Bangalore: The Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B), used to brag about on-campus salary offers of a crore.

Until recently.

Students at the elite 250-seat institute, considered second among Indian business schools only to IIM Ahmedabad, still earn good, actually great, money. They just can’t talk about it.

Sourav Mukherji, an associate professor in organization behaviour (left), and Saikat Dutta, a student, at IIM Bangalore

His move was triggered by students’ complaints that disclosure of salaries put pressure on them and their families—casual enquiries from relatives to more threatening extortion calls. Amid these complaints, made by students last year, Mukherji’s predecessor, another professor in IIM-B, resigned as chairperson of placements. When Mukherji took over, stringent gag orders were issued to every student, extending from the hostel to the mess. The campus was sealed off for the media. Even recruiters were politely told to keep their mouths shut.

Mukherji’s stand changed the culture of IIM Bangalore. Sister institutes in Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Lucknow followed suit. They refused to talk numbers during the placement season. “Students who come to IIM-A are not playing Kaun Banega Crorepati," Piyush Kumar Sinha, chairperson, placements, at IIM-A, famously said, referring to the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to Be a millionaire.

Once placements ended, salaries still became the main measure for most business schools in India; they were made public at IIM-A at the end, for example, but students who would earn those fancy figures were not identified. Mukherji’s stance was maintained and his institute, even at the post-placement press conference, did not discuss numbers at all.

Months later, as summer placements wind down and the campus gears up for regular placements, observers say the silence has achieved two important things—a declining media frenzy over numbers and reduced stress among students, already competing with the best brains in the country. Now students seem to care more about what they do than how much they make.

“Salary creates an unnecessary disparity," said Sidharth Gupta, a first year student at IIM-B placed in a summer internship last week. “For students at IIMs, it is given—they are going to earn well."

Now, Mukherji’s rules are on the way to becoming entrenched in the top three business schools, called the “A, B and C" of business education in the country; C stands for Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta. And for recent summer placements, IIM-B exercised similar control over disclosures.

Mukherji is clearly pleased about the effect he has had. “These are 20, 21-year-olds. The more you push figures, the more they will define their self-worth by these figures," said Mukherji. He says he has been accosted by a newspaper editor ready to invoke the Right to Information Act, which allows citizens to request details of decision-making in government-run organizations, to see the students’ salaries.

Recruiters also say they see a shift. They say brand and cultural fit in a company should matter more to business school graduates. “When we go to campuses, salary is not a criterion for students joining us," said Swaran Sehgal, head of human resources at investment bank Edelweiss.

It made 28 job offers to students across the six IIM campuses in the just-concluded placement process for summer jobs in 2008.

With salaries being downplayed, business schools now try to focus on job profiles and roles. IIM Kozhikode proudly announced that a job in carbon credit trading, by which polluting companies trade carbon credits with more environment-friendly companies, was offered in summer jobs next year. IIM-A now counts the number of positions it is offered compared with those offered to graduates from Harvard Business School.

Students point out that IIM-B’s decision not to talk salaries logically follows the trend of more students arriving with work experience—70% of its class. “The focus has shifted to what you want to do rather than what you are getting out of it," said Saikat Dutta, a 2008 batch student and placement committee member. Dutta’s batch has an average work experience of 18 months while the freshmen batch, just placed for summer jobs, has an average work experience of two years.

Colleagues, too, say they are grateful that Mukherji has put an end to a placement process that used to be marked by press conferences that felt like a wrap-up of the stock market—but only reporting on the highs of the day.

“Sourav is a young man. He was able to ask people not to talk about salaries," said R. Vaidyanathan, a popular professor who teaches finance. “The I, me, myself dot-com syndrome is an offshoot of salary discussions on campus."