Corporate to Academics: Mayank Mathur, PGSEM 2010 – ISB Academic Director

Love what you do. What a powerful statement it is. Yes, it is often said that doing something you love can lead to better performance and greater success than doing something you don’t enjoy. When you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re also more likely to be persistent and to persevere through challenges or setbacks. Similar was in the case of Dr. Mayank Mathur, who carefully planned his transition from corporate to academia.

Dr. Mathur recently took over as Academic Director at ISB, Hyderabad. Dr. Mathur discusses his experience, lessons learned, and much more in this interview.

Please tell us something about yourself.

I am a learner with an inquisitive nature. My Masters in Technology from IIT Bombay and subsequent MBA from IIM Bangalore aided my professional career. I developed expertise in Data Analytics and Decision Sciences in my 21 years of corporate Technology and Operations experience with organizations like Oracle, SAP, Tavant Technologies and Cisco Systems. I love acquiring knowledge and sharing it with others. This helped shape my next career course, and I completed my Ph.D. from IIM Lucknow. During my corporate career, seeds were sowed for academics and research experience while teaching at Alliance Business Academy, Bangalore, NMIMS Bangalore, and after my Ph.D. I taught at FLAME University, Pune. I am now at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, as an Academic Director and Adjunct Faculty in Data Sciences. I am glad I moved from the corporate to the academic world, realizing my heart lies here.

Could you please tell us about your new role as Academic Director at ISB?

My new role in ISB is heading and managing the ISB Institute of Data Sciences( IIDS), the research institute at ISB. IIDS is a center of Excellence that covers core decision sciences, Analytics and Data sciences research and Development. The IIDS, on one end, is responsible for working on research and industry-based projects from the public and private sectors. So, my role is to work with industry experts in the area from various domains and execute the projects with the help of world-class research teams inside the centre. 

I also work with the Advanced Management Program in Business Analytics ( AMPBA) students for their course delivery like Optimization, Statistical Analytics, Basics of Decision Sciences etc., and their Capstone Projects again from the industry. I mentor these students for their projects and consulting work related to the industry.

What are your plans and objectives as the new Academic Director?

I am here first to learn from the great minds in the business. There is a lot of knowledge to gather from the experts in the Data science area. Much research and development happen in institutes like ISB, and there is already much to learn.

I intend to remove the gaps between the industry and academia. It may sound cliché if you hear this statement. However, particular low-hanging fruits in practice can be used to achieve this. The teachings and mentoring methods have to be application based, and there should be more emphasis on project-based or internship-based learning than the traditional methods of classroom coaching. We should have more industry experts who visit for the courses. This enables the industry and academic experts to understand each other and join hands or collaborate for internships, placements, course restructuring and redesigning, etc. Educational institutions like ISB must think more carefully about the quality of students they admit for studies and the faculty levels they hire. This makes the role of industry in academic development more and more critical. No one learns swimming better than jumping in the pool and learning the tricks. I believe management education also has to evolve out of the classroom and jump more into the industry. The two plus two in the practical world maybe five and not four, adding that extra synergy factor. One must learn that in the real world, not the classroom.

How has the transition from corporate to academic life been for you? And what made you choose this career?

It’s an important mindset shift for me. However, while doing my MBA at IIM Bangalore, I decided that I should move from the corporate to the academic field. Given that my kid felt completely at ease discussing complex study subjects with me, I could see that I am a competent teacher as well. It was a conscious decision to make this significant shift in my career.

I realized that I needed a Ph.D. to make that significant shift. In 2014 when IIM Lucknow floated the EFPM program, it was a golden opportunity for me to make that shift. I was honoured to be a research scholar at IIM Lucknow and thankful to my advisor committee for bringing out the best in academician in me. There is a difference between consulting or product development and research projects. You would realize this again when you dirty your hands with research and write publishable papers. I am thankful to my fellow scholars and the Academic Advisor for taking me through the rigour involved in the academic world.

Also, it’s great fun teaching students who aspire to learn the data science techniques and usage of tools for the same. You learn something new, every day here.

Please tell us more about Cellula, which you co-founded.

Cellula is a Healthtech super app that uses various aspects like mind, body and soul healing using different healthy elements. My Founder connected with me to work with him in early 2020, just before the pandemic. He wanted technical guidance and support in terms of building the super app. I got excited and started working with a team of 12 developers and architects in the technology area to make the app and develop the of its kind solution of this volume. It required me to coordinate the development effort of the app and the website and choose the right technology, appropriate server configuration and some optimization techniques to save cost and improve the performance. It was a great experience again. I am still a part of the organization and keep dividing my time and effort.

Can you please tell us about your family?

My family is my backbone, my lifeline in my journey. I am blessed to have a very understanding wife in Rashmi Mathur, who has supported me in making these out-of-the-league moves. She has guided me through her experience and understanding in every aspect of my career, and I can’t thank her enough for this support.

I have two kids. My son Yatharth Mathur, 21 years old, is pursuing his bachelor’s in Computer Science at the University of British Columbia, specifically in Data science. He is more of a friend to me for any general or career-shift advice. Yatharth was the one who told me to make the career shift if I wished to move to academics. My daughter Chitralshi Mathur, 13 years of age, is a great mentor for reviewing my documents and articles. She is a bookworm and thus is very strong in her knowledge and understanding of English. Thanks to her ability to pinpoint mistakes and errors in my text, I have learnt a lot from her. My kids have been very supportive again. Not sure if they have learnt anything from me, but I learnt a lot from them.

Can you please tell us about your days at IIMB as a student? Any particular incident or experience that you would like to share?

IIM Bangalore is, of course, a world-class institute for a reason. The faculty’s knowledge and the student’s quality are the two main reasons. You feel very comfortable when you have a faculty of this level who understands where you are coming from and mentors you on what you should pick up next in your career. I believe the mindset changed for me after attending some of the courses in my MBA about how businesses work, how the finances work, how data is managed, how decisions are taken, and how the markets run. Before that, I always believed that technology ran the companies alone. How the lectures were delivered and topics were covered opens up the layers of knowledge, and you start seeing the corporate world differently. You begin making sense of the profits, markets, competition, organizational behaviours and strategy. I believe the experience and knowledge that fellow students bring to the table is the one that benefits the most. Since the first year, I remember incidents where I realized there are 90 different perspectives of the same case study we discussed in class. This was explicitly in the Strategic management class, when the cases like Yahoo vs Google, McD vs Subway or FedEx vs UPS were being discussed. The discussions, though, are initiated by the professors, but the perspectives in those discussions of fellow students can be fascinating.

Apart from that, being the Class Rep. of my batch, I enjoyed being continually at the negotiating table against the faculty for some assignment submission dates, quiz postponement and extra lectures for the class. I found that exciting and challenging at the same time.

A hobby you pursue in your spare time.

I am a hardcore music fan, and I also sing. So, I always listen to songs and sing along with them. It’s a stress buster for me. Earlier, I used to buy CDs, but now in the digital era, I subscribe to music apps and work with my music. I also have a couple of Karaoke systems that I have used and overused multiple times.

A favorite quote.