Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Missing 'B' in Bschools

This column was published in Businessworld, issue dt 18 Dec 2006

The Missing 'B' in Bschools
by Rashmi Bansal

You have heard of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari but what about the monk with an MBA? Eighteen monks from the Jade Buddha temple recently graduated from Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University’s Antai College of Economics and Management. They completed a six-month programme in ‘temple management’, which included subjects ranging from religious philosophy to managing temple finances and marketing religious products.

The results are quite evident. The temple now boasts of a ‘logo’, more shops and even a seminar series on Buddhism run by the head abbot. The seminar cost — $25,000 for a small group — is positioned as a ‘donation for enhancing one’s achievements and morality’.

The Antai programme is being seen as a success. Monks from 28 other temples in Shanghai are expected to attend in the near future. Are there questions about mixing the spiritual with the temporal? Well, yes. But the practical view prevails. “Many think that monks should just take care of the temple and have little contact with the outside world. But the reality is they must manage the temple and deal with money,” said Wang Fanghua, dean, Antai College, to Businessweek.

So, what next? Similar programmes for pundits, priests and imams? Well, maybe, but that is not the crux of this column. Whether you wish to treat a religious body as a ‘business’ is another debate altogether. What’s interesting is, here is a B-school programme which is helping folks to be more efficient in their current place of work, which is not necessarily a ‘corporate’. This is an extremely large segment, practically ignored by Indian B-schools.

Yes, of late, several B-schools have started ‘family business’ or FMB programmes. These courses take in students from family business backgrounds and expose them to modern management techniques and thinking processes. FMB programmes are structured differently from traditional MBAs, but they are two-year courses and suitable for younger members of medium to large family-owned enterprises. The heirs to the throne, so to speak.

NMIMS, Welingkar and Nirma Institute of Management’s FMB programmes fall under this category. SP Jain’s programme — the oldest one around — is slightly different. Here the students are actually expected to work alongside their studies. Classes are held for one week each month; and the rest are spent applying the acquired concepts to their business.

That is a great model, but it caters only to a fraction of a large potential market. While there are dozens of short-term certificates and diplomas for working executives, there are no such programmes for those who operate small businesses. Just like those monks, there are hundreds of owners of shops, trades and manufacturing units who could benefit, especially from fundas on marketing and accounting. Who doesn’t want to attract more customers, or benefit from better bookkeeping?

Of course, such courses need a different approach. As with the Jade Buddha temple, evidence of how the course actually helps you expand your business would be crucial. Less theory, more practice, an understanding of the problems facing small businesses, including addressing lack of confidence in the entrepreneur.

There are several reasons we won’t see such course anytime soon. We have no professors equipped to teach it. Most would consider it beneath their dignity, and none would be able to teach in any language other than English. It is not their fault, of course.

The MBA market here is modelled along global lines. The word ‘business’ in MBA is a misnomer. The programme is, perhaps, Masters in ‘Improvement of Personal Job Prospects’. The corporate giants who recruit don’t care what the student has learnt. Just that he should have the ability to learn it. And this suits B-schools perfectly. They can continue to think of the MBA programme as an art, and a science. That practical stuff? It is none of their business!

Note: Given the 700 word limit there were several points I could not dwell on in more detail. Here are some of those thought trails...

a) Our bschools and media (including business newspapers/ magazines) are obsessed with large business houses and multinationals. Whereas so much of what constitutes 'business' is happening in the informal sector, and at the level of individual entrepreneurs.

I think this segment should be covered in the media - as well as tracked/ studied by b schools.

b) Why are quality bschool education/ short term courses available only in English? That shuts out so many potential students. Unlike technical fields, like say engineering, a strong case can be made for teaching business management in regional languages. I can have a flourishing business as a Gujarati speaker who knows kaam chalau or even no English at all.

I guess this is really a problem of our education system as a whole, the obsession with teaching practically all professional courses only in English.

c) Of course, one may argue that concepts taught in an MBA are irrelevant to those with native business acumen. That in fact there is much that we b schoolers can learn from them.

I think at least one course which focuses on the traditional business communities of our country, the way in which they operate, advantages and disadvantages of traditional practices etc should be included in b school curriculum.

d) Lastly, family business MBA is a concept on which I really need to devote an entire column. One of these days, I shall...!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Undergrad studies in America

If you've completed class 12 in India and gone on to do your undergrad education in the US, read on. I'd like you to share advice/ experiences which might help prospective students. This is for a feature in JAM magazine's forthcoming issue.

