IIM Shillong: We want to carve our own identity
If you want to take a picture postcard of Shillong, all you have to do is click a photograph of the IIM Shillong campus with its palatial building and regal drive-in. If you have a wide lens, you can get the bounteous flowery gardens on either side of the sloping drive-in and the pine trees lining the campus. Try squeezing in the quaint and archaic guest house at the extreme right into the photo frame to make the picture complete.
And if you really want a great shot, stay up till 4 am, when most IIM Shillong students go to sleep, and click the glorious sun rising beyond miles of wooden rooftops and mist-clad hills.
For students of IIM Shillong, the picturesque environment plays a big role in their academic journey to becoming qualified managers.
Having begun operations only in July 2008, the institute has come a long way. According to Prof Ashoke Dutta, director of IIM Shillong (which is actually named Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management), when the first group of 63 students were recruited in July, there was practically nothing on the campus. "There was not even a chair or table, forget other furniture. There were no stairs to places, no pathways. The students helped me put up their entire institute. We worked from scratch. From every nail on the wall to every flower in the garden. It was all set up by the first batch who worked with me."
Dutta adds that the first batch of students worked in groups to set up the place. One group worked as the director's 'secretary', another group looked after maintenance, still other looked after IT solutions, one worked on the library and one looked at admin issues.
"We did not look at any other IIM or want to be like any other. We wanted to carve our own identity, so decided to do things our way and the first batch of students really did a good job due to which things are how they are today," adds Prof Dutta.
The director's words make sense given the fact that not only were the entire first batch of 63 placed but last year IIM Shillong won practically every tournament they took part in. Be it IIM Indore's two flagship events Ashwamedha and Kalpavriksha, IIM Ahmedabad's Masterplan or WagonR Think Big Challenge, organised by Maruti Suzuki.
It was not the easiest getting students for IIM Shillong since admissions began after they had closed at other B-schools. The first batch did not come through the centralised CAT process either. Advertisements for admission were put out way after the CAT announcement.
"We conducted interviews in March. J Shah from IIM Ahmedabad and Samir Barua were the two people who helped me look at admissions, faculty, infrastructure. The three of us looked at everything from point zero and started our way up," says Prof Dutta.
Image: IIM Shillong campus
Why IIM Shillong?
Today, IIM Shillong claims to have students who have said no to other B-schools and opted to study there. Nagendra Singh (of batch 2009-2011) had calls from IIM Bangalore, SCMHRD Pune and IRMA and converted IRMA and SCMHRD besides IIM Shillong but opted for the latter.
His reasons: "The initial interactions with the seniors told me that IIM Shillong was tech-savvy and with sustainability as its core value was different than the typical institutions of this country. Personally, I believed that a start-up institution would provide more opportunities to learn and I couldn't have been more correct as I see myself among the finest students that any IIM can get. I also knew the weather here would be fantastic."
Rishabh Khandhar (batch 2010-12) converted IIM Shillong, MDI, NITIE, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi and NMIMS too. He decided to join IIM Shillong because of the brand value attached to the name IIM.
"But on coming here I realised that this institute has much more to offer. Some of the initiatives the institute has taken in these two years have still not been started by other B-schools. The opportunities available here because it is a start-up institution are plenty."
Manbir Singh Tandon (batch 2010-12) who had converted calls at NITIE, MDI, SCMHRD too said that he chose IIM Shillong over others was because he had heard that the B-school was well-known for its rigorous and demanding schedule. "Hence I knew the prospects of learning were greater."
From the admission point of view, the institute has deliberately enrolled students from different backgrounds, often giving lesser importance to percentiles. In fact the batch passing out this year has 42 per cent women, which is the highest in any IIM.
"We did not just look at percentiles or academic background. We wanted students from different backgrounds who could do justice to our study course. There are some students with no so high percentile too but our aim was to ensure that the group enrolling had a vision that was right for IIM Shillong," said Prof Dutta.
IIM Shillong is apparently stern about getting students who have secured 85 per cent and above in the X, XII and even graduation. The sectional cut-offs are in the region of 70 percentile but the stress is on academics during school and college years and not so much on the overall CAT percentile.
The work put in by the students has resulted in decent infrastructure at the campus. Though it is temporarily functioning from the Mayurbhanj Complex (the place was the summer palace of Mayurbhanj kings), work is underway at a 120-acre land allotted by the government which will hold a modern academic-cum-residential campus. The present campus has a main building, which has the administrative office, faculty offices, classrooms, library and conference halls. Besides the main structure, the institute also has an auditorium, guest house, student hostel and small syndicate rooms.
Except for the hostels, much of the other structures reminds one of a bygone area -- with its sloping roofs and wooden floors and lacy white curtains adorning the windows. Great care is taken to keep the structures as close to their original look. At the moment, construction is on at the temporary campus for additional hostel rooms as some of the first year students live two-per-room in the present facility.
