Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVI No. 16, December 1-15, 2016


Two years in a bubble

Not about Madras, strictly speaking, but A.V. Ram Mohan (PGP 1974-76) -remembers his years in an institution many from -Madras that is Chennai aimed for and still aim for

IIM Ahmedabad came into my life well before I even set foot inside its campus. While I was still recovering from the shock of getting an admission letter in the final days of April 1974, a bulky parcel arrived from the Publications and Case Distribution office of IIMA. It contained a book, How to read a balance sheet (an ILO publication) with a note to all prospective students that they were expected to master it in the remainder of their summer, before arriving on campus. It was then, and continues to be, a top-class book on balance sheet concepts employing a novel method, for that time, of programmed learning. For nearly 70 per cent of the class, it was their first encounter with finance and business, and it made a deep impression. You could tell that IIMA was taking its business education mission seriously indeed.

On the first day, July 1, 1974, Director Prof Samuel Paul was all set to welcome the PGP-1’s as all of us became on that day. With him was Prof Suresh Seshan, Dean of PGP. In his efforts to make light of the work load and academic pressures to be encountered in the first year, he resorted to American humour. “Look to your left, look to your right, next year one of you will not be there”, we are not that kind of school, he seemed to say.


For most PGP-1’s, the first term course of Managerial Accounting-1 (affectionately known as ManAcc1) was a mixture of simple arithmetic made complex by accounting rules; the idea that double entry book keeping with its debits, credits and T-accounts, could be an instrument of torture was not factored into our decision-making process earlier.Wild gyrations of Prof Govindarajan while circumnavigating the class room, and sharp, pointed questions of Prof SP Agarwal ensured that 70 minutes of class time swiftly sped away. All you had to do to survive this ordeal was to avoid eye-contact with the instructor, so he picked on someone else for his victim. ManAcc1 was a great equaliser, in that both engineers and accountants in the batch, were equally flummoxed by being put on the spot to respond.

In terms of reward-to-effort ratios, marketing courses were the darling of the batch. Prof Vora and his constant shadow Prof Jain were a formidable duo to face. “You guys did some kind of Ahmedabad analysis” was Prof Vora’s immortal response to our I term mid-term examination. A case on market survey for razor blades inspired Brian Pinto and Subbu to compose a ditty along the lines of ‘When I was doing my MBA, I had to do a blade survey’ and so on, and sing it to the tune of Raghupathy Raghava. It also had chi-square test in the refrain, making it conceptually acceptable, though done by left-wing pundits.

Some of the student group presentations had their own entertainment value. Management Structure, Planning and Control (MSPC) was a course you took if you wanted to hit the board in ten years, so everyone enrolled in it. Ashvalayan Krishnamurthy and his team made a dramatic presentation of some entirely forgettable case, and Ash being an acting impresario, turned it into some sort of mono-acting display. After the group’s performance someone complimented him saying it was an ‘interesting’ presentation, and Ash responds by saying ‘I notice the choice of adjective!’ thereby elevating the batch’s average linguistic competence by several notches.

Incremental costing and options for problem solving were the mantras for Managerial Accounting 2 (ManAcc2) taught in the polished accents of Prof John Camillus. The highlight of the course was a phenomenal case called Prendergarth Warrior, story of a ship plying the Malacca Straits touching points like Balik Papan. Even discounting for the exotic locales, Prendergarth Warrior was a first class learning experience, in forcing people to generate options for problems and gathering relevant costs to evaluate them. In the annals of corporate case writing, PW should have been topping the charts, as the most complex case, for many years. In the ITT case, Prof Camil-lus brought Harold Geneen the conglomerator and his obsession with financial controllership to life, concluding ITT did ‘fifty quarters of conti-nuous growth in EPS’. There were lighter moments too in ManAcc2, with Prof Camillus’s joke about Scotch and Bourbon*.

Imodium sales on campus spiked once every six weeks, coinciding with the submission dates for Written Analysis and Communication (WAC) cases. When WAC readers revealed their grading of papers, one Stephanian was heard to wonder aloud if there was a random number generator somewhere in the basement of the main building. While it was not appreciated at the time, WAC was probably the most immediately useful of courses, since most PGPs ended up in analytical jobs in the first few years of work.

