Jamshedpur: Perhaps it makes sense that the country’s pre-eminent institute devoted to human resource (HR) management would get it right. However, as any business knows, grooming managers is anything but easy.
A focus on ethics and a value-oriented approach to creating future managers is the niche expertise of the two-year business management (BM) and personnel management and industrial relations (PM&IR) courses at XLRI, Jamshedpur. And this, according to its director, faculty and students, is what differentiates XLRI from other top business schools in the country.
Indeed, in the Mint C-fore survey of the Top 50 private business schools in the country, XLRI is ranked first—no small feat for an institute in a relatively remote location and in a segment of higher education that is growing crowded and competitive.
Teacher student equation: A class in progress at the institute. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/ Mint
XLRI’s course content, which is on a par with the top Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), also has a lot in common with them. But, according to Jitendra Singh, a professor teaching organizational behaviour at the institute, much of the learning at XLRI happens “outside the classroom”.
“Our institute is located in one of the poorest regions of the country, and we find it (is) important to sensitize our students—most of whom come from urban centres—to the poverty around. Therefore, as part of their course work in the first year, students have to stay in villages with the locals and develop an understanding of their socio-economic situation,” says Singh, who is an XLRI graduate and has been teaching at the school for about 15 years.
Apart from having a component of business ethics as part of the curriculum, various student communities are involved in social initiatives—some of which include putting together a clothes bank for distribution among the poor as remuneration for community welfare work and providing a marketing channel for the products of tribal craftsmen in India and abroad.
XLRI was founded by Quinn Enright, a Jesuit priest, in 1949. “Tata Steel officials requested Father Enright to open an institute to train the local trade union leaders and help them bargain better with the management on behalf of the workers, and that is how XLRI came into being,” says Sharad Sarin, a professor of strategic management at XLRI since 1972.
XLRI, in fact, stands for Xavier Labour Relations Institute, but now the institute goes by just the acronym.
Over the years, XLRI has earned a stellar reputation. In 1953, a two-year day programme in industrial relations and welfare—rechristened PM&IR in 1985—started at the institute. The two-year full-time business management programme was launched as early as 1968.
At present, other than its business management and PM&IR courses, XLRI runs 18 long-term management development and general management programmes on campus and a host of others through its satellite-based learning system. In addition, the school has two international campuses in Dubai and Singapore.
Though the business management programme has been going strong for four decades, even today many perceive the HR programme to be XLRI’s forte. While there are many competitors to XLRI for a two-year MBA (master’s in business administration) programme, there is virtually none for its PM&IR course, says Sarin. “This is despite the fact that after the BM programme started, there has been greater demand for it than PM&IR among aspiring candidates,” Sarin adds.
The XLRI School of Business and Human Resources, as it is known today, boasts of alumni comprising executives placed at the top of the corporate ladder with reputed companies across the globe.
The final placements for the batch that graduated in March this year saw a total of 298 offers being made to 180 students, with 31% of the offers coming from leading domestic and global finance companies.
The number of foreign placements, however, was few (12, to be precise).
Some faculty members say that XLRI students are more inclined to serve within the country than abroad. “We do have companies offering international placement at XLRI, but we have not gone overboard with trying to promote foreign placements. There is such a lot of demand and opportunities in India itself,” Singh says.
XLRI has lofty plans for the future, and is in the process of implementing them. The institute has already obtained permission from the All India Council for Technical Education to double the number of seats in its PM&IR course to 120 from the next academic session.
“Our major thrust for the future would be to provide global exposure to the institute and its students, and we are already in talks with a number of universities in the US and Europe for student and faculty exchange programmes,” says the director of XLRI, E. Abraham.
Work has already begun on the construction of a hostel for international students on campus. The institute is also waiting for more land to build an entrepreneurship development institute near its existing campus, which would also have incubator facilities for budding entrepreneurs.
The XLRI campus—located in the Circuit House Area (east) in Jamshedpur—might be smaller compared with some of the other business schools in the country, but it is well kept and picturesque. It has all the amenities to help students take a recreational break from rigorous academic sessions.
“When we are not in the classroom or busy preparing projects, we love chilling out in the lawn in front of the cafeteria in the wee hours of the morning,” says Vidhi Garg, a first-year business management student.
For some, the not-so-big campus is an advantage. “It is good in a way that the campus is not that big. By the end of the first year, I already knew the names of all my batchmates and most of my seniors, and now I know most of my juniors by name,” says Sharath N., a second-year business management student.
Faculty members say that the “cozy” campus facilitates a deeper, more informal bond between teachers and students.
“My accommodation is a stone’s throw from that of the students’. So, even if they need my help in the middle of the night, they just come and knock at my door,” says E.M. Rao, professor of personnel management, industrial relations and labour laws.
“The kind of proximity we share with our professors is amazing. This is something that we could not have got at any of the IIMs, where one needs to take an appointment with professors well in advance,” says second-year business management student Prasanna S.
Though academics is on the students’ minds for the better part of their stay at XLRI, extra-curricular activities are actively encouraged. “One day, professors saw us playing badminton at 4am, and soon after a decision was taken to schedule no classes between 4.15pm and 6.30pm so that this time could be utilized by the students as they please,” says Jeevan Kumar, another business management student.
The annual XLRI-Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIM-C) sports meet is a matter of immense pride for the students here. Right now, XLRI students are gearing to reclaim the trophy that went to IIM-C the last time round in February.