Some of the Qs we're seeking to answer:

- Ivy League colleges have long offered need-blind admission. How hard is it, though, as a foreign student? And are some Ivy League colleges more receptive to foreign students than others?

- Are there colleges outside the Ivy League which offer need-blind admissions/ merit scholarships for undergrad studies to foreign students? Mount Holyoke used to be one such college. A couple of my friends studied there - but that was a while ago.

- Assume you take a loan for undergrad studies in the US. What's the likelihood of your getting a job there in order to recover your investment?

You could share any fundas you have in 200-300 words. More is always welcome, of course. Email

Friday, December 22, 2006

Lame Fame

Caught a bit of 'Fame X' on Sab TV. Judge Ganesh Hegde talks passionately about the days when he used to dance on the roads - so people would notice his talent. Motormouth Cyrus Broacha is sitting next to him, with a straight face. The kind you need to practice for several hours...

No, it's not going to make any major waves but there is enough interest in this whole 'mom, watch me get famous' business to produce some TRPs. Maybe not enough though, which is probably why Palash Sen walked out of the show. Blaming it on

However, there's an interesting twist to the 'fame game'. Even as channels produce more singing-dancing-tell a joke kind of shows to uncover new 'talent', there's a parallel route to getting famous. Creating a 'world record'.

Star News had an interesting story on this phenomenon. A 21 year old by the name Sania Sayyed in Khandwa (a small town in MP) is apparently attempting a record by singing for 131 hours straight. She had previously 'successfully' created a record for 65 hours of continuous singing. However, this was broken by one 'Deepak' who did 100 hours. Saniya is now attempting to 'win back' the record.

Simultaneously we have Aditi Gupta of Indore, a class 12 student who is attempting to 'dance non-stop' for 85 hours. Her mother proudly stated that during rehearsals Aditi demonstrated that she could dance continuously, all night, 3 nights in a row. This apparently convinced sponsors that she could achieve the 85 hour record.

Here's the thing: Sania does not sing that well, and Aditi is not a great dancer. I'm saying this based on the clips which appeared on TV. Or maybe by the time cameras captured their performance they were tired and listless, so it's not quite fair to comment.

The point is, creating a world record is not a smart career move which may get you noticed in Bollywood. It's something which, at best, gets you pics in your local paper. And felicitation from 'Agarwal Sweets' or equivalent.

Oh, of course it did get picked up by Star News, which must be the greatest moment in the lives of these anonymous young people and their families. Never mind if the channel did not give a very positive spin. Short of using the word 'shoshan' (exploitation) they pretty much painted a sorry picture of pushy parents and desperate youngsters.

In doing so, they provided the very oxygen that will lead more Saniyas and Aditis to attempt bizarre records. In the hope of creating some kind of unique identity for themselves. Something to be 'known for' even as their lives follow the mundanities of a million others. Something to tell their grandchildren.

At the end of the day we all want to feel we are more than a speck of sand in the universe... That our presence on this planet made some kind of difference. Hota hai ya nahin yeh alag baat hai, but hey - you can't blame them for trying!

It shows some kind of drive and determination - even if misdirected. Which is more than what could be said to exist in sleepy little towns, not too long ago!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

IIT waalon ki chaandi

Are b schools redundant? Take a look at the latest on the IIT placement front.

Business Standard reports:

With the IITs just a week into their placements' process, the number of companies making placement offers this year has increased, almost doubling in a few cases. Moreover, these companies have already made huge offers to the students.

Besides, while the highest international offer has seen a 11 per cent increase this year, domestic offers have risen anywhere between 20-100 per cent.

For instance, at IIT Delhi an overseas offer of $100,000 (around Rs 45.50 lakh) was made by a US-based speciality fixed income manager Pimco. At IIT Bombay, the highest salary package offered so far is $92000 (around Rs 42 lakh) by Mercer Oliver Wyman - a Boston-based financial consulting firm.

The new logic seems to be: Why run after guys at IIMs/ other Bschools when guys from IITs can do pretty much the same job? The premise being that what you learn in a bschool isn't that important anyways... it's the raw material that gets in which is the key thing.

Since IITians constitute a healthy chunk of that raw material may as well go directly to IIT and pick 'em up two years earlier. Makes sense from a company point of view.

