The Mumbai-based BITSoM B-school, promoted by BITS Pilani, promises to tread a different path in management education, in its approach, content and pedagogy. In this interview, Dean Ranjan Banerjee talks extensively about what the B-school is doing, from individual personal development programmes for students, and its mentoring initiatives to working with social organisations using their management learnings. Excerpts from the conversation:
How has the learning experience at BITSoM been different from the time you launched last year?
The story is around the faculty and curriculum development process. Leena Chatterjee, a legendary prof of HR and OB at IIM Calcutta, who has joined us, has worked out a personal development plan for every student. Essentially, the student goes through multiple psychometric tests and then a detailed one-on-one conversation where the student not only understands his/her strengths and weaknesses, but also develops a plan to work on selected strengths and areas of improvement through the programme.
We then do a mentoring programme with 45 corporate mentors who are assigned to each student. The learning experience is personalised and we are beginning to see the difference.
The quality of teaching is probably the best in the country as we are getting the best teachers from across the world. I am able to see the transformation and impact on students. And, we are seeing an increase in PPOs from companies; usually companies would be wary of hiring from a new B-school as they would like to wait for a few years.
There is a set of courses called winning at the workplace, soft skills, liberal arts, and linking business and society, which includes sustainability, systems thinking… initially students were like ‘why do we need to learn this?’ but come back and say we were better prepared on how to deal with industry. It’s a futuristic relevant curriculum for students and it’s been personalised a lot.
Is industry more sensitive to sustainable practices today?
Sustainability is getting less skin deep now; there is more genuineness and acceptability. Business has become such an essential arm of society that for society to progress, business cannot be merely a profit maximiser. It’s moving in the right direction.
What are the different kinds of courses and activities that you have introduced?
There’s a course called Politonomics, a link between politics and economics; a course on the Indian Constitution to understand legal frameworks and which provides a perspective on business and society. Over and above internships are the live projects in the social sector. All students have done it.
We are working with Project Mumbai and the idea is: can BITSoM students actually work on improving the ecosystem over a period of time. We have picked education and a conversation with BMC is going on to have students work with social organisations and government while using management principles to improve things on the ground. They can do a pilot project and once it reaches some impact, hand it over to the policy makers.
Do you take on fresh graduates or those with experience?
We have students with two to five years’ experience in the current batch. In the first year we had students with 7-8 years’ experience. We have 20 per cent freshers but we do give weightage to experience and we are indeed looking at diversity of backgrounds; one-third of the class is non–engineers and our gender ratio is 35 per cent and we want to push that to 50 per cent.
We do much more open-ended interviews. We don’t do GDs and we short-list candidates looking at the overall profile. We only do individual interviews as we and talk to them on their strengths and interest, the idea being that they should be able to articulate well about their skills. That lends a nice diversity to the batch.
How is your teaching methodology different from the way existing B-schools teach?
It’s already a very different B-school. We only teach for 4-5 hours a day. Even the top IIMs are 4.5 hours, others are almost at six hours of teaching. We teach only two courses at a time: there’s one core course and one winning at the workplace course.
The larger philosophy is if we teach for four hours only, then the students can really focus on the exercises and the doing. Tech and digital is deeply embedded in the course and there’s a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship and individual attention to development for each and every student.
Currently, it’s two sections with a batch size of 130. When that goes to 300 how do I keep the individual attention going will be the challenge. What has surprised me is the difference that personal development and corporate mentoring along with the course work makes. I can see a transformation in the students.
I am teaching a course on learning agility. How do you learn, and how do you reflect on your learnings? At the end of the course I had a habit change assignment. Students are told to give a habit change plan and will work with me over two months to change any of the habits they wish to change. A lot of things are possible because we have kept the hours of teaching light, which is the global norm
Marketing and management is becoming very tech-led today so do your courses take that into account?
Tech is embedded quite deeply in the programme. We have a course on network and data science while there’s a compulsory course on analytics and we have a full course on AI. Recently, Soumitra Datta, Dean of Said B-school at Oxford, taught a course on digital transformation industry by industry; how business models of different industries are getting transformed by digital tech.
Even when we look at projects and internships, say even at HUL, the digital component in marketing is also quite high. And more students are looking to do tech product management and that’s emerging as a career option now. It combines technology, some aspects of product management and not the brand management we used to know.
What is the role being played by BITS Pilani? Where does the funding for the school come from?
BITSom is part of BITS Pilani and is not funded by the Birla group and is being supported by funds from BITS. Mr Kumaramangalam Birla is the Chancellor of the school; we get a lot of intellectual support from the group and Mr Birla also gives a lot of his time for the school.
BITS alumni have been part of the mentoring and interview panel. Students have direct access to BITS Pilani’s incubation centre; we want to draw on BITS’ strengths. IITs have built management institutes which are run like a department within the institute. Here we have a standalone B-school supported by the parent institution and supported strongly by the alumni as well. Which new B-school can boast of such a large alumni network? Teaching is very contemporary, so is the curriculum.