10 Sep 2016 18:04 IST

Technology will influence how Purdue redefines the MBA

Engagement with industry shapes course content, says Karthik Kannan, Director, Krannert School of Management

“Every business is a technology business,” is what The Wall Street Journal said when it renamed its Marketplace section as the Business and Tech section.  “Such transformations influence how we redefine the MBA programme.  First, we teach our students how to manage their business functional roles in a technology-oriented business context. Second, even the business of education is becoming a technology business.  At Krannert, we are drawing upon technology in unique ways,” said Dr Karthik Kannan, Academic Director of Fulltime and Weekend MBA Programmes, Krannert School of Management, Purdue University, adding that the School will focus on engaging with companies in providing value to the students.


Kannan got his MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering and an MPhil in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University. Before joining graduate school, he worked with Infosys Technologies for a couple of years. His undergraduate degree is in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from NIT Trichy. In recent research, he has proposed the concept of "Design for Instincts" as a way to organise businesses in the current age. Excerpts from an e-mail interview:

​​​ How does Krannert School of Management keep its MBA relevant to the needs of the industry?

We understand the value of engagement with industry.  Our alumni in industry connect well with us. Fortunately, several of our graduates (both Krannert and Purdue) are also in the C-suites of various companies.  Our engagement with industry has been two-fold. Through faculty interactions, they shape the individual course content and sometimes even programme content. 

To provide an example, last year, we conducted a data dive competition with Walmart on our campus. For that competition, we invited students from various other universities also.  That was the first time that Walmart had apparently shared data of that magnitude outside its premises.  In that competition, student-teams had to work on data that was exceptionally large (hundreds of millions of rows). 

Even simple approaches, such as running regression analysis, did not work, and students from many of the universities struggled to deal with computational issues. So, with the objective of teaching how to handle such problems, we created a new course to teach practical computational issues in analytics.  Apart from influencing curriculum content, companies also help us conduct experiential learning projects. Through these projects, students gain a real-world understanding.

What new courses has Krannert launched to keep pace with the needs of industry?

The new course I mentioned above is called “Computing for Analytics.”  As the market has been demanding expertise in R, we have a new course titled “Using R for Analytics.”  Both these courses are offered beginning 2016-17.

Several of our recently launched courses are unique and not typically offered in most other business schools.  We teach a course on “Optimisation Using Spreadsheet Modelling.”  It is an applied course that builds unique skills on how to model optimisation problems in business contexts.  Another course is called “Designing for Instincts: Social Networks and Engagements.”  It combines ideas related to design thinking, behavioural economics, and game design techniques.

What is Krannert doing in the area of MOOCs, given that several US schools are putting their content online for free?

Purdue as a whole has been developing online courses via an initiative called Purdue NExT.  Several Krannert professors have created online courses as a part of the initiative.  Krannert specifically has a hybrid set of course offerings for part-time students.  For example, in the weekend programme as well as our Exec Ed programmes, a third of the course content is transmitted electronically and students meet at other times.

​​ Has the time come to redefine the MBA, the way it is structured and taught today? Your thoughts…

​“Every business is a technology business,” is exactly what the Wall Street Journal said when it renamed its Marketplace section as the Business and Tech section.  For example, GE is calling itself a technology company.  These transformations have implications related to how we redefine the MBA programme.  First, we need to teach our students about how to manage their business functional roles in a technology-oriented business context. Second, even the business of education is becoming a technology business.  At Krannert, we are in the initial stages of a few activities that will draw upon technology in unique ways.

Even though the transformations are widely expected to occur, it is important for MBA programmes to stay relevant to businesses. To that extent, we will focus on engaging with companies and providing value to the students.

What is Krannert’s USP and what is its rank among American B-schools?

If technology transformations are expected to be significant, won’t students want to be in a business school like Krannert that is also great at technology? We will constantly be innovating and developing a curriculum that adds unique value to our students.  Additionally, students will have opportunities to interact with companies like Walmart through the many centres we have established within Krannert.  Business Week ranked us as one of the top 25 public business schools in fall 2015.  We are ranked #3 in ROI for business schools.

Our alumni are business leaders in various countries.  In India, the CEOs of TVS Motor Company and Dr Reddy’s Labs are Krannert alumni. 

Given that Krannert’s MBA is largely for science, engineering and technology professionals, which firms typically recruit from campus, and how successful are the campus placements?

While a large portion of our programme includes students with science, engineering and technology students, a reasonable portion of students have non-technical, such as communication, backgrounds also.  We look for student profiles that add breadth in any interesting dimension.  Several leading companies visit us for recruitment purposes, including Amazon, AT Kearney, eBay and Cummins.  Krannert students also participate in recruitment events that occur at the university level, and so the pool of potential recruiters is pretty large.

On average, how many Indian students attend KBS in a year?

In fall 2015, our Indian student enrolment was 62 undergraduates and 68 graduate students. While many of these students pursue MBAs, we also have Indian students in other specialised Master’s programmes.

Do some graduates opt not to join corporates but to become entrepreneurs instead?

Absolutely. One of the students in the current graduating batch is an Indian who is focused on entrepreneurship.  He has started a company called MBAVille.

​​What kind of enabling entrepreneurship ecosystem exists in KBS, in terms of incubators, innovation labs, and the like?

Purdue University has a strong engineering focus and we have a number of technology commercialising initiatives arising in various parts of the campus.  Many of our MBA students, through experiential learning projects, have had opportunities to work on them.  Purdue Foundry is one of the ecosystems available for start-up efforts even for our MBA students.​