Alum Faculty interview by Students
Prof Vasanthi Srinivasan Interview
As a part of Teacher’s Day Celebration, Student Alumni Committee interviewed Professor Vasanthi Srinivasan, an alumna of FPM 1996 and Prof. G Sabarinathan, an alumnus of PGP 1982.
Professor Vasanthi, she talks about her life at IIMB as a student, faculty and shares some useful go-to tips for the current students.
How was your campus life at IIM Bangalore as a student? How do you compare this with being a faculty?
While studying at IIM Bangalore, I placed immense focus on networking and building long-lasting relations at the campus as this is one thing which stays for a lifetime. When I started teaching at the institute, being a student at the same institute was helpful as I could relate things and think from students’ point of view while teaching.
Unique thing you find about IIM Bangalore?
One aspect which is unique to IIM Bangalore is that the institute provides space and flexibility to try out a lot of different things. And this applies to students as well as professors. If utilized properly, the choices made here shape a great future for students and professors.
Any advice which you would like to share with the current IIMB students?
One thing which I observe at the campus is students excessively focusing on grades which shouldn’t be the major anchor for students. The focus should rather be on learning and overall development. For that, attending guest lectures, asking questions and discussing with each other plays a huge role.
Prof G Sabarinathan Interview | 4th September, 2019
Q1) What motivated you to do an MBA back then?
Ans: I am from the PGP 80-82 batch; MBA was not as hot then as it is today. There was also not a lot of awareness. I was in Chennai for my B.Sc, and there was more awareness there. The corporate sector was not that developed, civil services and bank jobs were the most sought-after career options. Some others wanted to become doctors and engineers. But these options were very competitive. Doing an MBA was a way of de-risking my career, of making sure that I wasn’t unemployed.
Q2) How was the campus life at IIM B during your time?
Ans: My batch did not stay on this campus. It was the next batch which was the first to study here. So, we didn’t have the joy of being together. We were only 240 PGP students – 2 sections of 60 each in each year.
We had one event held at end of the year, and the Pan IIM sports meet, between IIMs A, B and C. Though it was not much of a campus life, we did do many of the crazy things you guys also do, since we didn’t have much else. In fact, our batch was known to be relatively notorious. We hardly had much of a library, we had to travel out to the city to access books.
However, there was one nice thing, which I believe you guys are missing out on – teacher-student relationships were quite different then, we were much more closely bonded to the teachers. We visited them at their homes, had tea together. Today, they are much more distant, which is sad.
Q3) What was the placement scenario like when you were graduating?
Ans: IIMs A and C were more well-known back then – B was still relatively new. The hottest company then was Metal Box (a tin container MNC – it doesn’t exist now) that came for a marketing profile. Finance jobs were not as hot yet. The other dream companies were Madura Coats, HUL (HLL back then), P&G and Citi. Most people did get placed, though.
I was heartbroken when I couldn’t make it to P&G. I didn’t make it to HUL either. Since I was not a marketing major, Metal Box didn’t even consider me.
I got a job at Forbes and Campbell – that sold Eureka Forbes vacuum cleaners. They had multiple divisions – a shipping line, a liquor division, etc. It was a marketing job. They liked me a lot, and I was excited to work in liquor business. Sandoz and ICICI were my other offers.
I was a fresher – so when I went home, my father who was an income tax officer, wasn’t happy about me working for a liquor business – he said that if not IAS, I should at least work at a bank, and hence I eventually ended up joining ICICI.
That decision actually turned out quite well. ICICI was a fantastic organisation – it had cut-throat competition, but the learning was humongous. I can say that I know business well today largely because of my time at ICICI. It had highly talented people, it taught me to be careful, and it was a great opportunity to learn about the overall economy and other sectors, similar to what McKinsey is today.
It also gave me quite a bit of power. There was a time when Dhirubhai Ambani himself visited me and thanked me personally; Azim Premji had visited my colleague to sign some papers. That was a very heady experience at the age of 22-23. So in hindsight, I thank my father!