The question is: is this just a temporary demand-supply blip? ie Are companies adopting novel strategies in a year when demand for workers with certain kinds of skills has gone through the roof? Or, is this a trend for the long term.

First, we had Indian software companies which hire any old engineer (not just computer science/ IT) because all of them are numerical-minded, and beyond that, well they are malleable. Now you have funds and investment banks thinking the same way.

Of course, no one from IIT will join an Indian software company today because the 'quality of work' sucks. Wonder whether that sentiment would apply to the work they will get in these funds and i-banks, given the pay packets...

Putting things in perspective, today, we're only talking of a handful of students going the Pimco way. (The media needs to be careful about reporting the facts. As far as I know this is NOT the first time McKinsey is visiting the IIT B campus!).

In years to come, the numbers may swell. Much depends on how the first few batches of recruits shape up.

Interestingly, G Sinha, Professor in-charge, training and placement at IIT Kharagpur remarked to BS,"The institute does not have international placements as it is dedicated itself to the service of the nation."

Which is rummy and all that, but companies like Barclays Capital, Bain and Company, Opera Solutions and Lehman Brothers come to recruit students at IIT KGP. Just because they don't send them abroad from day 1 does not mean their job profile is closer to the objective of 'service of the nation'!

So honestly, I sense that IITs themselves are confused about what to do with this ardent courtship of its students by the free market. At the back of their mind lies the question, what about the 'T' in IIT. A question which surfaces every now and then, but is never satisfactorily answered...

Also read: Placement, as seen through the eyes of an IIT Madras student.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Indian Youth Market: a reality check!

The latest Business Today has an 8 page spread on the WCRR 'White Collar Richie Rich' kid. The article, titled 'Young, Rich and Restless' features snapshots of several brats in the 15-21 age group who are apparently spending on luxury brands, gizmos and anything else their heart desires, thanks to indulgent white-collar parents.

So far, so good. The example of one Ashima Bagchi (17), who's been photographed with her 60 gb video ipod (Rs 26,000), Nokia N 91 (Rs 35,000), Guess wallet (Rs 4600), Guess timepiece (Rs 16,000), Swarovski bracelet and ring (Rs 18, 900) is a bit over the top. (How wannabe is a 12,600 rupee Louis Vuitton ipod case??!) But such brats do exist.

And surely one can find a few hundred similar examples in our metros. Ok, even a few
thousand. What shook me out of bedside-reading-mode and made me switch on my computer was this startling conclusion by BT:

"According to data put together by the National Council of Applied Economic Research
(NCAER), the 'aspirational class' - primarily white collar professionals including entrepreneurs but excluding business families - numbers a whopping 81 million households. The 'rich' on the other hand are a mere 3.8 million households...

The 81 million households of aspirers earn a minimum of $45,000 (Rs 20.25 lakhs) per annum... Assuming one child in this age bracket - let's call her and her ilk White Collar Richie Rich (WCRR) - in every two of these households is in the 15-21 age bracket, you have a little over 40 million of them out there."

Wow. 81 million households in India earning Rs 20 lakhs a year??? When did that miracle take place?

Either I'm Rip Van Winkle or ... someone has goofed up bigtime.

First of all, NCAER defines its income pyramid as 'rich', followed by 'middle class' and then come 'aspirers', lower down the ladder. So at the very least we should be looking at data for 'middle class'.

Middle class is defined by NCAER as households earning $4,400-$21,800 a year. ie Rs 2-10 lakhs a year.

The NCAER estimate for 'middle class' in 2001-2 was 10.7 million households (scroll to pg 7 & 8 of the pdf I have linked to). Their estimate for 'middle class' in 2005-6 is 16.4 million households. Which would translate to approximately 65-80 million people.

The 'aspirers' are defined by NCAER as households with an annual household income of between Rs 90,000 and Rs 2 lakh. The NCAER estimate for 'aspirer' households is 41.3 million households in 2001-2. And 53.3 million households in 2005-6.

For more details, check this pdf file on NCAER's website which encapsulates a report titled 'The Great Indian Market'. The report was published in association with Business Standard in August 2005.

So, what happened?
I can only conjecture that some error of multiplication is responsible for Business Today's erroneous conclusions. eg the income range of '90-200 may have been multiplied by annual household income in '000 to reach a figure of 2,000,000 (20 lakhs) instead of 200,000 (2 lakhs).

