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'IIT alumni's success has been phenomenal, but. . .'

Last updated on: May 21, 2005 07:51 IST

Sudhakar ShenoySudhakar V Shenoy, founder, chairman and CEO, Information Management Consultants, Inc, and co-chair of the Global IIT Alumni Conference, says that while the success of the IIT alumni has been "just phenomenal," if it is not sustained by pulling "up the next generation, we would have failed."

In an interview with rediff.com, Shenoy, who is also chairman of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, said making sure the success of the IIT alumni, particularly in the United States, is replicated by the future generations of IIT alumni would be one of the key discussions during the conference, besides the usual networking, alumni get-togethers and the continuing catalytic role the IIT alumni can play in furthering the growing bilateral relations between the US and India.

Shenoy was recently named one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Washington, DC high-tech industry, as well as being awarded the 2004 Executive of the Year by the Northern Virginia Gov Council, the Professional Services Council, and Washington Technology.

In 1996, Shenoy was inducted into the University of Connecticut's School of Business Alumni Hall of Fame and in 1997 was recognised as a Distinguished Alumnus of IIT-Mumbai.

He received his BTech in electrical engineering from IIT-Mumbai, an MS in electrical engineering and an MBA from the University of Connecticut's Schools of Engineering and Business Administration, respectively.

What is the primary purpose of the global alumni conference this time round and being held for the first time in Washington, DC?

The goal behind the whole thing -- in fact, the theme -- is technology without borders. But overall we want to stress -- besides all of the networking, alumni get-togethers and all that -- the involvement of the IIT guys in fostering technology in education, in rural transformation, in trade between the US and India and how best all of this can be facilitated in a concerted and focused manner. So these are some of the main goals of the convention.

What do you hope to achieve from this conference, in bottom-line terms?

We hope to start an ongoing dialogue on many of the issues that I just spoke about. A sort of intra-dialogue primarily between alumni and the businesses out here. The Indian government of course is participating in it, with Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh and a couple of other senior Indian officials attending.

But it's mostly for the private sector, and we want the government to know what we are looking for and what is it we would like to do. What we are also endeavoring is to make sure we can have the kind of camaraderie among all the seven IITs.

You see in America, if you notice, all major institutions have a strong alumni network and the alumni contribute not just their money but also their time, their efforts, their ideas. I am on the Board of the University of Connecticut and all the alumni they get together, they are so enthusiastic to build up the alma mater.

And so it's only fitting the IIT alumni do the same thing and that's what we will try to institutionalise. Have the kind of old boy network that Harvard, Stanford, Yale, MIT and others have.

Because if you look at the success of the IIT guys, it's just phenomenal and if we can't pull up the next generation, we would have failed. This ought to be our mission and while we are certainly doing quite a lot, we ought to be doing a lot more of that. That's what establishes an institution from being just a leading institution to a truly great institution.

Also, if we don't make sure there is this succession, it would be such a waste because after being such an integral part of the US IT sector and establishing Silicon Valley and the East Coast technology sector and all over the place, if this is not sustainable with a corresponding younger generation, it would be just awful.

So it's not only incumbent upon us to make sure that this legacy endures, it would be a shame if we didn't do it. People like Rajat [Gupta, co-chair of the conference] for example, he is just absolutely phenomenal. He is a very influential guy. He can pick up the phone and call just about any CEO and he has not shied away from doing that and helping IIT-ians, which is the way it ought to be.

In terms of some of the tangible activities in India to help push the growth of the country's economy, is there some strategy on the cards?

There is no denying the fact that IIT-ians have created an employment base in India but we can do better. The Infosys of the world and others have created thousands and thousands of jobs in industries that just didn't exist or even envisioned 20 years ago, and now the export revenues in terms of information technology services these industries bring to the country's GDP is quite significant and expected to grow even more exponentially.

And these export earnings are just the tip of the iceberg, and sky is the limit, especially if we can foster the manufacturing sector because this is where the real bang is.

If we can parlay our edge in IT and create employment for millions more by establishing a huge manufacturing base we can give everybody a run for their money, especially China whom we are always being compared with. India has the wherewithal, we have the talent, the know-how and if we IIT-ians could also be a part in bringing all of this together, India's growth can reach even much higher rates.

So IITs getting into manufacturing is also going to be a focus of the conference?

This is certainly one of the topics we will be bringing up and there is a whole panel on that --Lord Kumar Bhattacharya and people like him will lead the discussion on this.

In terms of the concern over sustainable academia for IITs, in light of the difficulty of attracting faculty for IITs, how are the alumni going to help?

This is indeed going to be an important topic of the discussions and beyond the conference on how we can all work to make sure we can ensure IITs will never be lacking for quality faculty.

IIT-Bombay, where I am from, has always had what is called the faculty alumni network, BAMNET, where the people here actually help IIT-Mumbai get the proper kind of talent to go and teach.

Are they like adjunct faculty?

No. These guys are actually helping find full-time faculty and last year in San Jose we held a series of interviews of several people who are just getting their PhDs who would like to go back and teach in India.

The second thing that we are trying to do is establish relationships between major research universities in the US and the IITs. Recently, we met with the Johns Hopkins people, they have signed an MOU with IITs to have an exchange of faculty as well as do some joint research together.

Under this MOU we are also hoping to get IIT professors to come and spend some time here and vice versa.

I believe you are on the Board of Visitors of George Mason University in Virginia and have initiated a relationship between George Mason and IIT Bombay?

As a matter of fact, George Mason has now become quite a pretty good destination for IIT students. Before we started the program, they had not even heard about IIT. But now we are getting regular applications from IIT students coming here to do both masters and PhD. A few years ago my company kicked this off by giving $150,000 and it was used to give three scholarships to IIT students over two years.

But this ended in 2001 after 9/11, when the students were having a hard time getting a visa so we kind of put it on temporary hold, but they've started it again last year.

We also endowed a perpetual scholarship in Sudeep Naik's name. He used to be my chief technology officer and died a couple of years ago of cancer.

He was a graduate student at George Mason and got his master's there. Also Lloyd Griffith, Dean, Engineering School at George Mason, with whom I travelled to Mumbai several years ago and across India to tie up with IITs, is talking to the corporate sector in Virginia to get more involved and give more scholarships to IIT students.

Is the kind of tension that used to prevail many years ago where faculty and college administrators were resistant to the changes dissipated completely?

I don't see any of that kind of tension at all anymore. They are very open to change and progress and exchanges. They are very much for it and want to make sure they get a piece of the action of the success of the expatriate IIT alumni. They welcomed alumni and their suggestions for change.

What's the rationale behind having the conference this time on the East Coast?

Our last big global alumni conference was on the West Coast and most of the people who attended were West Coast people although a few of us from the East Coast attended. We thought we must spread the thing around because this then gives an opportunity for the East Coast alumni to have a chance to attend.

Otherwise, it's always a sort of West Coast, Silicon Valley affair.

Not that there's anything wrong with it. But this gives the people here an opportunity also to make their presence felt and of course, most importantly, to give US lawmakers and administration officials a feel about what IIT-ians and IITs are all about. They've heard so much about it and now it's time to really showcase ourselves.
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