Then there were the courses on Organisational Behaviour 1 and 2. Either you liked them a lot or hated them a lot, there were no greys about them, only black or white. Hart and Bing was an early case in OB1, describing the shop floor conflicts and how to deal with them. During its discussion, BM Sharma made the most memorable CP of all time: ‘If Bing wants to go ten times to the bath-room what you can do?’. Yes, indeed, what can you do about that? Colourful Prof Sasi Misra who had a wardrobe full of designer shirts stood apart from all those plain bush shirt wallahs. ‘Ashok Rajguru’, a case taught by Prof Sasi Misra, was a fine example of how to draw out a person, well before today’s -‘appreciative inquiry’ movement came into vogue. In a campus full of characters, Prof Pulin Garg was unique, and his course on Inter Personal Relationship Lab (IPR) was a must-do for certain type of PGPs. In tearful after-dark sessions, people came face to face with their true selves, and to be frank many of them didn’t like what they saw.

Coming from the perception-is-reality school of thought, Pulin had no patience with chaps toying with rational models of decision making. ‘Technique bastards’ was his sneering description of them.

Under Prof Paul Mampilly, Financial Management 1 and 2 turned out to be basically working capital management with his pipe-line theory featuring very prominently in it. Modi-gliani and Miller model, along with Sharp and Lintner, were pooh poohed away ‘woh tho theek hai’.

No discussion on my time at IIMA would be complete without a mention of the incomparable trio, Profs. V.L. Mote, Meenakshi Malya and Jahar Saha of the MSM2 fame. Whether we are today able to apply statistics in decision-making or not, we were drilled into knowing at least the difference between mean, median and mode, thanks to this no-nonsense team of teachers. You had to be careful in your CP, however; Prof Mote was known to hurl broken pieces of chalk in frustration – at the blackboard.

Very early origins of his book Bottom of the Pyramid were -visible to those of us who -attended Prof. C.K. Prahalad’s course on Business Policy. To paraphrase CKP in 1975, ‘Do you think a man on daily wages would not want to use shampoo like the rest of us? That is an elitist concept of what the poor wants.’ Several decades later CKP wrote his book expanding this very theme.

Production Management over the years may have lost its glamour as a subject, if it had any to begin with, but Prof Amarlal Kalro’s carefully modulated delivery was something to listen to. Prof Kalro spoke just the right number of words setting standards for terminological exactitude.

When you read the trend setting book, Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt in the 1990’s, there was an immediate flashback to Prof Satia’s course on Production Planning and Control. In the discussion of the El Segundo Machine Shop case, he taught the effects of applying the Shortest Processing Time (SPT) rule on job shop loading, and this was done roughly 25 years before Gold-ratt came on the scene. Concepts like the P-system and Q-system of inventory control, and safety stock as a buffer for the variability in demand during lead time, and not demand during LT, were drummed into you by Prof Satia. What a low-key scholar amidst all those big shot professors was Prof Satia.

There are two reasons why life at IIMA in the middle years of 1970’s was like living in a bubble. IIMA at that time -probably represented the best of what Indian education sector could assemble at one place: unbelievably good faculty, a setting in a lovely atmosphere and a refreshingly new, and sometimes confrontational, approa-ch to learning not experienced hitherto by most of us. It was therefore an unrepeatable one-off experience.

The second factor is that management education was then seen as a serious calling, with its emphasis on learning fundamental concepts; IIMA then was a place you went to learn something about decision-making, and not just to cultivate a network which would help in your career some day, as most MBA programmes have become over the years. As you boarded the Gujarat Mail for the last time in May 1976, it was not readily apparent that the larger business world outside of IIMA was not fully conforming to these decision models. Like an astronaut who just came back after spending long periods in the space station, most of us were grappling with the reality on the ground for quite some time thereafter.

* ManAcc2 type of humour
Situation: First class cabin of an airline in flight.
Air hostess to business executive: Scotch or Bourbon, sir?
Business Executive: Scotch.

AH to Father Murphy on the next seat: Scotch or Bourbon, sir?
Father Murphy, sneering: I would rather commit adultery than drink liquor..
Business Executive to AH: Hold my order, I did not know that alternative was available.

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