Or perhaps the $4,400 figure minimum used to include households in the 'middle class' class was misread as $44,000. Whatever it is, the stats used to support the basic hypothesis are way off the mark.

Surely an alarm bell should go off in someone's head when concluding that close to 45% of India's 188.2 million households are earning a minimum of Rs 20 lakhs ($45,000) a year. That is the kind of prosperity you fondly hope the country will achieve in your lifetime!

The reality is, 132 million households earning less than Rs 90,000 per annum. That's 70% of the India - classified by NCAER as the 'deprived'. Better things are predicted: NCAER believes that by 2009-10, the deprived class will shrink to 114 million households. But there's still a long way to go!

The truth is out there
Coming back to the 'WCRR'. I do see a trend in 'kids with too much money to spend' but clearly it's still a small trend. 'Guess' and 'Tommy Hilfiger' showrooms are deserted at most times. Yes, one comes across the types who will spend Rs 30,000 on a shopping spree at Mango. But they constitute a small rivulet, not a mighty rupee-swollen river.

Sadly, after reading BT's super-buoyant report, more luxury brands will set up shop in India. Waiting, like Godot, for the mythical '40 million' WCRRs to charge in with their credit cards!

Let me add, however, that the Indian youth market is a very attractive one. (I will attempt my own back of the envelope calculation one of these days!). But it's marketers who focus on novelty and quality at fair prices who will see far more success than the likes of Guess. At least in the short and medium run.

Of course, luxury brands do need to drop anchor here. But they'll need to be very patient!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Remembering Sunil Mehta (1965-2006)

Nasscom vice president Sunil Mehta passed away in Mumbai on Saturday following a cardiac arrest. He was 41.

CIOL reports: Mehta has been instrumental in some of Nasscom’s recent initiatives such as the online national registry of BPO employees and Nasscom Assessment of Competence (NAC) that involves tests to grade BPO applicants.

Like Kiran Karnik, the president of the industry body, he has also been quite vocal in denouncing the anti-outsourcing critics and also defended the country’s BPO industry in the light of the certain security breaches at call centers.

In his role, Mehta was responsible for leading Nasscom’s research initiatives. He also was in charge of Nasscom’s international public affairs and public relations.

I was flipping through the Economic Times this morning when I noticed the ad which carried the sad news. I read and re-read it a few times... It was just too shocking.

Sunil was an amazing human being, whom I was privileged enough to meet and get to know a little over the last two years. Of course, we planned to meet more often than we actually met.

Sunil had a wry sense of humour. He smiled a lot. And probably smoked more than he should have.

Sunil had a lot of fundas to share with me, having been an entrepreneur himself, before joining NASSCOM. After graduating from IIM A in 1988 and working briefly with Citibank, Sunil started a research company called INFAC. From 1989 to 2000, he ran this company, finally selling out to CRISIL.

We joked about the possibility of Rupert Murdoch buying out my company. "Then you too can join NASSCOM".

A little known facet of Sunil Mehta was his blog. It gives you a peek into his sharp and sensitive mind. No, I never got around to adding him to my blogroll...

At times like this, one is reminded of what is truly important in life. How little we know of what lies ahead. My deepest condolences to Sunil's family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Goodbye, Sunil. You will be deeply missed.

Prayer Meetings:

Mumbai: Monday, 18th December 2006 from 5.30 to 7.30 pm.
Venue: 701, Horizon Apts, 9th Rd, near kaifi Azmi Garden, JVPD Scheme, Vile Parle (W), Mumbai. Ph 26701744

Delhi: Wednesday, 20th December 2006 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
Venue: NASSCOM, International Youth Centre, Teen Murti Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. Phone: 91-11-23010199

Bangalore: Thursday, 21st December 2006
Time and venue to be confirmed. Check here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Maturity Milestones

The law considers you an adult at 18. You can vote. You can watch 'A' films. You can even marry (if you're a girl).

But there are many other milestones which mark one's movement towards maturity. My 7 year old daughter crossed one last week, when she asked for - and got - her very own email id.

I thought we'd let her use it under supervision. But here's what happened. Within two login sessions she had figured it all out. The third time I looked over her shoulder she scolded,"Mummy, don't see my password."

Such is life!

I gave her a short lecture on the importance of sending emails only to people she knows. Like her cousins, mamas and maasis. I gave her the analogy of the park. "You don't take chocolate from strangers, do you?"

