The 20 billion Mahindra Group had launched Mahindra University (MU) Hyderabad in July 2020, the peak Covid 19 time and launched its School of Management (SOM) in 2021, again during pandemic.
Well-known global management academic and former faculty at CEIBS China - Prof Rama Velamuri was appointed its Dean and since then it has been two years journey for Prof Velamuri as the Dean of SOM at Mahindra University. The B-school has now launched its flagship MBA in 2023 after good response to its BBA program.
Prof S Ramakrishna (Rama) Velamuri is a well respected global authority on Entrepreneurship Education. He previously taught for thirteen and a half years at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), Shanghai, where he was the Chengwei Ventures Professor of Entrepreneurship, and four years at IESE Business School, Barcelona. He received his PhD from the Darden School at the University of Virginia, MBA from IESE Business School and BCom from the University of Madras. He has conducted executive training for senior managers of Henkel, Michelin, Bosch, Tencent, China Development Bank, SASAC (the holding company of all central PSUs in China), among many other companies. Prof Velamuri’s research has been published in top journals such as Harvard Business Review Online, California Management Review, Journal of Management Studies among others. His research has received more than 4,700 Google Scholar citations and his 2010 article in Long Range Planning on business model innovation is among the five most cited on the topic.
To explore the plans and vision of launching the MBA programme in 2023 after the launch of BBA and other programs, MBAUniverse.com conducted an indepth interview with Dr Velamuri. The edited excerpts of the interview are shared below
Q: SOM at Mahindra University was launched in 2021, with you joining as Dean in March 2021. How has been the journey so far…
A: Overall, it has been a good journey. As far as academic programs are concerned, we have around 350 exceptional undergraduate students in the two batches (2021 and 2022), the first of which will graduate in 2024. We have 16 EMBA students, all senior executives, with an average experience of 17 years. We have 8 PhD students in our first cohort. We will start our full time MBA this year.
As far as faculty is concerned, we have a team of 15 with PhDs from Temple University, Utah State University, University of Virginia, University of Hawaii, the three top IIMs (A, B and C), ISB, IIT Delhi, IFMR, National Law University and IFHE. We are planning to double our faculty strength by the end of this year. In just about 18 months, we have published 32 articles in top international peer-reviewed journals (FT50, ABDC A and B). Our faculty have also demonstrated thought leadership with a number of articles in A-list media. One of our senior faculty members, a macro-economist, is quite active advising policy makers on issues of national importance. We are also building a high-quality team in program management, admissions, and student support.
So, we are making good progress.
Q: When will your first MBA batch start? How many students are you planning to admit this year, and in near future?
A: Our first MBA Batch should start in August/September 2023. For our first cohort, we are looking at between 30 and 60 students. Our ideal applicants will have strong undergraduate academic records and interests outside studies, such as sports, music, dance, cooking, baking, designing, writing, social service, etc. Ideally, in about 3 years, we would like to recruit approximately 120 students (two batches of 60) every year.
Q: Most B-schools launch MBA program first and then offer other programs. What was the rationale for following a different strategy…
A: We thought we could make an immediate impact on the undergraduate market. As I said, there are very few world class undergraduate programs in business in India that are both academically rigorous and industry-ready. In Accounting (BCom) and Economics, India has a number of excellent programs, but not so in business administration. Also, there are very few schools in India offering an undergraduate that combines Economics & Finance. Therefore, we thought we would launch academically strong and industry aligned UG programs first.
Second, both Sanjay Singh and I are experienced in managing top executive education programs having worked at IESE, CEIBS, NUS and ISB. We thought we would offer the EMBA first and then the full time MBA.
Q: How are you planning the curriculum and pedagogy of your MBA program. How is different from other IIMs and top B-schools?
A: In the business school, we are building a faculty team that is strong in the traditional areas of business, economics and finance as well as in the modern areas - digital business, analytics and technology in general. We are reflecting this strength through our positioning across the UG and PG programs. We expect our MBA graduates to not only have a strong foundation in business but also a technology toolkit that they can deploy in their jobs. We realize that many top business schools are also emphasizing these broad areas and therefore I would not say that we are different from them. Rather, we would like to be on par with them.
Our faculty members are experienced in interactive pedagogical methods. For example, many of us are experienced case teachers and writers. We also use simulations and role plays in our courses. We will have a strong placements team that will ensure high quality summer internships for our students and will source industry projects that students can work on as part of their courses.
Q: Please share about your international partnerships. How will MBA students benefit…
A: Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business and Frankfurt School of Finance and Management are our partner B-schools. We expect our MBA students to benefit from our partner school faculty teaching in our school. We also take our students on immersions to our partner school campuses.
Q: Coming to Hyderabad, unlike a Bangalore or Pune or Delhi NCR, many MBA aspirants are not enthused to travel and study here. How does Hyderabad offer unique opportunities to students?
