Ajit Rangnekar has been confirmed as dean of Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB) a year after M. Rammohan Rao quit the post over his association with fraud-hit Satyam Computer Services Ltd. In an interview, Rangnekar spoke about Satyam, ethics and placements. Edited excerpts:
Why did it take so long to get promoted to dean? Wasn’t the move automatic once your predecessor resigned?
No, no, in the academic world it is never automatic. So, for example, Dipak Jain has announced his stepping down in June-July, and Sunil Chopra took over (as Kellogg School of Management’s interim dean) on 1 September, but still has not been appointed as dean. So in the academic world, a search for a dean is a very long and thorough process, which involves a lot of consultation with internal stakeholders, external community—these things take time.
Beyond numbers: Indian School of Business dean Ajit Rangnekar says the institute’s biggest priority is research. Bharath Sai / Mint
In ISB’s case, the dean search had already started because we knew MR (former dean M. Rammohan Rao) was supposed to leave by end of June 2009, so it took a little longer than it should have but the reason it took longer was because they knew we’ve got somebody in place and they didn’t have to hurry and hustle. The fact that this decision was taken after a thorough search rather than as “we-don’t-have-another-alternative” makes it all the more credible.
How did the episode involving professor Rao and the Satyam scandal affect ISB?
The only place we have seen its effect is in the media. In real life, we have not seen any effect whatsoever—the student body was the least interested...We have had no change with the recruiters; we have had absolutely no change with companies, who wanted to do business with us. We have not seen any impact and rightly so, because at the end of the day all that (Satyam founder) Mr Ramalinga Raju was, was an independent director (of ISB) who was providing pro bono service to us. He is supposed to keep an eye on us, we are not supposed to keep an eye on him, for God’s sake.
The second thing was, everybody quite rightly said we had not been negligent in selecting him—the truth is that nobody had seen through him. I think your newspaper had also not passed any judgement on him before that day. This was something where everyone was taken for a ride, I think people did not hold anything against us.
At this time, when ethics are becoming so big in foreign business schools, what is happening in ISB?
We have always believed that there has to be an anchor for leadership, and that anchor has to be values. I am a firm believer that just doing a course on ethics doesn’t take you anywhere. If you ask anyone on the street to answer 20 questions on ethics, they will all answer them correctly.
It is not (that) anybody doesn’t know; it is not that Raju did not know that cheating was bad, for God’s sake.
The problem is not knowledge of ethics, the problem is in dealing with issues when you face an ethical dilemma— do I have a framework?
One of the things we believe in—all ethical dilemmas and solutions are rooted in culture. And most of the education in ethics and training was entirely based on Anglo-Saxon culture and not on our culture. So we are now trying to marry Western concepts of leadership in our own systems, and an understanding of neurology. An understanding of what kind of messages bypass the brain, in order to come up with a variant of dealing with these dilemmas.
How can we give a structured framework based on our value system, on our history and culture, which allows people to look at these dilemmas and start judging? Will that prevent ethical problems? Of course it will not.
Something like the global melt-down had no cultural dimension.
It was based on a culture that greed is good.
Can you spell out some plans that you have for the school?
I think our biggest priority is research. India is a fertile ground for high-quality research in areas such as leadership, financial markets and technology. A lot of technology innovation is happening in this country and there is very little research being done on that.
I think, there is a lot of opportunity for India to be the leader in finding business solutions for rapidly evolving economies. To overquote a cliche, the Nano could be an example. The whole business of sachets that came up—in the US, you probably go to a Costco (discount retailer) and buy 2-3 litres of shampoo, here you buy a single use (sachet). Look at the telecom industry, the whole focus used to be on high-paying roaming customers. The Indian telecom industry went to the absolute low-end customers. Now it is devising new applications for them. These are the kind of things the Western world is not capable of devising.
How do you see placements playing out? Already, huge numbers are being touted.
Every year, we are trying to give out less and less numbers on placements. We are trying to move away from this meaningless average and even more meaningless highest salary.
We have from last year started talking of median salary. The third thing we have begun to do is give salaries by sectors.
We will go down that path, we will continue to underplay the salary numbers as we go ahead. In an ideal world, you prefer not to give (salary numbers), but students deserve to know what they are in for.
This is a challenge for all educational institutions. It is easy to play up in the media but the educational institutions have not given the world a better measure to judge them. (Business school) rankings is one measure, but rankings has its own challenge.