Straight From The Academician

Straight From The Academician

Prof. Shailesh Gandhi

Prof. Shailesh Gandhi a proud alumnus of DDU having specialization in Finance and Accounting, is currently the Dean (Programmes) of IIM-A. He is also the Chairperson of the flagship 2-year Post Graduate Programme in Management. Prof. Shailesh Gandhi has more than 28 years of experience in consultancy, industry and academics. He is a member of the Cost Accounting Standards Board of the ICWAI since 2008-09. He has served as an expert member in the Pension Reforms Committee and Financial Resources Committee set up by the Finance Department, Government of Gujarat.

Team Connect got a chance to interview Prof. Shailesh Gandhi. Below are the excerpts from the interview:

Q1. Can you tell us about your journey from DDU to IIM-A?  

“I graduated in 1978 from DDU and then I joined GSFC and worked there for two years. I wrote CAT and in 1980 joined IIM-A for Fellow (Ph.D.) programme in Finance & Accounting and completed my thesis in 4 years 3 months. Then I joined National Institute of Construction Management and Research, Bombay where I worked for about two years. Thereafter I worked as General Manager (Finance) in a chemical company in Baroda for about 6 years after which I joined IRMA, Anand as a faculty in 2001 and worked there till 2004 then in April 2004 I joined IIM-A. At IIM-A, I was the chairperson of the alumni centre for about 3 years, post which I was a chairperson of our one-year MBA programme (PGPX) and then for the past 3 years and now I’m the chairperson of our flagship PGP program. From 1st January, 2016 I’ve also become the dean. So I’m currently holding both the charges – PGP chair as well as Dean (Programmes). So that’s the journey, travelled a lot and it’s a very satisfying experience of working in IIM-A.” 

Q2. Our engineers today have the technical knowledge yet they lack in the industrial management. How should this gap be bridged?

“Basically, from my experience in IIM-A, 94% of students are engineers, only 6% are from other disciplines. I think we lack two things especially when we see students from Gujarat– communication skills and lack of exposure to economics which our engineering curriculum must provide. The other place where we lack is providing internship programmes. Apart from this inviting technocrats and practicing managers to interact with students would give them a lot of exposure. In IIM-A, we regularly invite our own alumni and other business leaders to interact with the students, which is a huge motivating factor.”

Q3. There are many startups which have sprouted up in India like, Flipkart and Amazon. What is your opinion about them? 

“When we talk of startups, now the infrastructure and business environment has become conducive for entrepreneurs to think about their own. Earlier, the scope for entrepreneurship was very limited; now it is available so that’s a good part that the environment provides you enough space to pursue your own ideas. Snapdeal, Flipkart and others are on different platforms but even those who have got great ideas have limitations in seeking the requires resources.That’s why Department of Science and Technology along with many institutions are helping the entrepreneurs. We have our full-fledged Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship called CIIE, one of the foremost CIIE in Asia. Every year we provide entrepreneurship opportunities to several students; not only those from IIM-A but also from outside. Here we also have a Honeybee Foundation and other foundations where we look at grass root level innovations and we have an exhibition every year. But the question is how long this innovation would take to become commercial and what are the ways in which we can make it commercial? The scope is immense but there has to be a mechanism by which entrepreneurs can benefit that way. For example in IIM-A if you want to pursue entrepreneurship then you can opt out of the placement but after if you don’t do well within a period of 2-3 years then the institute will provide you placement opportunities. This encourages students as it gives an assurance that even though his venture fails he can still get an opportunity to apply for a job through the institution and the institution’s network helps.”

Q4. How do you see the dynamics shifting in terms of placements? A lot of students don’t choose to go for placements and are opting for entrepreneurship especially at top B-Schools like yours. Why?

One thing is that if you have an institutional backing it lends credentials to you. Let’s say, you go and talk to a strategic investor that you are an alumnus of IIM-A, the first hurdle is crossed right there. The other reason in favour is the duration of 2 years during which one can verify, re-verify premises of what one is thinking or what you are going to do is a right thing or not. You’ve interacted with faculty members, colleagues, your seniors so you have fairly good idea that what you are trying to pursue has some value and then when it does not work you can always come back to the institute and say that you want placement; the institute would facilitate placement. I would have one word of caution though; if you have a strong financial background then you should venture, else don’t. When there are financial responsibilities like educational loan I think that would create hurdles. You need to have deep pockets. Many students would have commitments so if you have commitments I think then it could become a risky proposal. “

Q5. You were a member of IRMA. So according to you what reforms are needed in the area of rural management?

I worked for 3 years at IRMA. One has to look at different demographics differently. In rural areas we have agriculture as predominant economic activity, the main requirement is different kinds of inputs and initiatives. I think lots of work has been done in the areas by IRMA and other NGOs. The second thing is good infrastructure. There are still some places where such issues need to be addressed.”

Q6. What changes do you feel need to be brought in the system, infrastructure and the social life here in IIM-A?

When there were no computers, in the evening you would find the entire campus bubbling with students. Now because of the internet and the social media you don’t find students outside their rooms. Even though we have around a thousand students on the campus and as ours is a residential program still you won’t many outside their rooms. But there is no complaining about that because what is important is how you keep connected with one another. But I think some kind of face-to-face interaction is required. Our students have a lot of activities inside so they keep themselves busy.”

Q7. On a lighter note, any tradition that you find most attractive in IIM-A?

“IIM-A has a unique culture of informality. Here, there are no hierarchies between students and faculties or within the faculties. I address my director by first name and my director would address all faculty members by their first names. That’s the first characteristic of our culture. Second thing is self control. There are no formal control mechanisms. Even for students we don’t have a biometric attendance system. In the class somebody would take attendance of students but we don’t bother if a student is there or not because at the post graduation level you can’t force a student to attend class. They paid 18.5 lakh and they know what is best for them so if they choose not to attend the class they must have a reason to do so. We also encourage our faculty members to pursue research, consulting and academics. The other part is that the culture is very open. If somebody wants to discuss something with any of the faculty members, then he/she doesn’t need to take a formal appointment because here the first priority is always students. We give lot of importance to the time of students, their difficulties and other things so these are very great traditions which the institute has. I think the combination of all these factors makes the institution great and unique. “

Q8. What does your average workday consist of?

On an average I teach for 2-3 hours in a day and apart from that I’m into academic administration also. So, basically I can say that 50% of my time is on academics, 20% is on academic administration and 30% reading, consulting and interacting with companies. That is the typical job profile which has been very rewarding experience. “

Q9. Sir, what is the success mantra you follow in your life?

I think there are a couple of things. One has to first be honest to one’s own self. You must realize what your strengths are and what your limitations are and how to work on your limitations. Hard work, not compromising on your own standards – they are essential things as far as an individual is concerned. The advantage of your generation vs. our generation is exposure. You’ve lot of exposure, you don’t have any limitations in terms of infrastructure and other facilities but we did. But when you work hard with passion and understand your limitations you can achieve your goal easily. “

Q10. What would be your message to all the students aspiring for CAT or other MBA entrance exams?

“My only message to the students is that you must have a purpose. You must have a passion and a reason for whatever you want to do. After engineering, people should work for at least one or two years before taking a final call. It gives you an idea what is best suited for you, whether you are good in engineering or in networking, marketing, or finance which is possible only when you have worked in some companies.” 

DDU Connect is grateful to Prof. Shailesh Gandhi for sparing his valuable time for guiding the students.

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