Though Gurgaon-based School for Inspired Leadership (SOIL) started in 2007, the groundwork had been laid ahead of time. “Even when I was in college, it was my dream that we should revive our country’s old glory,” shares its founder, Anil Sachdev. “Till the 1500s, India was the centre for economy, education and spirituality. In the 200 years of colonial rule, our self-confidence was brought down and we were made to believe we are underdeveloped, and that attitude is still prevalent,” he points out.
Even the interviews happen in the offices of the participating companies and they assign live projects for our students to work on, later absorbing them based on requirement.
In an effort to remedy this situation, SOIL structures its leadership courses in order to identify high potential candidates and train them to not only lead a profitable organisation but also keep in mind the well-being of society. Of significance, its locations for courses on self-leadership are located in the Himalayan retreats, where the students and staff take time off to ruminate.
An enterprising history
Sachdev himself has a history of establishing enterprises. After completing his MBA from the University of Pune in 1975, Sachdev joined Tata Motors and then joined Eicher Group in 1978 where he worked in human resources (HR), operations and total quality management areas. He became a part of its board and created Eicher Consulting Services (ECS), which in his own words was a “dream come true.” He brought global management consultants, AT Kearney, to India and formed a joint venture with Strategic Decisions Group, a California-based strategy consulting firm.
After 10 years of building ECS, Sachdev established Grow Talent in 2001, a strategic HR development company, which also had investments from companies like Eicher Consulting. Within six years, he had established five offices with strength of 100 consultants.
Drawing confidence from his previous work experience and believing in his ability to provide suitable training, Sachdev established a leadership training institute and thus, SOIL was co-created with 32 of his clients in 2007. The board of this company, where Sachdev holds a majority stake of 67 per cent with five others holding the remaining 33 per cent, is made up of companies who send representatives to the board. The board members are present when interviewing students for admission and act as mentors to them. “Even the interviews happen in the offices of the participating companies and they assign live projects for our students to work on, later absorbing them based on requirement,” explains Sachdev.
There are three courses offered by the institute: business leadership, which is a program in general management and specialised MBA programmes in marketing and HR. For the business leadership course, most students have four to five years of experience and the aim is to broad-base their expertise. For the other two courses, those with 2.5 years of experience can apply. “We relax this rule for those who show exceptional performance in some extracurricular activity. For instance, in our current batch of 116 students, there are about four who do not have any experience, but one is an exceptional writer and another has played cricket at the Ranji Trophy level,” says Sachdev.
Although GMAT scores are assessed, Sachdev says that this is only the primary qualifier. “This test only assesses one’s analytical and verbal skills. We know that there are other relevant skills too like emotional intelligence, creative intelligence and design capabilities,” he points out. So, SOIL relies on the Caliper Test, which gives a detailed profiling of the candidates. And this has often proven to be a good measure to assess leadership skills.
In its first year of inception, SOIL conducted a workshop with its clients and several international companies to arrive at the curriculum. Every year this curriculum goes through a review and new courses introduced as required. Last year, courses for the management of multi-generational workforces and another for virtual teams were introduced. In the pipeline for 2012, is a new curriculum for cross-cultural management. Discussions are also underway to introduce a course on design and aesthetics in innovation, bringing art, technology and management together.
In addition to the retreat and a course on self-leadership that is an integral part of the curriculum, it imparts training in yoga and meditation. The students also work with non-profit organisations to inculcate a sense of responsibility towards the nation.
In this context, SOIL has also tied up with the Graduate Institute in Washington, Italy-based MIP Institute and University of Brunswick, Canada for courses on sustaining businesses. SOIL is also in talks with a university in Japan for introducing courses on innovation.
School for Inspired Leaders (SOIL)
Founder: Anil Sachdev
Turnover: Rs 12 crore (2010-11)
Fiscal outlook: Rs 16 crore for 2011-12
Overcoming a challenge
The current batch is the third one and has 116 students, as against 60 in the first. “We are aiming for 180 next year in the current format,” he says and adds that SOIL is looking for space to build its own campus to house 500 students. Currently, blocks in Gurgaon have been leased to provide hostel facilities.
“We are run like a corporate with our own quality standards defined by the 32 companies we work with,” says Sachdev. As a result, SOIL will have to pay market price for the land (government-recognised institutes buy land at a subsidised price).
This lack of recognition was also an impediment in the first year since SOIL does not offer an official MBA. “We have our own certificate, which is co-branded by the companies,” he explains. This was a stumbling block in getting students on board as parents were also hesitant. But its approach and the good results have helped overcome this problem in the subsequent years.
“There is a higher education bill pending in the Parliament. Once that is passed, there will be an accreditation agency and we will submit ourselves to that,” adds Sachdev. This lack of recognition had also been a challenge with respect to its international tie-ups initially, but eventually several universities got special permissions from their boards to tie up with SOIL – solely because they were convinced by its unique methodology.
Sachdev is optimistic and expects SOIL to touch Rs. 25 crore in revenue next year (it was Rs. 7 crore in its first year). This fiscal, according to Sachdev, the institute will break even with a Rs. 3 crore bottom line on revenues of Rs. 16 crore. The company’s focus is to grow modestly, ethically and bring about a revolution.
To supplement its revenues, SOIL also has global leadership programmes for senior management people – a legacy from the Grow Talent days. This is a nine-month course, started in 2004, which takes the participants from large companies to different destinations, orienting them towards international business practices. Next year, part time courses for young leaders will also be offered, thus reaching the entire spectrum of students.
Clearly, higher education offers tremendous scope for expansion and Sachdev believes that SOIL will do well given its vision and focus.
Concept in Brief
To create socially conscious leaders who work for the benefit of the organisation, its stakeholders and customers and for the betterment of society. Setup in partnership of 32 companies, SOIL has a general management course and specialised MBA programmes in marketing and HR.