The Stanford Graduate School of Business, US, with an illustrious alumni that includes Nobel laureates, has been around since 1925. And it has kept pace with dynamic economic and business environments. Whether it was a public management programme trying to bridge the gap between industry and government in the 1970s, the entrepreneurship classes of the 1980s, or the dot-com era of the 1990s, Stanford’s way was to equip change makers and consequently lead the change.
The school’s current dean, Garth Saloner, has made his own mark in the field of entrepreneurship and innovation. In 2006, Saloner led a curriculum review that restructured Stanford’s MBA programme. He prioritized a personalized approach, which provides courses at multiple levels and challenges each student according to his/her background and experience. So graduate students in life sciences or chemistry could be in the same class as a management professional and have a meaningful debate on leadership.
As dean, he teaches courses on strategic leadership, women’s perspectives on entrepreneurship, and critical analytical thinking. He has authored two books: Strategic Management and Creating And Capturing Value: Perspectives And Cases on Electronic Commerce.
With the aim of providing some management knowledge to those who don’t have a background in business, Stanford will be starting a business programme in Bangalore next year. Stanford Ignite, a regular, eight-week, part-time certificate course, is designed to help innovators formulate, develop and commercialize their ideas. Saloner says “the burgeoning and thriving entrepreneurial community in places like Bangalore and Delhi” is reason enough for the business programme. On a visit to the Capital last week, he spoke to Mint about the rise of entrepreneurship in India. Edited excerpts:
"In the coming years we’ll see a growing number of big success stories coming out of cities like Delhi or Bangalore."
What do you think is fuelling the rise of entrepreneurship in India?
I think it’s a natural evolution. If you look at India’s emergence as a modern economic power, it started with looking for ways to do things that were already being done, but at a lower cost or more efficiently. What you see happening in the last few years is Indian businesses really maturing, feeling the success of prior years and competing effectively on the global stage. Once you make that change, you have to have a competitive advantage to be better or different than the best in the world. So you start to have a more innovative mindset. You see that culture emerging in India.
You’ve been teaching for over 30 years now. Is “innovation” a relatively newer subject? Is it even something that can be taught?
Yes it’s relatively recent. We did a curriculum reform in 2006. We’ve learnt how to teach innovation, systematically. If you want to bring about change, you first have to be able to recognize the problem. That’s an analytical skill-set. Business schools have been doing that pretty well for some time now. But understanding the problem is just the beginning, then you have to come up with solutions, which is a creative process or a design process. That’s something business schools have not done historically. Over time we’ve incorporated models from our design and engineering schools. And the third thing is that nobody does this on their own. You do it with teams and organizations. And that’s about your personal leadership; self-awareness, how to interact with people. The combination of these three elements has been a newer phenomenon for us. So innovation absolutely can be taught.
What are the challenges and positives of being in India right now?
In terms of challenges, there’s some business cultural elements that surround the process of entrepreneurship. In a place like Silicon Valley, they have matured for decades and are useful in supporting entrepreneurs. For instance, the acceptance of entrepreneurship. Take a young person whose family has helped support him through an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), and who is getting a good job in a company like Infosys. If he or she comes home and says I want to be in a garage, getting no income and do a start-up, the parents start to think, “what happened?” That mindset is changing.
Also, in the coming years we’ll see a growing number of big success stories coming out of cities like Delhi or Bangalore. They will become beacons and it’ll become easier for young people to go home and say look at so and so. That’s what I aspire to be.
The second thing is that where does the money to do this come from? In Silicon Valley there have been decades of success. Many of those successful entrepreneurs invest in the next generations. There are angels who recycle the wealth. It takes time for that. It’s a matter of maturation. But it’s encouraging to see the seeds of that happening now.
On the plus side, the opportunities are stunning. This is a gigantic economy and entrepreneurship is young. Ten years ago, our Indian students would try to stay back in the US. Now we see that they’re on a plane and back.
Tell us more about Stanford’s executive programme that’s starting in Bangalore next year.
That’s for people who don’t have a business background. We started this in Stanford because we had all these entrepreneurs who came out of engineering and medicine, where they had something of an idea but no management knowledge. So we thought, can we give them something to get started? It’s been extremely successful. And people with ideas are everywhere. Entrepreneurship is a mystical process and full of risks for people. But when you give them some management fundamentals, put them with people who’ve done it before, who can mentor them, you realize it’s not that mystical. That’s the goal of the programme.
Stanford Ignite will be held from 27 July-15 September in Bangalore. Application forms will be available online from January at www.gsb.stanford.edu/ignite/bangalore