01 Apr 2020 19:43 IST

We are now in Version 3.0 of IFIM’s journey: Sanjay Padode

The focus is on building digital tech, training students for new-age jobs, says the B-school’s Chairman

The Bengaluru-based IFIM Business School is now in its 25th year. Much water has flowed under the bridge, says Sanjay Padode, Chairman of the business school and the Centre for Development Education. IFIM secured the global AACSB accreditation a couple of years ago and that has been quite transformational for IFIM, he says. And IFIM has now promoted Vijaybhoomi university in Karjat, near Mumbai, where it is establishing four schools for professional studies. In this interview, Padode talks about IFIM’s 25-year journey and how it transformed itself. Excerpts from the interview:

What were the highs and lows of IFIM’s 25-year journey?

We have divided our journey into three versions: IFIM 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. Each has its inflection points. So, 1.0 was the vision of my father, VB Padode; when economic liberalisation began, in 1991, he was running the Dalal Street Journal. He felt that the capital markets were definitely going to be the driving engine of our economy and he wanted to professionalise the sector. So, he started IFIM B-school, to groom professionals for the new India. He hired a Dean from IIM Bangalore, and started the journey as an AICTE-approved institution.

Then came the 2008 financial crisis, when the world went into a tizzy There was a lot of thought on rethinking the MBA. Much of the blame went to the top schools, training their students to be greedy, which caused the crisis. Around that time, 2010, I took over IFIM Institutions, and thought that it was a good time to redo everything.

I recall having a lot of arguments with our top faculty that our curriculum cannot be like the IIMs because the input (students) that we were getting were more modest in their aspirations. Why do we have to make the average go at the level of IIMs, is a question I asked. That’s among the first things that we did: change our mission to nurture holistic, socially responsible professionals, which was a deviation from the way business schools traditionally looked at their mission. They wanted leadership, global, all those fancy terms, whereas we wanted to train ‘functional’ people who were holistically developed and socially responsible. So we wanted to train the best sales managers, or the best finance managers. We did not want to target the CXO roles because we knew where our students were coming from. It’s only if I make him a great sales manager, perhaps later in life he could become a CXO.

So, what did you do differently from existing pedagogy and systems?

How do we make one student stand out from the rest? We changed the entire curriculum to be more practice-oriented rather than classroom-oriented. We had the case study methodology for the theoretical things, so we introduced a lot of practice courses. Second thing we focused on is the development of soft skills or essential skills as they're called. If you’re less confident in life, it takes more time to learn those skills. We had to bring IFIM students up to speed.

First thing was to build their confidence. We introduced the personality development programme which impacted both mind and body. And, the other part is to shape their attitudes to make them more positive in life. A lot of that confidence comes from your body, how you feel physically. Also, we got them to realise that all the problems are not resting at the CXO level. The bulk of the problems are at the bottom. So, we encouraged them to go to the bottom of the pyramid and figure out what the opportunities are.

So we introduced the social immersion programme where you put students with an NGO in a village. When you go to a village and solve the smallest problem with a little bit of your knowledge, you suddenly feel that the knowledge works. That also builds confidence, right? So we started addressing the smaller issues but in turn getting them to build their confidence in a manner that they are able to solve problems and automatically become fearless to take on a bigger challenge.

Alongside, we also introduced research and innovation incubation, asking the question ‘how do we get our students to actually work on a problem?’ No company would give us a problem to solve, our students weren’t from an IIM. So, we said, why don't we take our country’s social problems? Let the world know we are problem-solvers. So we got them into deep research. In 2018, we got 47 papers published in Scopus indexed journals..

Now, imagine for the student, his or her paper being published, being acknowledged through a peer review process.; it is a huge confidence builder. So they started with theoretical academic research but today if we send out a document requesting companies to share problems, we get agood response. Today, we’re working on close to 32 problems, and students are trying to deliver solutions that will later become research papers.

The fourth achievement was internships. In 2010, we were seeking internships and no company would give us any opportunities’ we sought four-and-a-half month internships; normally it is for six to eight weeks. But we persevered, and in 2019 an entire batch got placed as all internships came with placement offers. So, IFIM 2.0 was about engagement, teaching, experiential and immersive experiences. That whole process also earned us the AACSB accreditation.