But honestly, there's not much I can do. Sometime in the near future she will discover Yahoo messenger or Googletalk and, she could meet anyone online. She may think it's okay to say hello - after all 'hello' is not a chocolate. But hello can lead to anything..

OK, so I sound paranoid. But she is just 7 years old. I remember feeling like a full adult at 16. I thought I knew everything there was to know. I did not want any 'interference'.

For the current generation, the age of 'full adulthood' - in their minds - may be as early as 11 or 12.

Technology is racing ahead of biology. Sure, we will adapt and cope. But there is uncharted territory ahead!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

JAM Engineering Survey - Topics for Write ups

Thanks to all those who sent in write ups on their respective branches. All six of you. Yes, we still have a very long way to go. We need write ups for the following branches:

- Aerospace Engineering
- Agricultural Engineering
- Architectural Engineering
- Automotive Engineering
- Ceramic Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Computer Engineering (in any college outside Maharashtra)
- Electrical Engineering
- Electronics Engineering
- Electronics and Telecom Environmental Engineering
- Industrial Engineering
- Instrumentation Engineering
- Information Technology
- Manufacturing Engineering
- Marine Engineering
- Materials Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Mining Engineering
- Nuclear Engineering
- Ocean Engineering
- Transportation Engineering
- Petro-chemical engineering

The articles we require are anything from 400-800 words, depending on how much you have to say! Once you express an interest in writing about a particular branch, we'll send you guidelines which give you an idea of the tone and content required.

We'd also like write ups on the following :
- Choosing which IIT to join
- Choosing which NIT to join
- Choosing an offbeat program in an IIT eg 5 year programs/ integrated courses/ humanities etc

Here, we'd like many different people to narrate their experiences and views. As there can be no 'right' answer.

Lastly, we would like write ups from every state on the peculiarities of the admission procedure. And any other things specific to studying engineering in that state.

As always, drop me a line at

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Surf Excel - the 'other' CSR

Alok Mehta left the following comment on my 'youth brand universe' post

HLL is all over the town and its FM channels with its "Mumbai dhoyega, Mumbai jeetega" campaign, where users have to sms the no. of stains / spots they could remove using HLL's detregent and the "score" is added to a fund that can go upto Rs. 5 lacs to be used to help Mumbai's needy children.

No doubt HLL will be more than compensated for its 5 lacs - from the paybacks received from mobile service provider, leave alone the actual product sales. The cost of promotion on FM itself wil be more than 5 lacs. I'm sure a corporate the size of HLL can afford to give away 5 lacs to needy [ corporate social responsibility - thats another discussion topic altogether] without a sms campaign etc.

Prashant Jain, who works at Unilever replied:

As a person who has been closely associated with the campaign and as a fellow blogger, I would like to clarify some misconceptions that you seem to carry about the Surf Excel 10/10 donation drive. .. Firstly, HLL is not receiving any paybacks from mobile service providers. The SMSs sent by the consumers are charged at the circle rate and at no special rate. As far as revenues from product sales are concerned, this campaign is a very small part of a very large promotion exercise (the Surf Excel 10/10 campaign). HLL could have chosen to spend the money on this campaign instead of going out of its way to invest resources in this campaign.

This campaign is being run in 5 metros in partnership with some very well known NGOs who are doing exemplary work in the field of child education (Udayan in Kolkata, Pratham in Mumbai, Parikrma in Bangalore, Prayas in Delhi and Udavum Karangal in Chennai). This takes the donation amount to 25 laks (not a small amount by any standard)

You are right in saying that the cost of running the campaign is much more than 5 lakhs, but you seem to have construed wrongly the spirit of the campaign. It is not about the donation of the said amount. In its own small way, the campaign aims to sensitize these urban conglomerates towards the plight of the millions of underserved children. Radio and SMS were used as means to achieve the said end.

For your kind information, HLL does undertake huge CSR initiatives. Please visit to know more about the same. Do write to me at for any other queries regarding the campaign.

I feel compelled to comment on the subject. Not because I am an HLL shareholder, or the fact that the company has been and continues to be one of my clients. This post is trigerred by my own 'Surf Excel' experience which went something like this:

A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I were headed towards the local mall to pick up some groceries. At the signal, a child of about the same age as her pressed her nose against the window of our car.

"Mummy, give me 5 rupees.. to give her," said Nivedita.
"No..." I replied. "You can buy her some biscuits and give them on the way back."

