Uncle Bala

For Great Lakers, he is Uncle Bala. For the world, He is a Padma Shri awardee who sits on board of companies like Godrej and Crisil and is a consultant to a long list of companies like TCS, SAP. Bala V Balachandran, distinguished professor at the Kellogg School of Management, Chicago is also a dean at the Chennai-based Great Lakes Institute of Management. He shuttles between the US and India juggling both jobs, spending three months every year in India. Great Lakes, alongside ISB is the second private B-school that has been set up with a very strong linkage with top global B-schools. Mr Balachandran talks about the state of Bschools in India, the challenges that lie ahead for professional education in India and the Great Lakes Institute. Following is an excerpt from an interview to Economic Times.

What do you think are some of the big challenges for Business Schools in India?
It will be better if I keep the comparison between the top 10 B-Schools in India and the United States. Here I think that as far as the IIMs are concerned, the professors are supposed to give 65-70% of their consulting fee to their college. In the US if I do consulting I keep the entire money. So where is the incentive here to do real research? In the US faculty spend up to 50% of their time in empirical research and that I see lacking in India.

How would you compare Indian students with their global counterparts?
Indian students are very good — they score 120% in left brain-related work. But barely use 20% of their right brain. Indian students have a very analytical mind. But they need to pick up on softer skills, relationship building, and so on.

It’s been two years now since Great Lakes was set up. How has been the experience so far?
We have had 100% placement. We are so happy — placements got completed in 2.5 days with an average salary of Rs 9.3 lakh. Our USP has worked — we are a school of global excellence in quality of education at Indian price.

Some would say that 100% placement is no big deal in a booming economy like India. What would you say is the USP of the school that sets it apart?
Besides being cheaper we have visiting faculty — the best of them — coming from Harvard, Kelloggs, INSEAD, Wharton teaching the course. Sixty-five to 70% of the faculty is visiting. 
To all this I would want to add that all the students have to do an empirical study — joint publication with a faculty member. This helps our students work and collaborate closely with the faculty member even though they are visiting. 
I also believe in experiential learning — since our one-year programme does not have summer internship, for a month between November and December we ask our students to undertake real projects, it is mandatory. We are also making sure all our students understand and learn Chinese language. Above all here there is an emphasis on individual social responsibilities — our students have to work with under-privileged children and NGOs during their course.

You mentioned about a large number of high-profile visiting faculty? Isn’t getting such faculty a problem?
We already have seven full-time faculty members. We expect that to go up to 20 in two years time. I have worked for 25 years in the United States and am well networked with Indian faculty there. I see many of them are looking at opportunities to teach here and come back. Even as I talk, the chairman of finance in North Eastern University is leaving to join us. Today our (ISB, Great Lakes) salaries are at par with those in the west.