One of the primary lessons that the Indian Institutes of Management teach their students is how to face competition. But when competition reached their own backyards, India's premier management schools were slow in putting those theories into practice.
Stung by the spectacular success of the Indian School of Business, which launched its full-time management programme for experienced executives five years ago, IIMs have finally struck back. Admits an IIM faculty member: "The unmatched success of our post-graduate course for freshers made us complacent. But management theories also teach you how to recover lost ground."
IIMs are now implementing that lesson in style. IIM-Ahmedabad took the lead by launching a one-year PGPEX (post graduate programme for executives), for students with at least seven years of work experience. The success of the course, which is just completing its first year, has spurred others to follow suit, with IIM Calcutta starting its PGPEX this month with a batch of 39 students.
IIM Calcutta, in fact, closed the admission process for its programme in October - much ahead of IIM-A or ISB - to ensure that nobody can use it as a second choice. The admission procedure is the same as ISB's - past academic background, GMAT score, and quality of professional experience.
Arvind Sahay, professor of marketing and placement coordinator for IIM-A's PGPEX, says, "ISB has done very well in this area. Good luck to them. But it's time for us to show what we are capable of." While the first PGPEX batch took in 60 students, the second batch will have 80 students and the institute plans to scale the number up to 120 students.
Like all late entrants determined to grab a respectable share of the market, IIM-A also seems to have kicked off a not-so-subtle price war. The fee for its PGPEX is Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) compared to ISB's Rs 13 lakh (Rs 1.3 million). But there is a catch: while ISB gives scholarships and discounts to some of its deserving students, no such facility is available at IIM-A.
Sitting in his well-appointed office in the IIM-A campus, Sahay, an ex-student of the institute, shows the same aggression that any top-notch CEO would like to display to protect his company's turf. Placements for the first year of the PGPEX students will begin in March, and going by the response so far and IIM-A's strong connections with industry, top-notch senior management placements are really not an issue.
But Sahay isn't willing to take any chances. A well-orchestrated marketing blitz is on to bring in the best global companies to the campus for the first batch of PGPEX students. "We are the best and we have to make that statement in style before the actual placements start in March," says Sahay.
His confidence can be infectious. Prashant John, who quit his product manager's job at Tata Consultancy Services to join the first batch of PGPEX, says people often ask him about the duration of the placement season for the programme.
"The season should last only for a few minutes, not days," says John. That may be a deliberate exaggeration to drive home a point, but there are many reasons why John may not be wide off the mark.
First, the IIM-A brand name itself is a big draw. Second, the academic rigour of the one-year programme is comparable to the best in the world. For instance, PGPEX has an academic menu of 935 contact hours spread over 660 sessions.
To put this in context, INSEAD of France, one of the world's best schools, has 730 contact hours. Viral Berawala, another PGPEX student who quit his cushy corporate finance job at TCS, says each contact hour requires at least four hours of solid background work.
Third, the course also includes what the institute calls international immersion - an assignment abroad with companies such as Unilever, Cognizant and Microsoft. Besides, there is an ongoing students exchange programme with institutes like the Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Leeds, University of British Columbia and University of Amsterdam.
Fourth, the course structure, which was designed in-house by IIM-A, has been customised for each student. Fifth, since students already have an average of 9.5 years of work experience and 3.5 years of average international work experience, the learning structure is based entirely on topical case studies.
The choice of students itself is interesting. For instance, Babu Veeran Baswa led a team of 70 airmen during the Kargil war as Flight Lieutanant; Iqbal Mohammed managed a 39-strong fleet of 737 aircraft and 380 pilots as a fleet manager with Malaysian Airlines; and Gutala Gopinath led a team to identify and investigate black money worth $ 500 million from the unorganised sector as the deputy director of income tax (investigation). This ensures that students get to learn a lot from each other during their off hours.Looking wistfully at the rather small football ground within the campus, John says hardly anybody complains, as the field is only for those lucky few who "magically find enough time to spend here." The academic rigour only shows how IIM-A and its PGPEX students are doing their best to make up for the lost time.