Half an hour later, she actually remembered to buy those biscuits. What's more, when we passed the detergent counter she asked to buy Surf Excel . Why? Because we can send an sms and help some poor children. "I have see the ad..."

It struck me then that the Surf Excel campaign was indeed similar to say, the NDTV campaign to get a retrial for Jessica Lal. A chance for us, as individuals to feel we have made a difference to a problem that is so much larger than ourselves, it leaves us helpless.

This act of buying Surf Excel perhaps made Nivedita feel like she had done something for that little girl she saw on the road. I, older and cynical, did not really share that sentiment. But I bought Surf anyways. We're Tide loyalists, actually. No particular reason - just.

Will we buy Surf again? I cannot say. Did we send the sms? No - the pack is still lying unopened. Did we give the girl at the signal the biscuits? Sadly - she had disappeared.

Whatever folks like Alok and I may feel, efforts like this one will be increasingly adopted by companies. After all, those of us who have are gnawed by guilt about the have-nots from time to time. So in addition to Corporate Social Responsibility, which companies like HLL in any case undertake (less visibly) there will be a case for 'Consumer Social Responsibility'.Where you and me can can earn some pain-free 'I have done my tiny little bit for society' points.

In different ways, and with varying degrees of success, HLL has been trying to take a more 'social' stance through its advertising. The Lifebuoy ad, for example, depicts young boys and girls taking on the responsibility of cleaning up their neighbourhood. Again, it starts with the idea that "Kabhi kabhi sirf ek insaan,..." a single individual can make a difference.

Given that these brands are embedded in the Indian psyche, drumming in functional benefits is of hardly any use now. One has to fight it out on pricing, distribution and yes, retaining positive emotional appeal. HLL has thus taken the slightly bold route of retiring the footballer covered in mud and the tandurusti ki raksha karta hai jingle.

At my home, however, we now use Dettol.

What research says
A Stanford study recently found that despite surveys showing an eager customer base, people aren't putting their money where their mouths are and actually buying ethically produced goods.

One surprising discovery they made was that information on ethical issues and the availability of socially responsible products did not make a difference in consumer choice. Consumers made explicitly aware of a product's benefits to society or the environment were just as likely to choose the cheaper, more harmful brand as a control group given no information about the products...

The Stanford team found that people willing to pay more in the name of ethics do exist, but they're not who you think they might be. There is no group designated by nationality, age, gender, income, or education level that consistently buys ethical products more than any other. The authors write, "[c]ontrary to what some might believe, CnSR [consumer social responsibility] is not just the purview of wealthy, highly educated females in liberal Western democracies. Rather, it is something embedded in the psyche of individuals."

So I guess campaigns like Surf will satisfy some individuals urge to be ethical even as they leave others cold and unmoved. Which is the case with just about any kind of campaign, isn't it?

Goa trip update

This visit to Goa has been far different and far richer than five previous holidays combined. That’s because on a holiday I generally eat, drink, swim, bake and in general am loath to move my butt from the beach and do anything.

But this time, it was a journalistic trip. So the idea was to see and experience as much as possible in 72 hours. I chatted up strangers of all types and stripes and boldly went places I’ve never been before. Such as Anjuna police station. Don’t ask! I shall tell all in the days to come. Patience…

Friday, December 01, 2006

JAM does Goa

JAM magazine is bringing out a special feature on Goa and Goans. Apart from hippie-chic and where-to-go, what-to-do stuff, we want to meet and mingle with the other Goa. The cool people who live, work and study there.

So if you're a student at any of the following:
Goa College of Art
Goa College of Architecture
Goa Institute of Management
Goa College of Engineering
Goa Medical College
Goa University
Just an indicative list - you get the picture!

Drop me a line at and JAM will drop by. We're in your city Dec 2-5.

Pssst: Don't forget to give a contact no!

Sorry state

A customer is unhappy with your service. Do you instantly say sorry and promise to look into the matter? Or do you promise to look into the matter and then decide whether you really owe an apology?

A smart company would go for option 1. But that doesn't always happen, does it? Govind has a take on customer relations after a less than satisfactory experience with Jet Airways.

The Value of Liberal Arts

Business Standard asks K V Kamath, CEO & MD, ICICI Bank : Do you lack in any particular quality?

