Academic pursuits

Holding the attention of a classroom full of MBA students is just one part of their job. Besides disseminating knowledge in the lecture rooms of business schools (B-schools), these academicians also work hard to create it—by doing their own research, presenting papers and publishing books. And while the monetary rewards of the job are still catching up with industry, these B-school professors say it is the critical impact on thought and the opportunity to interact with the brightest minds that makes such a career exciting.

Ashish Nanda, 54

Director, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and Robert Braucher professor of practice, Harvard Law School, US

According to Ashish Nanda, academic life is a schizophrenic existence, with research and classroom teaching being very different from each other. Photo: Jaydip Bhatt/Mint

“My classmate and I used to be called Bo Derek at IIT, Delhi (Indian Institute of Technology) because every semester we scored a perfect 10, something that had never happened before," says Nanda. In the popular 1970s movie 10, the protagonist scored women from 1-10 on attractiveness, with Derek scoring a perfect 10.

Why academics: Nanda studied at New Delhi’s Salwan Public School, where his mother was a teacher. “As a teacher, she was tougher on me in order to appear fair, but she also had a great influence on me. Seeing her made me realize that teaching is a noble profession."

At IIT, Delhi, Nanda studied computer science from 1976-81, and joined IIM, Ahmedabad, in 1981. That is where he fell in love with the discussion-centred, action-oriented learning of the case-study method. From 1983-88, Nanda worked as a sales manager for the locomotive firm Tata Engineering. He travelled from Hubli and Chinchwad in Karnataka to New Delhi and Chandigarh, selling trucks and buses, interacting with dealers and customers, “and learning a lot about people who are literally the salt of the earth". He went back to school in 1988 for a master’s, completed a PhD in economics from Harvard University in the US in 1993, and started his career as an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School the same year.

Daily duties: Nanda’s day begins with yoga at 6.30am.

If you are the head of a public institution, like IIM, Ahmedabad, you are not doing it for the money.

“The variety of people I meet is quite remarkable. Sometimes alumni, people from industry, visitors like the ambassador of a country and, of course, faculty and students who may have specific issues," says Nanda.

Later this year, Nanda will teach a course on leadership and management of professional firms. Teaching is something he deeply enjoys. Classroom teaching, he says, is also the best way to get a real sense of how things are going at the institute.

Most memorable: “The first few years of teaching at the Harvard Business School were crazy," says Nanda. “My son, Pranav, was three or four years old, my wife was going to school (at Tufts University School of Medicine), I was going to school, Pranav was going to school... I think he thought every human being goes to school."

Biggest challenge: “To take a successful programme, keep the core of what makes it successful and yet build for the future." According to Nanda, the institute needs to connect with industry, alumni and the local community. It also needs to be cutting-edge in its thinking globally, and to create a productive environment “where there is excitement of ownership but also with a feeling of stretch, because if all you have is autonomy, people could both rise to excellence or fall to mediocrity".

Skills needed: Academic life is a schizophrenic existence, with research and classroom teaching being very different from each other, says Nanda. In the classroom, the challenges are to engage students. Research, on the other hand, is solitary. A PhD and prior work experience help, he says. “If you are going to be in a professional school, you are trying to do research which has a practical impact. So some work experience gives you an appreciation of what the world of practice looks like. It also helps you relate better to your students in the classroom, where you are teaching people in practice."

Money matters: “If you are the head of a public institution, like IIM, Ahmedabad, you are not doing it for the money," says Nanda.

Atish Chattopadhyay, 45

Professor of marketing and deputy director, two-year postgraduate diploma in management programme, SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai

Atish Chattopadhyay feels it isn’t enough to get published in journals which few people read. Photo: Nayan Shah/Mint

Why academics: Prof. Chattopadhyay’s father was a professor of architecture at the Indian Institute of Technology, Khar-agpur. But his son took the long route to academics. Graduating in hotel management from the National Council of Hotel Management in New Delhi in 1991, he joined a marketing consultancy that also managed a hotel in Guwahati.

When the food and beverages manager at Guwahati quit suddenly, Chattopadhyay, then just 23, was sent as a replacement. Once there, he found himself doing the rounds of bakeries in his spare time. A year later, in 1994, he started a bakery in the backyard of his large ancestral house in Behala, Kolkata, while pursuing his MBA from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management in Kolkata. He set up a city-wide chain of 18 bakeries called Nutrishell. But the bakery business, which had been reserved for the small sector, lost that status in 1997. It also lost some tax advantages, and big brands came into the market.

