Graduating in Crisis: An interview with Prof G Raghuram by Rahul Singh, PGP 2015

Rahul Singh

This interview was exclusively conducted by Mr. Rahul Singh, PGP 2015, who shared this on Gyanalogy which is an open platform to share views on various topics of interest. Mr. Singh is also one of the office-bearer of the IIMB Singapore Chapter. We thank you for this exclusive interviewGraduating in Crisis.

Prof G. Raghuram has been Director, IIM Bangalore, since February 2017. He has a BTech from IIT Madras, an MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad, and a PhD from Northwestern University, USA.

He specializes in infrastructure, transport systems, logistics and supply chain management. He conducts research on the railway, port, shipping, aviation and road sectors. He has published over 35 refereed papers in journals, written over 160 case studies and co-authored six books. He has teaching experience at universities in India, USA, Canada, Yugoslavia, Singapore, Tanzania, UAE and Japan. Overall, he has been on the Board of 14 companies. He has been part of various government policy-making and advisory committees for the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Ministry of Shipping, Cabinet Secretariat, Comptroller and Auditor General, the Planning Commission and various State Governments. 

Q1. How is this year different for graduating students?

Prof G Raghuram

This is a year of uncertainties. Uncertainties will last well beyond the COVID-19 crisis as businesses recalibrate their priorities and get things on track.

Unless there is a direct correlation of new hires with greater revenue than cost or with building up new business divisions, there may be threefold impact on students – delayed joining dates, renegotiation of pay packages or total rescinding of offers.

Q2. What is it like to graduate in crisis? You have seen many batches graduate in crisis such as the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, the Dotcom bubble in 2000, and the financial crisis in 2008. What are some of the learnings from those batches which students could apply?

Fundamentally, institutes such as IIMs train people to deal with uncertainties even in normal times. The ability to tackle ambiguity with an entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial spirit is innate to our MBAs. During the 1997 crisis or the 2000 dotcom episode, or the 2008 meltdown, quite a few of our students who had international offers from firms such as Lehman Brothers or top IT companies in the US went out of job. But looking back, I do not see any statistical difference in the life style or wellbeing, or achievements of students, who graduated in crisis, as opposed to those, who graduated in an upbeat economy. Many dreams of starting a career in places such as USA or Europe took an initial set back, which may have affected them mentally and emotionally at that time, but in the long run it doesn’t matter.

Q3. What is your advice for students who have either not gotten job offers yet or the companies have rescinded/delayed joining?

Students need to be a bit flexible and proactive. If the offer has been rescinded, they should seek help from their university’s career services. In most cases, career services office are able to provide an alternate job. In case of IIM Bangalore itself, there have been two incidences this year when offers were rescinded but we managed to place students elsewhere.

I am no medical expert, but COVID-19 is one more disease we have discovered which is here to stay. Right now, there is a lot of focus on COVID-19 primarily because of three reasons – it is a new disease, it spreads fast and deaths are directly attributable to it. However, as a percentage, COVID-19 remains a small fraction of the causes of deaths per month vis-à-vis say diabetes or heart diseases.

No one has accounted for this, but probably more people are dying due to lack of livelihood. Economic activity has to come back, opening up has to happen. New ways of doing things need to be looked into. Post crisis, the entire supply chain has to be ramped up. So if offer is delayed, please do not think of it as the end of the world. Things will come back to normal with some fundamental behavioral shifts.

Q4. A lot of students will be joining their jobs remotely, what challenges and opportunities that poses for students?

Joining remotely will be more of a norm than an exception. In the last one month, IIM Bangalore as an employer has had one faculty and four managers join online. They were on-boarded by their immediate bosses or Department Heads. It is important for companies to make new staff feel at home. At the same time, students joining should be proactive – speak out, use email, be visually savvy, explore company website and online resources. This is an opportunity as in the process of exploring online, you may discover much more than you would otherwise.

Q5. What skills would be needed to maneuver this period of uncertainty?

COVID-19 is causing fundamental changes in our behavior – isolation wards are being created, social distancing is in place, hugging and handshaking is out of question. Top skills needed in the new changed worlds are:

  • Get out of the mental barrier of not being physically present – Geography is History
  • Build rapport with teams which are geographically spread out but digitally connected
  • View VUCA not as volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity but as vision, understanding, clarity and adaptability