Kamath replies (after a long pause): I am probably too technical a person. By training I am an engineer and also did my MBA but I never had an exposure to liberal arts. I wonder sometime that if I had an exposure to liberal arts, probably I could have been a better person, better leader and achieved a little more than what I have (done).

Early in my career I used to feel that technical education is the best education but after 35 years of working I like to admit that I stand corrected.

Kamath was recently named BS 'Banker of the Year' and is widely credited with taking ICICI to new heights. So I'm not sure what 'more' he would or could have achieved. But I agree with his point on liberal arts. More of us should get that kind of 'broad based' education which does not necessarily lead to anything. At least, not directly.

I for one wish I had majored in English literature. Nope, I opted for Economics, the 'almost-a-science'. That's because switching to Arts after being the school topper type was itself a big thing. And in the end I chickened out of a lit major, accepting the argument that 'literature is something you can always pursue on your own'. In that you can read books on your own.

Unfortunately, you never read those kind of books. Or in that kind of way.

It did seem pointless - at the time - writing 3 foolscap sheets on what the motivations and mental state of fictional characters. What a particular novel, or poet was trying to say about the social conditions prevailing in the 18th or 19th century.

But, it was interesting. It made you think, and look for answers. Hidden meanings which may or may not have originally been there.

I guess I was also lucky in that we had some amazing teachers at Sophia College. Ms Colaco and Mrs Stevens, in particular, stretched our minds far beyond the syllabus. In the second year, they covered several works which were not prescribed. Simply because, without that exposure, we would not truly understand 'modern literature'.

Now I can't say that I have, till date, 'understood' T S Eliot's Wasteland. Or Waiting for Godot. But, I am glad I was exposed to those thoughts and ideas.

Similarly, the one year I spent in America as a senior in high school entailed a course in American literature. It was a requirement for graduation, so I had no choice. But I would have taken it, if I had one. John Steinbeck, Willa Cather and most of all The Great Gatsby. Just some of what I remember...

Also the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder, which is an American classic, but unheard of in our part of the world.

Anyhow, liberal arts is not just literature. It's history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, political science. I find that in India, even Arts has a 'caste system'.

The 'Eco' student will take a combination like Eco-Stats-Pol Science or Eco-Stats-Socio. In many cases, that's what the college offers - you have no choice. The 'soft' subjects are in a separate category and generally the two are not mixed up.

However, at Sophia, they actually forced you to opt for a mix. So if you wanted Eco and Stats you would have to choose one subject from the 'other group' - "English lit, French lit, History or Philosophy'. I think, partly, it was so that those departments.. would not become extinct. But whatever the reason, I am very glad!

Getting back to K V Kamath's statement, sadly, the class profile at bs schools is getting skewed more and more away from Arts. IIMA's class of 2006 had only 3% Arts students. And I bet almost all of them would be Economics graduates.

It's a similar story, practically everywhere.

I know, it's the old 'engineers fare better at CAT' argument. The point is most intelligent young people in India still opt for technical education at the class 12 stage itself. So changing the exam is not the answer.

What we need is liberal arts colleges which set standards of excellence which attract the brightest and the best. One Stephen's, an LSR and a Xavier's here and there is not enough.

National Law School is a case in point. Because it exists, it attracts a breed of students who would otherwise never have considered taking up law!

Lastly, if you plan to enter the media, a good liberal arts education is worth a lot more than a Bachelors in Mass Media. Journalism or film making are not subjects to study in a class. The projects you guys do by cutting and pasting from google are of no value.

Focus is not everything in life. As Prof Robert Allen notes "A liberal arts degree gives students general skills to go on to become lifelong learners... They pick up what they need along the way."

Another article on the subject notes:

The best education for an unpredictable future provides the capacity and the tools to gather, interpret, challenge, and create knowledge; to combine ideas in new ways; and to communicate effectively.

A tall order? Yes. But that's exactly what liberal arts can provide a student. This type of education is called liberal arts, because it liberates the mind. The "liberal" comes from the Latin, liber, meaning free--free from ignorance and intolerance and cultural isolation.

Of course, their definition of liberal arts includes music, art and even the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology). What we refer to as "Science" and is again, in India, considered far inferior to Engineering.

The bottomline is:
Grounding in the liberal arts offers a window on history, culture, and human beings, on methods of intellectual inquiry, that transcends any particular subject, problem, moment in time, or job.

Sounds like what I would want from an education!

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