Even in the days before he became the director of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in November 2007, Prof. Samir Kumar Barua stood out from other faculty members. For one, he was perhaps the only professor who always arrived for class impeccably dressed in a full-sleeved shirt and tie. He was also known for his even temperament. Barua was the chairperson of the flagship Post Graduate Programme in Management from 2002 to 2004—a job where he managed the academic needs of more than 400 MBA students and close to 100 talented, and often eccentric, faculty. In short, plenty of reasons to lose one’s cool. This writer graduated from IIM-A in 2005 and knows this first-hand.
So when the “Diro”, as students call him on campus, ushered me into his bright, airy office in Wing 5 of the faculty block at IIM-A, I wasn’t surprised to be welcomed by the same infectious smile, crisp shirt and sober tie.
For the office of one of the country’s most high-profile educational administrators, Barua’s room is sparse. There is a picture of IIM-A founder Vikram Sarabhai on the wall, and a few cups and trophies on the low shelf behind Barua’s chair. The desk is abuzz with papers and correspondence.
Is the job of director of IIM-A as powerful and influential as it looks? Is it fun? I ask him as we settle down with cups of tea. “To be honest, it is actually much, much more work than I anticipated. There is so much to do. I had no idea how bad the workload was when I shot off my application for the position,” Barua says.
Always the professor: Barua continues to teach even after taking over as director. Jayachandran / Mint
He routinely clocks 16- to 18-hour workdays and yet, when he goes home, he has the institute on his mind. “When I was chair of the Post Graduate Programme, I had these great ideas for the institute. And I got upset when my ideas didn’t get implemented. Now I know how difficult it can be to change things even when you are the director.”
Still, there is no denying that Barua is amply qualified for the job; not to overlook the fact that he has been living on the campus for 36 years. “I signed up for my doctoral programme in 1976 and never left!” he says.
Barua was born in Raipur and after the reorganization of states— when Barua was four—his father, a lecturer in English, moved the family to Nagpur. After a postgraduate degree in engineering, Barua joined the manufacturing company Crompton Greaves.
But his life could have taken a different twist. Barua’s masters thesis guide asked him to move with him to a university in the US. “Of course, I was tempted to go. But I wanted to work for a while first,” Barua reminisces.
Also, being the only son, Barua wanted to be with his family instead of going abroad. So he decided to stay back, turned down an offer from TCS—“To this day, I can’t even think of coding for a living”—and joined Crompton Greaves.
The passionate engineer was fast disillusioned. “All romantic ideas of working as an engineer vanished. Industrial engineers are hated by everyone on the floor. On top of that, I had to change two trains to go to work and then, over time, the city of Mumbai itself began getting to me.”
In 1976, he decided he needed to study more. “Back then, the institute (IIM-A) was not so well known. It was respected, but there was none of this frenzy to get in.” Barua aced the admission test without any of today’s elaborate coaching programmes and mock testing sessions.
It’s a story that repeats itself to this day. Many engineers who sign up for business school do so after being disillusioned with their day job. I interrupt him for a second. Would he clear the dreaded Common Admission Test if he took it today? “Yes, yes,” he says nonchalantly, “I don’t think it would be a problem!”
When applying to the institute, Barua had every intention of returning to industry after his doctorate. During his interview for the fellowship programme, Barua was asked what he intended to do after it. “I should have told them I wanted to be a faculty member. At the time, they wanted all the fellows to stay back and teach. But I gave them the absolutely wrong answer and told them I’d go back to work.”
Despite this, Barua was selected. “My academic record otherwise was pretty good,” he reasons. Back then, like now, the doctoral students spent their first year with the regular MBA students and took many of the same courses.
“It was during that period that I developed an interest in finance,” Barua says. Finance would go on to become an area of lifelong interest for the very committed student and appreciated teacher.
In a repeat of history, Barua was again offered a job abroad after his programme. And again he turned it down. “The offer was with Metal Box in Canada. It was a great job and there was a lot of money involved as well.” Barua was also approached by the institute to continue as faculty.
There is a tinge of embarrassment on his face when Barua recounts why he decided to stay back. “There was family, of course. But also, this meant I didn’t have to vacate my room on campus. Everyone else was packing and running around to move. If I stayed back, I could avoid all that hassle!”
Starting as an assistant professor in 1980, Barua climbed the ranks rapidly, developing both as a teacher and researcher. He also authored two books. “One was a textbook on portfolio management that my publisher is desperately trying to get me to update,” Barua adds. The other was a book on the Harshad Mehta scam, The Great Indian Scam: story of the missing Rs 4000 crore, that went on to become a best-seller.
I ask if he has any other books in the works. “Well, I wanted to write one more on finance. But now I am bored of all that. What I really want to do is to write a book on bringing up a pet.” His golden labrador, Tito, is one of Barua’s sources of relaxation after a hectic day at work. “Fifteen minutes with him, and my worries disappear. Till I switch on my computer again.”
I ask Barua what he hopes to achieve in his term as director. What does he want to leave behind as his legacy?
“Three things. First, I want to see the institute financially independent. We can’t teach management in our classrooms and then be incapable of running a self-sufficient institution ourselves. Financially we must become stronger. Secondly, I want to give a major thrust to research and case writing. I want to put together unparalleled intellectual property . And finally, I want our students to see the reality of poverty in front of them. I am trying to develop a social internship system where students can go and work in villages, slums and places like that. Alumni must helps us with this.”
If he can do these three things in his term, Barua says, he will have achieved his goals.
Samir Kumar Barua
Born: 23 September 1951
Education: Mechanical engineering, VNIT Nagpur; MTech, IIT Kanpur; doctorate in business management, IIM Ahmedabad
Current Designation: Director and professor
Work Profile: Barua worked with Crompton Greaves for two years as an industrial engineer. Has been part of the IIM-A faculty since 1980
Favourite Sports: Football, cricket and bridge
Parenting Mantra: Barua refused to send his son for any coaching classes or tuition right through school and college. His son eventually graduated from IIM Bangalore, and works for a consulting firm in New Delhi
Digital Diversions: Barua has developed several games and instructional software, including a package that simulates the Bombay Stock Exchange environment over multiple days and helps students learn margin and forward trading