leadership team of the industry partners.

The above three factors set the right context to make an impact not just in India but in the management education space globally.

Q: So, what are the initiatives you have taken to execute your new Positioning – Beyond Tomorrow.
A: Yes, Execution of a Positioning is very important to make a real. Key initiatives being taken at IFIM are:

The launch of the new curriculum to groom ‘T’ shape professionals who are aligned to the needs of Industry 4.0. Super-specializations in collaboration with Top Ranked Global B-schools Faculty augmentation: IFIM today has around 50 faculty members comprising of 13 IIM alumni, 16 IIT/BITS alumni, 14 CXOs and 4 with foreign degrees. IFIM probably is the first institution in India to have an International Advisory Board chaired by Dean Simon Mercado of ESCP London. Collaboration for credit transfer and dual degree with institutions like University of Wollongong, Australia; Luiss Business School, Italy; Rennes Business School, France; SUNY Albany. Launch of first ever Index for Service Excellence in India under the mentorship of Guru of Service Marketing, Prof. A Parasuraman. Partnering with INSOFE to launch PGDM in Data Science

Stay tuned to MBAUniverse.com for more updates on IFIM Business School