On 3rd April 2005 a motley group of practising professionals – some managers, some entrepreneurs from various industries – assembled at Kasturbhai Lalbhai Management Development Centre at IIM Ahmedabad. We were to be inducted into a two-week management program to get concise inputs on structured managerial thought processes. The “Small and Medium Enterprise Program” would touch upon business areas including marketing, finance, HR, operations, strategy and virtually everything that matters to a business head.
While each of us had different objectives in terms of what we expected to derive from the program, the one common denominator was clearly the need to learn from an entity bigger than ourselves.
Everyone, like me, as I later learned, was filled with a sense of excitement, fear and many other mixed emotions as we were about to embark on a different kind of challenge – unfamiliar territory and the formidable image of the IIM Ahmedabad brand only added to our anxiety. Why were we compulsorily housed on campus? Was it really the military school of business management education? Why were we expected to share rooms with other participants? Did they really have T-shirts that said “I survived IIMA”? What lay ahead? Would the program really be practical?
I remembered the words of my ex-IHM principal Mr.K.V.Simon several years back in context with further academic education. “There is nothing more I can teach about a spoon and a fork. What you need is a program that offers broader-based inputs on business management related areas – like... an MBA program.” How right he was. Maybe this was it! Besides, I valued the opinion of the two hospitality professionals who’d described it as fabulous experience. How bad could it be?
All our questions, and more, were answered more than adequately over the course of the program. As we got to know one another better, we shared our thoughts and feelings about the program and otherwise. Except for three to five hours of private time every day, we were encouraged to talk the talk and walk the walk. The program organisers pre-empted the possibility of some participants attempting to bypass the system and explained the philosophy of the program. Then again, once one had committed the time and money, what else could one do but try and gain the most from it.
The classroom was truly used as a platform to share many valuable and practical gems of knowledge. Contributions were made by the professors as well as the participants. The learning approach used was the case method pioneered by the Harvard Business School with whom IIMA has a tie-up. Case studies describing actual business situations confronting an organisation or individual manager were used as grounds to exercise the judgement of the participants. While some solutions may be superior to others, no absolute “right” answer is assumed. The classroom was turned into a little eco-system representative of a business environment where the power of multiple minds can be leveraged to its advantage.
The rules of the program were effectively designed to allow the mindset enhancement process to seep in most effectively. Active participation through individual studies and group discussions open for debate the following day under the tutelage of the professors was something that brought to light a diverse range of optional answers.
These cases were interspersed with a variety of other inputs. Discovering the history of the institute, their access to resources, their involvement with consultancy and some of their challenges was a real eye-opener. A live interaction with some successful entrepreneurs also proved very interesting and beneficial. At the end of two exhilarating weeks, every single participant agreed that SMEP 2005 was well worth the time and money invested. We all left on 16th April with a smile and some wonderful memories of what IIMA had given us.
Initially the heavy reading and thinking schedules were gruelling. Slowly, we were able to see through the haze of these demands and pick up valuable lessons, the wisdom of which few in the program will forget. It became routine to confront and address recently learnt business situations and the energy levels rose once again as this schedule became a habit.
How far such studies can simulate the ability to think clearly in challenging scenarios in ones own business is debatable, as the level of emotions in both situations are obviously different. Then again, let’s not forget that a pilot does have to go though a flight simulator before steering a real plane which may be quite different in practice.
Obviously, I highly recommend this program to other practising professionals. What I’m really hopeful about however, is that hospitality educationists in India, who are decision makers with regard to syllabus, will consider including the case study route in their curriculum.
The process of collecting data from live businesses (with anonymity if necessary) and getting professional inputs on probable solutions will certainly be tedious, particularly in the beginning. But the outcome of such live research will definitely improve the turnout of students in terms of the relevance of academics to the best practices in the industry. Eventually isn’t building bridges between academics and practising professionals in the trade (who will recruit) what any education system is about?