At this time, Prof. Chattopadhyay, who had also been giving guest lectures in local colleges on marketing, came across an advertisement for lecturership at the Icfai Business School in Hyderabad. He joined Icfai, then a newly established and “almost start-up like" university, in August 1999.

In 2002, he began his PhD in marketing from Aligarh Muslim University, completing it in 2007. He joined SP Jain in Mumbai in June 2007.

Daily duties: Prof. Chattopadhyay begins his day reading three newspapers over breakfast and walks to his office through the leafy green campus. He teaches on most days, taking courses on marketing, brand management and retail shopper marketing. Between classes, there are meetings, sometimes with faculty and the administrative coordinators, and often with students.

It is important to be able to interact with industry and speak their language.

Most memorable: There was much trepidation when Prof. Chattopadhyay’s PhD thesis was sent overseas for acceptance to Ruby Dholakia, a professor at the University of Rhode Island in the US. But not only was it accepted without revisions, he got a letter of appreciation from the professor (whose own guide had been the iconic Philip Kotler). Prof. Dholakia said she especially appreciated the managerial context of his thesis, a direct result of Prof. Chattopadhyay’s having been an entrepreneur. This success landed him his first international consulting assignment to create a shopper template for multinational Johnson & Johnson, at their Asia-Pacific centre in Singapore.

Biggest challenge: “It isn’t enough to publish in journals which only a few people read; it’s equally important to create value for students who are our biggest stakeholders," says Prof. Chattopadhyay.

Skills needed: It is important to be able to interact with industry and speak their language, says Prof. Chattopadhyay. It is also important to get global exposure through reading as well as visits to universities around the world to see the kinds of programmes conducted there.

Money matters: Remuneration at this level can go up to 60 lakh a year, if incentives for extra classes, executive education and consulting projects are included.

Ruchi Sinha, 33

Assistant professor, organizational behaviour, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad

Ruchi Sinha, who is under the seven-year ‘tenure clock’, says it gives you time to become ‘famous’. Photo: Harsha Vadlamani/Mint

Sinha is surrounded by whiteboards full of detailed diagrams in her office at the 260-acre Indian School of Business (ISB) campus. “I am under what we call the tenure clock, and it’s ticking every second. The period before you come for tenure may seem long at seven years, but it’s seven years to become famous in your field," she explains, rattling off the requirements, one of which is to get seven articles published in top-tier journals where the rejection rate is up to 95%.

Why academics: Sinha’s father and grandfather were both professors of psychology. Sinha fell in love with organizational behaviour during her undergraduate days at Delhi University’s Gargi College (1999-2002). After a master’s in industrial/organizational psychology from Delhi University as well as the US’ Michigan State University, she completed her PhD from the latter in2010. She joined ISB later that year.

Daily duties: When we meet, Sinha is preparing to teach a three-day course on leadership development. Even before the first class starts at 9am, she has detailed data on the participants—to assess their personalities, she had earlier sent out psychometrically-valid surveys to their former bosses, subordinates and colleagues.

In academia, you have to enjoy creating knowledge for the sake of knowledge...you can’t worry about impact.

Most memorable: “The last session of my course (in negotiation)," says Sinha. She recalls a time when the class watched American Dream, after a simulated negotiation between workers and management around a case study developed by the dispute resolution and conflict management centre at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, in the US. The movie, she explains, traces the real-life incident that was the basis for the case study and shows what really happened. “No one leaves that class. There is pin-drop silence," she says.

Biggest challenge: “To have impact as a researcher, as an academic, to be cited (quoted by other scholars), to have the feeling your work has helped influence thinking. To become an expert in my field of conflict management and resolution," says Sinha.

Skills needed: “If you are someone who wants to deliver and have an immediate impact, you will get frustrated in academia, where you spend a lot of time sometimes developing a single idea. You have to enjoy creating knowledge for the sake of knowledge. There will be consultants who will read your work in journals and use it to give solutions to people but you can’t worry about impact," says Sinha.

Money matters: ISB salaries are pegged to the top 10 schools in the US and then adjusted downward for purchasing power parity, says Sinha. Salary levels in the US at her level would range from $85,000-120,000 (around 51-72 lakh) a year.

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