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Dr Dipak Jain, dean of INSEAD, France and Singapore writes his name as Dipak and not Deepak because the first time he wrote his name in English he was not sure how to spell it.
Having studied in a Hindi-medium school in Tezpur, Assam, the first time Dr Jain wrote in English was way after his school days. "Woj galti ho gayi and my name is spelt Dipak even today," the INSEAD dean quipped while talking at a function in Mumbai on Saturday.
The function was organised by ReachIvy, an advisory company that helps students with admissions abroad. Although the event was meant to answer questions about MBA admissions outside India, Dr Jain made sure the lecture was full of beans with interesting anecdotes thrown in at every juncture.
To illustrate the importance of dreaming in life, Jain recounted a story from his early days. Coming from a modest family in Assam, he could never afford to pay for his textbooks. He went to a school which had never had chairs -- students sat on the floor. "If you have a goal, work towards it. Since I could not afford textbooks, my teachers gave me books to read all night and make notes and return them next morning. That's how I studied," Dr Jain said.
Dr Jain went on to do his BSc and MSc from Guwahati University. While studying, he also opted to teach at a local college. To his amazement, on the first day of his life as a professor he realised that while he was 22, the average age in his class was 26. "I was asked to teach business statistics and I didn't know what to teach in business. Statistics was a subject I knew as that was always my favourite." Dr Jain remarked.
He then asked another professor of the college for help and this is the advice he got, "The shadow of a person is longest in the evening. Do not believe in the shadow as it is not the person. Whatever you do, do not fake. If you do not know an answer, tell the students you will get back to them but never pretend to know something. Over time, you will get used to the range of questions and will become better at answering them.
"Those lines I remember everyday and that's what I tell youngsters even today. Be what you are; do not show you are someone else. Believe in yourself. If your admission application gets rejected, do not fret and fume. At the most you may lose a year or two but it is better to wait and get into a good b-school."
Dr Jain studied his doctorate from the University of Texas at Dallas quite by accident. He had written a letter to a professor at University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business seeking advice on a PhD that he was planning to pursue in statistics. By the time the letter reached the school, the professor had moved elsewhere but the US postal department redirected the letter to the professor at his new address.
"This professor then wrote back to me saying that he had changed his subject of research by then and had redirected my letter to another professor at University of Texas at Dallas." This other professor then wrote to Dr Jain a couple of months later that he should send him his TOEFL and GMAT scores in order to begin his PhD.
"What were TOEFL and GMAT? I was hearing those words for the first time. When I came to know what they meant and how costly it was to go to US and do a PhD there, I wrote back saying that I could not afford it and declined the offer." Within months, Dr Jain got an 'admission accepted' letter from UT Dallas with a fully-paid programme. "This is what I mean. UT Dallas is not among the top colleges at all. But I took the offer and that led to better things. Believe that you can do better things and they happen."
Travelling to the US was another ordeal since his family was short of money. The Rotary Club of Tezpur gave him Rs 5,000 and a friend helped with the airfare. "Back then the US dollar was worth Rs 9 and the airfare was Rs 16,000." That was Dr Jain's first flight ever, little knowing that years down the line he would be on the board of directors of United Airlines.
Once at the school, Dr Jain started giving free mathematics tutorials to deserving candidates, a practise that he has preserved even today. "I got a lot from educators in my life. I wanted to give something back. And we must always do that in life," he advised the young in the lecture hall at Mumbai. Thereon, Dr Jain went on to teach at various institutes in the US, Europe and Asia.
Prior to INSEAD, Dr Jain was dean at the JL Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. He took charge of Kellogg on September 11, 2001 and in front of his first ever group of students, hardly had he even begun his speech, when a person came up to him on the stage and whispered that an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York and it would be better to cut the orientation programme short before the students' mobiles start ringing.
"Once students lose attention, it is difficult to get them back to listen, so I stopped. A rather inauspicious start to my career as dean," he remembered.
Mishaps have a way of following Dr Jain. He was right in Phuket when the 2004 tsunami struck South and South-East Asia. Phuket had been a holiday presented to him by the then Thailand government for serving as Foreign Affairs Advisor and taking some crucial beneficial decisions for that government. "My wife and children had decided to visit the beach that morning.
However, the absent-minded person that I am, I led my family to walk on a road that was going in a direction entirely opposite to the beach. When we realised that we had taken the wrong road, we turned back to see waves as huge as the Niagara Falls come crashing down before us." said Dr Jain on a serious note, contemplating what would have happened had they taken the right road that morning.
After Kellogg, Dr Jain had decided to go to Harvard for a year but in the meantime he got offers from MIT's Sloan School of Management and later INSEAD. "The recruiting agency which was hunting for a dean for INSEAD asked me if I was interested. I believe that one must meet up with people only if you are interested in taking up the job, so I met them."
There were a couple of questions from the audience on seeking admission to INSEAD and his one answer to them all was that students had to be a little different in what they show to the schools abroad. "If you have done something different in your life, mention it. Yes, academics are important and so is work experience. If you have worked for some years, you will do full justice to the programme."
The dean said that India, like China, has too local a population and that did not go well with INSEAD's idea of diversity so for now, instead of opening an MBA campus, all that INSEAD would do in India is executive programmes.
"Years later, people will remember you for what you are as a person, your performance will not be remembered. Make sure you become a colleague who will be remembered," he concluded.