26 Apr 2021 16:27 IST

‘BITSoM is a new B-school but with BITS Pilani heritage behind it’ 

Prof Ranjan Banerjee explains why the Birla School of Management is going to be a game-changer 

Ranjan Banerjee has taken over as the founding Dean of BITSoM, moving from another top B-school, SPJIMR, where he was the Dean. Banerjee has a PhD from the University of Minnesota; an MBA from IIM Calcutta and a BTech, IIT Bombay. He has worked earlier with companies such as Asian Paints, Vadilal and HUL and also consulted with several companies. In this interview, he explains why BITSoM is going to be different and why there is room for yet another B-school among the several top schools the country has. Excerpts from an interview: 

What is BITSoM’s USP that it will be different from other B-schools in the country?

MBA education so far had a curriculum that was purposed for the industrial age. Where we implicitly assumed functions — finance, operations, marketing, and technology. And, today, we need a curriculum for the digital age. Technology is no longer a business function. It has to be embedded in each and everything. Digital is something that is embedded in the way we teach and in the way we learn and communicate. It is embedded in the way supply chains are managed and if you are introducing this in an existing Institute, you're changing the wheels on a running train. While here from day one, we are able to have a curriculum where analytics is deeply embedded both in year one and year two.

The second dimension is skills of collaboration, of listening, of managing across boundaries — there is a whole bunch of soft skills, including reflection and learnability, which are becoming more critical. So, we have a course called workplace perspectives, which is supplementing the traditional curriculum.

The third dimension is global faculty, which is the best from across the world. So, faculty from Wharton, Kellogg, NYU; we have taken the best subject matter experts from across the world and brought them in to teach. The fourth dimension is we'll have one course running for two weeks: it brings greater focus and students get more time for reflection.

The fifth one is we have a compact batch of 120; we will be doing psychometrics and one-on-one with each student, who will have a personal development plan which will give them clarity in how to get the best out of the MBA.

So while it's a new business school, it's backed by BITS Pilani. And one of the advantages, is we are part of a national deemed university; we can offer MBA and PhD degrees. Secondly, BITS Alumni is over 55,000 in strength, and they have been very excited to partner with us. We should be able to have one senior corporate executive mentoring every student. 

So the course pedagogy will cover the traditional disciplines, in addition to the new age courses, which industry demands?

We will have interesting courses. There is a lot of business in society kind of courses; there's winning in the workplace; soft skills. There's a lot of emphasis on live projects, but I think the big thing is that when you teach the traditional subjects, analytics must be embedded in marketing one-on-one, analytics must be embedded in finance and the way accounting is being done today. The names of the courses may not change, but the content of the courses will. This content has been co-created with leading academics and industry practitioners.

And just as a good process, once a year, we will get industry to come and talk to us and look at our courses tell us what do we do to keep it current and relevant. So, that currency and relevancy is a big advantage as you can create a global curriculum afresh today for today's times. 

What is the cohort of students that you're looking at? Are you looking at some experience; is that the minimum threshold for taking students?

We are open to freshers and up to three to four years of work experience, which is typically the profile for most of the two-year programmes in the country. While we are looking at academics, we will also look at versatility and extra co-curricular achievements and we will look to have a more diverse batch. Managerial experiences come in various shapes and sizes.

So, experiences, which are non-academic will teach you how to work in teams, handle pressure, how to collaborate. Take theatre, for example, you play your part, assuming that everybody else will play theirs. And, that requires a level of collaboration and trust, which is a big challenge to create for most businesses. So, we want to value different types of achievements and skills. 

What is going to be the fee structure for this programme?

Rs 24 lakh. The pricing is pretty similar to the top three IIMs. The positioning is also in the league of the top three IIMs. But there is a liberal scholarship budget. The principle is no deserving candidate will not be able to study because of fees and this is consistent with what BITS Pilani itself has done.

You were the Dean of one of the top 10 B-Schools in the country. So, do you expect a similar quality of students as in your earlier school, given that it's going to be a new school?

The launch was in January and we have already had very high-quality applications. My sense is that the student quality would be comparable with the best institutes in the country. And there are many reasons for this. One is there's a lot of excitement around this. We have got students from the IITs, from top undergraduate colleges. And we have got some people who were thinking of doing a master's abroad but have chosen this. One of the things that may have helped us is that our entry is not only CAT. We are also taking GMAT and GRE scores. Many who wrote GRE and were looking at a master’s or an MBA abroad have found that the quality of faculty that we are bringing maybe superior to the MBA abroad. So, it becomes quite an attractive kind of an option at this point.

The other advantage is that companies like a McKinsey, Bain, BCG, ABG leadership programme have already agreed to participate in summer internships / final placements for the first batch. . And these companies go to only the top 3 – 4 schools. Another advantage, is that the batch size in a top IIM is 465. Our batch size is 120.

Are you also looking at attracting students from abroad, making it a hub for international education?

It's not in this year's plan because this is not the best year for travel. But answer should be yes, definitely. One is Mumbai because it's a safe city. Second, is the Kalyan campus when it is completed. The thing about getting international students in India is you have to figure out what those students will do after they graduate. So, if you have a student from Indonesia, Thailand or Bangladesh, what jobs will they go back to?

And I think that is a strategy that one has to put in place. One of the answers is that there are many Indian multinationals today which are looking for talent in foreign countries. So, if you can tie up with the Indian companies, which are looking for talent in those countries, then it is going to be possible to build an international cohort.

Will you have a large component of a liberal arts flavour in your B-school pedagogy?

Curriculum has a strong liberal arts flavour. It is reflected both in the winning in the workplace and a bunch of courses that tie business to society. The idea is that one needs an understanding of history and an understanding of the evolution of India, and also see the larger connection between business and society. It has two components, one is looking at what I would call soft skills, critical thinking, ability to collaborate, working with people, self-awareness, and the other component is business communication.

The ability to read, write, think and speak clearly is something that even in the top business schools, recruiters today are saying there is a gap. So, that simplicity of thought and communication is something that we will spend a lot of time on.

Has this prolonged pandemic impacted the interest in B-school education in any way?

The top 10 to 15 schools have not been impacted if you look at their placement. But, the threat to schools ranked between 50 and 200 is very high, because the value proposition is seriously threatened. There are some sectors which have actually continued to hire very robustly. Analytics is one, consulting is another, finance also has not done too badly. FMCG has still been okay. So, the top 10 schools I don't see, they have been affected.

You'll see a decline in CAT numbers out of the order of 5 per cent or 7 per cent, but the top schools are still getting the top candidates. The top candidates are still going in for MBA. It's a good time to invest.