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Interview: Prof. Kamal Kishore Sharma

1. Your vast experience in heterogeneous fields makes you an accomplished personality, what made you choose the domain of education?

I have believed that there is only one life and that is this. One has to achieve and contribute commensurate to one’s capabilities in this life only. I am an ambitious person and need a liberal dose of motivation to stay in a career choice for sufficiently long enough time. My corporate career was capped by a CEO tenure for 3 years in an MNC subsidiary abroad, by the age of 39. I was looking for the next big enough challenge. Experience should not just lead to better performance, it should also generate continuing good for the society. The social contribution can be maximized if the action & results can be shared fruitfully with a larger set of people especially the young impressionable minds. Management education offers this scope and thence, became my next career choice. This is one domain I believe that can do much better with extensive experience sharing. As I went deeper into this domain, I found that higher education really needs more ideas, capable people and institutions and these are the challenges that keep motivating me to contribute in the education space.

2. What according to you is need of the hour for education industry?

There are multiple needs, I will list the top three here. Firstly, the government policy should favor private investment and not mandate institutions only under the trust/society route. Public money is scarce and private sector is willing, but private investments have to give returns to justify the opportunity costs. Secondly, every stage of education needs more capable faculty resources and a merit based performance environment. Teaching has become a less preferred vocation choice and has not been able to attract the best brains. The few who prefer are not encouraged enough to be on the cutting edge of performance due to surrounding mediocrity. Thirdly, while the education choices, institutions and students have expanded by multiple notches in the recent decade, the industry involvement needs to do a lot of matching up. They are primary consumers of education products but perennially complain about lack of employability of graduates without seriously contributing as an important stakeholder. We also need to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystems around education institutions. Continuous hard work is needed simultaneously on all these fronts.

3. Leadership qualities of a person influence his code of conduct. What is your idea about a good leader?

Leadership qualities are never static irrespective of the domain. If we talk about business leadership, some skills are necessary viz. knowledge, analytical decision making approach, good communication skills and team-work. What leadership more often lacks, is in the sphere of the “practice” of leadership i.e. the behavioral part. Prejudices, ego, competition, poor motivation, inability to separate personal and professional life, self-imposed constraints etc. hamper practice of leadership skills. Another important leadership quality is the leader’s ability to stay flexible and adaptive at work. Business, economic and societal environment is changing rapidly and a good leader is one who adapts faster without compromising on performance.

4. The competitive scenario rules the education sector. Institutions, students, educationists are caught up in a rut to outshine each other. According to you, in what way can one stand out among the crowd?

Competition is inherent in most sectors & education sector is no alien. Building an educational institute has become easier with availability of land and funds, but running an institution is proving to be a tedious task. Essentials like good faculty, interested students and commensurate job prospects are constrained. The education industry is in a hyper-competitive space and yet the institutions prefer to cut corners rather than aspire for quality. What is appalling is most Institutions compromise even on most basic constituents of academic quality like faculty, laboratories, pedagogical tools, library resources etc.. As a result, in more than 90% of institutions, we find less motivated teachers without sufficient tools who are neither willing nor able to encourage the students to learn.  Over a period of time, mediocrity and institutional erosion seeps in. Infrastructure, funds and technology can only aid to a limited extent; a sustainable educational institution is one which builds its edifice on quality in form of the value systems, primacy of faculty in decision making, discipline, and meritocracy. The institutions which are able to sustain these tenets over a reasonable period of time do not even have to shout (publicity, social media) and spend to stand out.

5. What are your future plans? How do you wish to become an efficient contributor to the society?

I am bullish on education sector, the main reason being immense potential for setting up and nurturing good quality institutions. The competition makes it exciting and increases avenues to differentiate. I am working on setting up institutions of higher education, which would be known for their quality of education. My belief is that if the basic tenets of education in an institution are ensured, that would be, in my humble opinion, a major contribution to the society. 

