01 May 2017 18:58 IST

‘Business education should be guided by the market’

Prof J Philip, Founder-President, XIME, says one doesn’t need a PhD to teach; rich industry experience is enough

At the grand old age of 81, when most of his peers have put up their feet and are living a retired life, Prof J. Philip, Founder-Director, Xavier Institute of Management & Entrepreneurship, is hands-on, running XIME in Bengaluru as well as the schools in Kochi and a new one just starting up in Chennai. Prof Philip has been 57 years in management education, having started at XLRI, where he co-founded the MBA programme. A former Director of IIM Bangalore, Prof Philip, after teaching stints earlier in XLRI, worked in industry, in the public sector with SAIL, and later with the Oberoi group where he was VP, HR. In this interview, Prof Philip talks about a life-time in education and how he came to be an entrepreneur himself.

How did you become an education entrepreneur, if I may call you that?

My five-year term as IIM Bangalore’s Director got over when I was 55. I was still quite young. When I got out, the only business I knew was management education. In 1960 I studied at XLRI and later joined the faculty. In 1965 XLRI decided to set up a management programme and I was sent to Harvard to train. I co-fathered the MBA programme in XLRI in 1968; till that time it was teaching only HR. Then I went to work in industry, with SAIL and then later with the Oberois. After that stint I was offered the directorship of IIM-B. So I had the experience of XLRI, Harvard, industry and IIM-B, except that there was no money. In 1991, I decided that we should have an innovative B-school in the private sector, with not only quality but also empathy.

I wanted to build a good institution in the private sector. The public sector did not fascinate me. I was surprised to see the wastage; the return on investment is quite low in the public sector, including in education. I started a school, with no capitation fee, no reservation and no donations. Our admissions are purely on merit. It’s an open system here, with even the students participating in selecting the next batch. There is nothing to hide. That’s how I got into this.

I knew that money would come from well-wishers and friends. In our school, every hall is named after somebody or the other. Our first auditorium is with support from my old employer, The Oberoi Group. Mr PRS Oberoi sponsored it. All the money came in bits and pieces and that’s how we built the corpus.

What were the early years like?

In the first 10 years, we moved around in rented buildings. We went from place to place. First we bought the land, and when we had the requisite minimum capital, took a loan from HDFC and then put up the buildings. We started the school with nothing. We first got a 3,000 sq ft shed in St Martha’s hospital compound (among the oldest hospitals in Bengaluru) with an asbestos roofing and that’s where we started in May 1991. St John’s Medical College had functioned from that shed initially. We did some tinkering here and there, put up a false ceiling and started off.

You have been 57 years in management education. What are the changes you have seen along the way?

 

What’s painful and disturbing is the quality of faculty today. When we started in XLRI, I was 24. We were all so committed, and a small group of us built XLRI, we built it with hard work. Today, the attrition that B-schools and engineering colleges face in cities is terrible. To get professionals is so difficult.

The other trends I am seeing are that there is a keen interest in the top 100 B- schools to globalise. In the last 12 years or so, we too are conscious about it. We have good partners in France (Audencia Business School), with whom we have an exchange programme. The second one is entrepreneurship. When we put out a mail as XIME, there was no school with E embedded in their name; we were entrepreneurial. That time it was a marginal issue, but now it has come to the fore. Today, the talk is all about start-ups and a number of B-schools push entrepreneurship. A great number of our students, after three-four years’ experience in corporate jobs, are becoming entrepreneurs.

Another change I see is that the aspiration level has become much higher; whether students put in the level of hard work to match that aspiration is a different matter. Also, most of the top B-schools are truly cosmopolitan. Our current batch has students from 25 States. Most of the leading B-schools are a replica of India, and we advertise our seats purely on merit and get students from all over the country.

The other change is in technology. Tech is not yet well used in India, but is progressing slowly. For example, one lecture can be viewed across our three centres. The tech is available today, but the shift in mindset has to happen. We intend to push that shift.

What about your industry connect?

Industry associations are becoming common. We have a large number of events where industry people come, many from industry take classes for students, there are many on our board too. Industry participation augurs well for management education. We review our curriculum at least once in three years, along with industry and our alumni, many of whom are at senior levels. Recruiters and outside faculty also come to deliberate. The academic council sees if the course is relevant or not.

What can be done to bridge the faculty gap?

If AICTE supports 20 private B-schools to start fellow programmes, it will be a distinctive contribution. Our biggest shortage is faculty; university PhDs are of poor quality, IIT and IIMs PhDs are in very small numbers. So private schools should be allowed to start PhD programmes. But you don’t need a PhD to teach. A person from a good B-school and with 20 years in industry would be the ideal teacher. Many of the PhDs haven’t entered the gates of a factory.

Take my own example. When I returned from Harvard, I had this continual feeling that I was inadequate because I had not worked in industry, so I took a break from XLRI and went to work in industry. I stayed for eight years with SAIL, and then from the public sector I joined the Oberoi Group as their VP-HR for five-and-a-half years. My experience and my HR competencies helped me in correcting IIM-B (which had some union-related problems when he took over).

Smart guys who ran industry as VPs, they cannot get in here, because of this archaic rule, which has to be changed. Many of the rules have been made by academicians who have never seen the inside of industry. At least business education, which reflects the market, should be guided by the market. Education is the most regulated industry vertical, whereas that should be the most liberated one.

What will be the impact of the IIM Bill on private B-schools?

I am not worried. Only thing I am worried about is if the government were to come later and ask what is this PGDM that you are offering and say close it. We enjoy industry recognition and we compete on quality. Why is XLRI among the top B-schools, far above many IIMs, and placement too is far superior? Industry recognises quality. They recognise the quality education that it gives.

Even without an MBA degree, industry will recognise the PGDM we give. But if they ask us to affiliate to a university, that’s a danger. We are fighting for autonomy, we will run the show and the market will decide if our students are good enough to be absorbed. The market is the greatest leveller.

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