What is the vision behind starting this institute?
Great Lakes Institute of Management will focus on entrepreneurial leadership and family business. The institute offers training that is divided vertically and horizontally as well. That is, it will focus on functional as well as industry specializations since the requirements of a marketing team can vary significantly from industry to industry. Also an entrepreneur needs to know when to start a business, when to end, how to get finances, how to market.
If you take India, mostly businesses are family businesses. India will become a third superpower because of these people.
I want the next generation to not only inherit business, but develop leadership qualities, become passionate about the business and drive it from the front.
But what is the guarantee that your vision will be carried forward? We can see live instances of large family businesses breaking up into groups. Though they may do well independently, how do you keep them functioning together? So my aim is to teach them how to ensure this continuity. No management institute today is focusing on this. We are already working with leading groups like TVS. But though all may not be as large, even the small ones are quite significant. I want the next generation to not only inherit business, but develop leadership qualities, become passionate about the business and drive it from front.
Apart from this differentiation, what do you think is the need for another management training institute today? What is your long-term vision?
I think India needs 50 such institutes today. I was instrumental in starting MDI (Management Development Institute) in Gurgaon in 1991, and later, ISB (Indian School of Business) in Hyderabad. Both had established themselves. ISB today is considered elitist. I wanted to provide IIM Ahmedabad kind of training at that rate. Great Lakes combines the learning from the mistakes of the first two institutes and is on par with IIM-A. My vision is to be known among the top five management training institutions in India initially, and later, globally. I want to train students in Indian values with global mindset. For this, I have a mix of permanent and visiting faculty. I am very particular about the quality of the faculty. If anybody does not match the standards, they will not continue the next year. The visiting faculty is from the industry, so they will continue to infuse fresh thoughts and be up-to-date.
Research is another area I am stressing on. I have horizontal research centers – in marketing, entrepreneurship, infrastructure and finance. I am also creating an international group of faculty. You must constantly push the frontiers of knowledge. I am bringing in speakers, presenting case studies, conducting conferences. We want to bring in business excellence with teaching elegance. The research will focus on problems faced by businesses.
At the institute, one-third of our students are women, which is unheard of here, and two-thirds from the rest of India. It is a residential, 12-month course. Apart from management topics, we also believe in inculcating ethics through karma yoga. Students work with the villages around to provide healthcare services and community development. This is to help avoid future frauds. They are also taught Chinese because I believe that it will emerge into an important center.
What about your own continuity plan?
My son is well-qualified, and once he is tenured, he can take this up after me. But before him, I have students who have now gained experience and are qualified. Like I have my network, they have their own network. So there is no dearth of quality faculty.
How do you compare the Indian entrepreneur with the American?
Research shows that the left brain is analytical and the right is for relationships. For the American, the right brain is very well developed, so he can sell anything because he knows how to establish a rapport. In the Indian, the left brain is well developed. Having a balanced approach is important.
Though it is commonly believed that innovation is lacking, we cannot generalize. Take Saravana Bhavan for instance. He established his business well in India and is now expanding abroad. He has not changed his products. People are adapting to his products. Take the dabba distribution. I think that is brilliant.
We should not think that we are at the bottom of the pyramid, but at the base. Because that changes the perspective. We have a large rural population, and we are good at constrained optimization – which means optimum utilization of limited resources. The Internet has made it easy to market now. Tiruppur banians and Sivakasi firecrackers are well known worldwide. I believe we will soon have the market share too. We were earlier expecting the buyers to come to us. But management institutes teach customer orientation. So we will now be able to create products that will make them want to come to us.
You were honoured with Padmashri… How has that motivated you?
I was surprised when I got it in 2001. I am an American citizen. But, I had worked with the government and I never charge for those consultations so that I can maintain my independent. I had brought in investments worth $700-800 million, formed the Action Group of India, which was a precursor to Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
The Padmashri is a great honour. I am very greatful to this country for the kind of education it provided me, and I feel it is my obligation to do something for the country. I feel every Indian should be motivated by thought.
One of my dreams is to make India energy efficient. I am introducing MBA in energy management and the degree will be given by the University of Houston, with whom I am working on in this area.
You have taught to an international audience and to Indian students. Drawing from this experience, do you have any recommendations on the changes that are needed at the school and college level in India?
As far as I have seen, the Indians while are exceptionally brilliant in the technical department (analytics, math etc.) are just as poor in the areas of soft skills, English language elucidation, interpersonal communication and impression management. The basic conditioning right from the early portals of learning in India focus more on the subject disciplines as opposed to the study and mastery of language and its intricacies. We must realize that technical expertise can land us no competitive deals if we are unable to voice our capabilities and negotiate favorable terms. We are in a business age where relationship management is key. It is imperative that our students are also taught to be assertive (distinctly differentiated from arrogance), to take under two minutes to create interest and make an impression. Likewise, at the collegiate levels an induction into business etiquette and mannerisms (could also be geography specific) would be a necessary training which seeks to completely groom the Indian professional.