One thing I tell people now is to spend your first year after graduation in a sales role. Though, at ICICI – I didn’t have to sell anything.
Q4) How did you decide to transition from a corporate career towards academics?
Ans: There were 2-3 reasons. Firstly, there were a lot of changes in the late 90s – merger mania, the dotcom boom. By then, I had become the equivalent of a partner at a PE firm. I found that there were a lot of things around me that I didn’t understand, and books did not give me a satisfactory understanding.
I thought I understood what value was, but the dotcom investment scenario changed that completely. Heading the Delhi office of my firm, I had not made a single dotcom investment. My colleagues in London would ask when dotcom investment would be made. I realized that the world had changed in a way I didn’t understand. I felt out of place, and needed some time to gather my senses.
We were also out of sync with the social lifestyle. My wife is also a geek. My next-door neighbour was the CEO of a fund. I found that a CEO needed more social skills than investing – he would mostly either entertain or be entertained by someone.
Thirdly, most of the corporate jobs were in Mumbai and Delhi, and at that point I wanted to return to the south. So, I applied to IIM B after my PhD, and became a faculty here.
Q5) How have the batches students you have taught changed over all these years?
Ans: In 2000, when I started teaching, technology still had very little role in our lives. The economic reforms had not yet been completed. Job pressures were also less.
I didn’t need a slide for no devices back then. Learning was much more traditional. The classroom was the only source of knowledge, so students saw more value in attending the class. Secondly, there was a strong belief that to do well in business career, one should invest time in studies here, and that classes can indeed prepare one for the real world to a certain extent. But today – it is openly said that you can learn more outside the class than inside. In such an environment, keeping the class engaged is swimming against that tide.
Now, students are not fully convinced about the value of the classroom. This was evident in the Town Hall last year, when some students asked why we were clamping down on events such as Sangharsh and Spardha.
Thirdly, there is a larger social phenomenon – relationships between individuals has undergone a lot of change – relations between friends, parents, colleagues, spouses etc. Society has become a lot more individualistic, like the western way. At every stage, we tend to ask ourselves, “what is in it for me?”. Parents themselves are often caught up in their own careers, and these changes in the social macrocosm reflect in the classroom as well.
I shall share an example. I had once gone to MARS to pick up a hoodie for my niece. I went in unobtrusively into what was a room crowded with students. But when I entered, all the students froze, all the transactions stopped – people hurried to help me find my stuff and get me out of there as soon as possible. I do not know why that is happening – teacher-student relationships should have a lot more camaraderie, even if we can’t be beer buddies.
In 2000, there was no concept of office hours. 9 am to 5 pm every day was the “office hours”; students could walk in at any time and meet with the faculty. The idea of having designated office hours is a very American concept.
My single biggest regret is that with such a small campus community, I expect much greater bonding amongst us. It is something that needs introspection on both sides.
Q6) What advice would you like to share with current students?
Ans: I only have a few general words of observation – you are very lucky to live in a campus like this. Visitors from all across India and the world admire it a lot. Yet, I don’t find students walking around enough. Only a small handful can be seen taking a stroll after dinner. I had the open-air benches that you see across campus set up during my time at the OAA – why meet cooped up in small rooms when we have such a wonderful campus outside? This is especially true for PGP students. I find that the EPGP students make full use of the campus – they don’t live here and are here only for a year, so they make the most of it. You will not get this later – only corporate glass and metal complexes.
Secondly, while the fact that there is an opportunity cost of studying here is true, don’t spend your entire 16-18 months here CV sculpting. PGP students attend very few of the talks organized here, which you will not get to hear outside. These talks broaden your horizons, they can influence your mind ten years down the line and prepare you for the long haul. In the Muhammad Yunus talk held some time back, only 3-4 PGP students could be seen among 400+ people in an Auditorium that has a capacity of 280.