6. What are the things you would to like change about the condition of education in India?

Education in India is plagued by inefficiency and mediocrity in primary, secondary as well as higher education. There are islands of excellence which may not contribute to more than 5% of the student population. This sector direly needs replication of successful institution models, privatization of education institution ventures, better faculty, improved experiential pedagogies, social awareness training, extensive involvement of industry in guiding education, and an effective regulatory body to monitor the quality standards at the institutions.

7. Being an alumnus of IIM, what were the lessons learnt at the early stages of your life?

The privilege of having studied at an IIM comes with a responsibility, to become worthy of it and spread the goodness. I got a perspective of how a great institution should be like. The quality of interaction with the meritorious students and faculty helped me increase my ability to engage in quality and relevant communication. I learnt to read and analyze situations better, which is what has helped me through my career till date.

8. You have worked with both public and private sector, which sector requires more innovation.

With respect to the education, public and private sector, my take is both require innovation, albeit of different kinds. The public sector can do better by inducing meritocracy and tenure, deploying proper civil infrastructure, new technologies and pedagogies that lead to better learning. The private sector requires innovative ways of handling the most basic of things including empowering the academicians in order to attract better talent, financial prudence, academic discipline etc.

9. What are the fruitful steps that can be taken to make education affordable for everyone?

Affordability is a relative issue, it comes into question because every parent would like the best education for their wards and that, in most cases, is expensive because of the premium for “goodness”.  For other institutions, the competition ensures that the fee structure is not exorbitant. Most of the high fee institutions, tie-up for bank loan facilities. Most institutions have scholarship opportunities for good students and students belonging to weaker sections of economy. I would not advocate reduction of fees in quality institutions but expansion of reasonable cost options and wider availability of bank loans.

10. Whom do you look up to as your inspiration? What is the motto of your life?

The Principal of the secondary school and the Director of the MBA School, I studied at are my sources of inspiration. While the former contributed heavily to my communication skills (public speaking, reading & writing), the latter made me realize the power of perseverance, hard work, smart work & ambition like nobody else. My motto in life also derives from the same traits. I believe that God has enabled a few people with capabilities to do the uncommon and more difficult things that have a larger impact on society. One needs to discover those and act upon them. Never wait for the right time, build an opportunity and start working. Good intentions will, sooner or later, yield good results.

 

Brief Bio: Prof. K.K. Sharma

Dr. Kamal Kishore Sharma, a MBA, an institution builder, strategy consultant, senior leadership trainer. A Fellow of IIM Ahmedabad, Professor, Dean and Vice Chancellor at Ansal University, Gurgaon. Advising/Visiting Faculty roles at Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI), MICA, CEPT, IHM, Adani Institute of Infrastructure, SGV University Jaipur etc. He also has corporate experience; CEO at an MNC subsidiary (Arcelor Mittal, Aktau, Kazakhstan), Strategy Head at a 4 MT Steel Plant, Adani Group Ahmedabad and Ansal API Group Delhi.

Worked with Government; Indian Civil Services (Indian Railways), SAIL-Bokaro. Delivered high impact strategy and leadership simulation workshops to senior management personnel (mostly CXOs & HoDs across more than 100 MNCs, Indian Corporates and PSUs, including at IIM Ahmedabad) with top feedback rating. Worked on consulting projects on Energy and Environment with UNEP, APN, RISOE and Government of India.

Worked in challenging multicultural environments across India, Europe and Eurasia-Kazakhstan. Experience across a diverse range of functions in challenging contexts viz. strategic planning and vision development, large multinational team communication and coordination; commercial business development in an entrepreneurial environment; a general management (CEO) role at an engineering organisation. Extensive networks amongst academic and corporate communities in prestigious Indian and foreign management and educational institutions, key decision-makers in Indian Government Civil Services and Global Industry Professionals through Civil Services.

Some prestigious associations; regular member of the US based strategic management Society (SMS); empanelled for independent directorships at Primedirectors.com (sponsored by NSE, BSE & CII). Also served as a motivational speaker at Delhi University Campus Colleges on Career Leadership, consistently rated in top decile at speaking endeavours. Social Leadership; founded NGO “Saksham” to work in area of education quality in rural schools.

Last Updated - 06 Oct 2015

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