A: Hyderabad is consistently ranked the most liveable city in India. The city has residents from all over India because it has an open and welcoming culture, Hindi is spoken widely unlike in some other large Southern cities, there is a huge youth population mainly because Hyderabad is one of the most important educational hubs in the country -- University of Hyderabad, Osmania University, JNTU, IIT, IIIT, CCMB, ICRISAT, ISB, BITS and Mahindra University are only some of the top educational institutions in the city. There are excellent schools, outstanding healthcare infrastructure and umpteen art and leisure options. Hyderabad is also famous for its cuisine. Except for two months of the year, the city enjoys pleasant weather. I have many faculty and staff colleagues and students from other parts of the country who are so comfortable in Hyderabad that they have settled down here.
Q: Coming back to your BBA program, which was launched in 2021, how has been the response?
A: The response has been exceptional. We launched our UG programs in the midst of the second Covid wave (Delta) in India. At that time, most of the applications we received were from students based in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, because parents were hesitant to send their children far from home. In just 18 months, we see that we are receiving applications from the best high schools in these two states. Our word of mouth is also spreading in other Southern states. We are now ensuring that we become known in the other parts of India also. Number of students enrolled in UG programs is approximately 350.
Q: How is your BBA program positioned as a ‘terminal program’ where students can go to the job market directly, or is primarily preparing students for higher studies?
A: We cater to both groups of students. Since our degree is highly industry-aligned, we are confident that the graduates will be attractive to the recruiting companies. On the other hand, since our coursework is so rigorous, we are also confident of placing the students in the top graduate programs in India and abroad. Half of the graduates of our sister school (the Ecole Centrale School of Engineering) are getting into Masters programs at Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, North Carolina State, Purdue, University of Illinois, Imperial College, Ecole Centrale, the IITs, IISc, and other top institutions. The other half are finding jobs in a broad spectrum of Indian and foreign multinational companies and high growth startups.
Q: You launched an EMBA Program last year. Is it targeted at young professionals like ISB or those with 7-8 Years of experience like IIM A, B, C? What is the need-gap it is filling…
A: Our EMBA is actually targeted at people with between 5 and 20 years of work experience. We are very happy with the quality of our first class, where we have students with on average 17 years of work experience, from companies such as Tech Mahindra, Claridges Hotels, Stryker, Optima Health, Kyndryl (spin-off of IBM), Novartis, Jacobs Engineering, etc.
India as you know is a predominantly full-time MBA market, unlike the US, where two-thirds of the students are enrolled either in part-time or executive MBA programs. We have had to educate the market about the EMBA. We are targeting candidates who
- have been very successful in their careers in a particular functional area (say operations, R&D, finance, marketing, HR, etc) and are now preparing to take on general management roles, or
- have been successful managing a small business unit in one country and are now being groomed to take on a much larger unit across multiple countries, or
- are next generation members of business families running medium to large organizations who have been in the business for some years already and now aspire to more senior roles.
In many cases, the employer recognizes the need for the manager to undergo an EMBA education and nominates him/her. In other cases, the manager proactively requests the organization for support to do the EMBA.
Q: Let’s move beyond Mahindra University and discuss a few broader themes. Having worked at senior level at top global B-schools like IESE and CEIBS, and now as the Dean of an Indian B-school, how do you view management education in India.
A: I think we have 30-40 good quality business schools in India that would compare favourably with their international counterparts in terms of curriculum design, faculty quality and the overall learning experience. As you will agree, this is a very small number relative to the number of students who enrol in MBA programs. I think the situation in China is not very different in terms of the percentage of good quality schools.
The strengths of the Indian b-school ecosystem are that we have good benchmarks in the form of the older IIMs (especially A, B and C), ISB, XLRI and some others. I would say that one of our weaknesses is that there are very few PhD programs in business providing a solid research training that prepares the graduates to publish in the leading international peer-reviewed journals. On the one hand, we are not producing enough well-trained PhD graduates in business disciplines in India. Further, several of the graduates of the good Indian PhD programs are now being attracted by offers from Europe, Middle East, South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. On the other, the compensation structures in India are not attractive enough to attract foreign-minted PhDs.
Q: Recently, Government/UGC has announced a policy framework to invite Foreign Universities in India. How do you see this development…
A: Competition is good for India. The entry of ISB more than 20 years ago brought with it many innovations – one year PGP, students with 4-5 years’ experience becoming PGP students, lateral hiring of PGP graduates by industry, students repeatedly getting exposed to faculty from some of the world’s best educational institutions, the launch of the PGPMAX for senior executives, and an emphasis on research to the highest global standards. The success of ISB led to the diffusion of many of these innovations to the other leading business schools in India.
I am concerned though that the foreign institutions are being invited into an area that might operate like a free trade zone, where the regulations that apply to Indian educational institutions might not apply. This could create an uneven playing field. Foreign institutions are welcome but there should be a level playing field.
Q: Finally, where do you see School of Management, Mahindra University in next 4-5 years?
A: Five years from now, we would like the School of Management to have between 1,300 and 1,500 students and between 50 and 60 faculty and about 30 support staff. We would like our graduates either in top academic institutions in India and abroad or in good jobs in well managed companies. We would like our faculty members to become more and more known in their areas of expertise. As far as rankings are concerned, we aspire to be in the top 5 UG and the top 10 graduate programs in India.