Students are learning to be good kitchen administrators as well by managing the canteen food. There are three chefs. One is Bengali, one is a south Indian and one is from the nearby state of Assam. The mess and its staff are hired and managed by a contractor. This whole system is supervised by a student-constituted hostel committee. The mess menu is decided by the students committee after discussion with the students.
There is special provision for people who fast on propitious occasions. Recently, for the people who were fasting during Navratra, there was the provision for special food items like mashed sweet potato, fruits, curd etc. Also on special occasions students volunteer to prepare delicacies with the help of the chefs.
Besides, the students have a gym for recreation, not to forget the endless greenery on the campus which is good for a jog or just a walk.
Committees, events, publications
Like in other B-schools, there are various student committees which ensure the smoother functioning of the institute. The 'Culture Committee' especially is a huge hit which not only conducts cultural events for the students with participants from the student community but it also invites other dance and music groups based in Shillong to participate.
Some of those in the committee are national-level Kathak dancers and those in the dramatics department are trained at the National School of Drama. This committee also conducts treks for students regularly besides talent shows and holds events during exams so that the students can chill.
One event that IIM Shillong has been regularly holding is the annual 'Golf Cup' held at the Shillong Golf course, Asia's oldest 18-hole course. This tournament, which is going into its third showing this year, sees participants from all major b-schools like IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Lucknow, IIM Calcutta, ISB Hyderabad, FMS Delhi, XIM Bhubhaneswar and almost 50 corporate groups like ONGC, Appejay Group, Vodafone, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, besides others.
Four magazines brought out by students are also a huge draw. Markathon, the monthly marketing magazine, is only a year old and its editor Kaushik Subramanian says, "I usually have a huge bunch of articles to choose for publishing. Everybody likes to write for it." The magazine receives articles from students of all other IIMs and other top B-schools.
Niveshak, on the other hand, is a financial magazine circulated among top B-schools in the country. Its editor Bhavit Sharma told PaGaLGuY that his magazine is followed on Twitter, Facebook and Orkut and has been welcomed by corporate house biggies who also write for it.
ConQuest club at IIM Shillong is not only a monthly magazine but also works on live consulting projects for start-up companies to help them with their business strategies. Nitin Saxena, its editor, says that working for the magazine is a satisfying job since they are able to connect to enthusiastic entrepreneurs from the local community in Shillong.
IIM Shillong's 'Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)' solution is the biggest achievement in the corridors of the institute. With the help of Oracle and Citagus, the institute has practically done away with paper usage in the classrooms and administration departments. The system which reduces manual processes, provides real time information to students, management and faculty. With the help of this technology, students are able to get a calender view of a teacher's classes and teachers are able to know about students through a one-click email to a select group of students or all students in a call.
The teacher can also track mid-term and final grades of the students, write notes which will flash on the student's screen, discuss and inform about assignments on the web and discuss issues like due dates etc. Students on the other hand, get access to an all-round view of the class and exam schedules, check or change enrolments, appointments, view lectures, courses and request transcripts. Due to this technology, students have almost forgotten to carry pens and paper to class. They use pen and paper only for special classes
A unique project that IIM Shillong students got a chance to work on was a traffic plan for Shillong. The city marked by its narrow lanes, and increasing number of vehicles sees major traffic snarls and jams and junctions. Shillong's traffic department asked IIMS students to make a plan to alleviate the traffic woes of the city. The plan which is ongoing has thrown up some interesting suggestions, which are being studied by the authorities in Shillong.
Bhavya Agarwal, one of the students, disclosed that the team working on this plan made a comprehensive study of Shillong city. "Bus stops, traffic nodes, hospital and schools junctions were also looked into minutely and people's behaviour was analysed as part of the project. In Shillong many people get in and get out of buses randomly and there are just 200 police officials on the road which adds to the problem. The committee studied all of this and prepared a plan which is not only easy to implement but also has the active involvement of the local population."
The institute as it is today seems far from any troubling issues -- beautiful campus, good placements, excellent offers, ready batch of students. But there are underlying issues that the institute is trying to solve on an everyday basis. First, the B-school has to make sure that the local population is part of as many student ventures as possible so that they do not feel left out. Besides, because the IIM is in Shillong, not many of the good management faculty in the country are willing to relocate there since there is not much of a life in Shillong beyond working hours.
Also, much effort had to be put in to get the huge new campus for the institute as the one operational currently is too small. Prof Dutta says that he can't even accommodate more than two companies at one time in the campus because the guest house facilities are limited. During placements too, sometimes companies are not willing to fly over to Guwahati and travel four hours one-way to Shillong. Video-conferencing does come to their aid here, though.
But still, life goes on at IIM Shillong and that too peacefully. Maybe it is the perpetual mist in the air that keeps everybody cool or the gorgeous sunrise in the morning that peps up students and faculty members to give their best to the institute.