So, post your AACSB, it would be IFIM Version 3.0

Once we received the AACSB accreditation, we could have sat back and said it’s done and we already know everything. We said no, let’s not do that. This is a good reason to hire the best team in the country, take it to the next level. The quality of our intake too has gone up.

Also, version 3.0 began when Atish Chattopadhyay, Director of IFIM B-School, joined us. He said why are we chasing the same jobs (for our students) when there’s a new world being created? So let us not train our people for the Unilevers or the FMCG standard set, or financial services or consulting companies. Let us train people for the new age companies. Let’s go more towards digital and data, which is the new oil. Let’s build digital technologies, put digital transformation into the curriculum and create new age professionals. This is our Version 3.0 journey.

What was the inflection point to get the AACSB accreditation?

There were a lot of debates among faculty here on why these interventions (such as physical training and social immersion) should not be part of the management curriculum. The only way to prove its efficacy was to get a peer review accreditation done from the top international body. So we said this is a do-or-die situation for us. We get the AACSB accreditation and we prove that whatever we’re doing is in line with management education. We got the accreditation in 53 months, which is probably the fastest for a B-school.

What will you teach at your new Vijaybhoomi University?

We now have IFIM business school operating in two campuses. One in Bangalore and one in Greater Mumbai. IFIM Business School is the creator of Vijaybhoomi University. So it’s a business school creating a university! We are going to run the bachelor’s programme in Karjat, where the university is located. In the BBA, we will impart what we teach to our Post Graduate Students in the Bangalore campus.

The majority of the students joining us at the Bangalore campus have no experience; they usually just have a 3-4 year under graduate degree and thus we are quite confident that we can expose our BBA students to the PG curriculum and make them equivalent to our PG students. Imagine, these students will be able to save two years of their life and gain two years of work experience which will definitely make them more valuable than the present MBA graduates.

In what way will the courses at Vijaybhoomi be different?

At Vijaybhoomi we will establish four schools for professional studies and they are: IFIM Business School, which will run the BBA and BCom courses; INSOFE School of Data Science, which will run a BSc in Data Science and a BE in AI; a School of Law that will offer a 5-year integrated BBA LLB approved by BCI; and a School of Design which will offer BDes and MDes in communication design. The construct of Vijaybhoomi University is business-centric, which is our strength as we have been delivering high quality programmes in business and law for 25 years.

The Vijaybhoomi University Act was passed in December 2018 and the gazette notification permitting us to admit students was issued in September 2019. We started off with 30 students who are pursuing BBA and Law. We are now going for a batch of 300 students and not a mega batch of students.

Why wasn’t the university set up in Bangalore where you already have a base?

The family had a huge land bank in Karjat so I convinced them to donate 55 acres to set up a university.. It's right in the middle of the Valley under Bhimashankar temple, surrounded 270 degrees by the Sahyadari hills. It is a very beautiful place and rated high on Trip advisor for hiking and trekking. The location has the dual advantage of access to a metro-city, Mumbai, and at the same time being in lap of nature in a picturesque location,

What’s a compelling reason for someone to enrol at Vijaybhoomi?

One of the key thingsabout Vijaybhoomi university is that it offers a “liberal professional” education. The first two years students have common coursework, commonly referred to as General Education. During these year we expect the students to concentrate only on the process of discovery. and developing their creative, problem-solving, analytical and communication skills. This is also an opportunity for them to experience courses from different streams to enable them to make the right career choices. They can choose the professional degree in the second year.

Vijaybhoomi has also partnered with some top schools globally, such as ESCP Europe; University of Wollongong, Australia; and State University of New York, Albany to enable students to pursue pathway programmes. This implies a student can do a year of study at Vijaybhoomi and then study at these partner schools to complete their studies in areas of their choice. In some cases the student would be entitled to receive two degrees, one from Vijaybhoomi and the other from the partner school.

These partnerships help us in providing wider career pathways to our students, including pursuing a career in international locations, while having one foot in India.. Students can pursue a degree in business analytics, digital forensic, professional accounting and more to build a strong profile enabling them to get employment in new age companies.