Interview by Sakshi Aggarwal
Professor Munjal brings in a diverse experience of over 23 years in both industry and academia and is currently serving as the Director of Vedatya Institute. During his early career, he worked in management positions in the hospitality and retail sectors both in India and internationally. Taj Group of Hotels, Aramark Corporation (USA) and Compass Group are some of the prominent companies he has worked for at various management positions. In academics, his strengths lie in the domain of ‘Strategic Management’, ‘Operations Management’; and ‘Sustainable Tourism’. He is an active researcher who has published widely in international and domestic journals of repute in the areas aligned with his teaching interests. His recent book entitled ‘The Indian Hospitality Industry: Dynamics and Future Trends’ published in New York by Apple Academic Press has received wide acclaim.
Prof. Munjal’s experience in the education sector
Education is a sector which allows you to make a difference in the lives of so many people. With the right intent and honesty, one can enable young learners to develop into professionals who can drive the chosen sectors and eventually the nation forward. The demographic dividend of our great nation can only be mobilized through quality education and this to me is what makes education industry special.
When you have the privilege of leading a forward-looking and people-centric organization like Vedatya, the journey becomes all the more special.
Prof. Munjal’s philosophy of leadership and his leadership style
I think ‘to lead’ is ‘to serve’. Leadership is about enabling others in your team, finding their interests, deploying their talents and improving their shortcomings such that they are able to deliver results with excellence in all that they do.
Leadership is a responsibility. It requires maturity, connect with ground reality so as to make decisions that are logical and supported by facts and ones that always put interests of the organization first. I believe leadership must be ‘shared’ through the right balance of autonomy and empowerment across various levels in the organization. The above narrative is what I believe my approach is about, but that said I see myself as a learner, making progress and trying to improve.
Significant challenges faced by Prof. Munjal as the Director of Vedatya Institute
The key challenge is to respond to changing needs of today’s learners and simultaneously ensure that the programmes of study are relevant to the requirements of the industry. To meet this challenge, investment in physical infrastructure and the people (faculty and staff) must be managed effectively. Development and retention of the soft asset is a critical success factor.
Prof. Munjal on importance of time management in his life
It is about getting the priorities right. An open-door policy at Vedatya means that students, staff, and faculty all have a claim on my time and rightly so. With appropriate autonomy and empowered teams, the role can focus on tasks and activities that are more strategic in nature as against the day to day operations. That said a significant amount of daily time is required to maintain a clear oversight of routine functions.
Deploying technology can make managing time much more effective, use of tools like ‘asana’ for task management, monitoring key performance metrics for all departments through automated ‘performance dashboards’ makes a huge difference.
Curriculum at Vedatya Institute
Our programme curriculum gets reviewed and refreshed annually as a part of the ‘academic quality assurance’ framework that we work with. Feedback from the industry partners is a critical component of this activity. Industry interface in the form of ‘theme specific’ round table discussions or applied research and consulting assignments by our faculty resources ensures the curriculum remains contemporary and industry relevant.
Our programmes build competencies like problem-solving, financial analysis skills, critical thinking skills, research-aptitude and leadership skill. These are attributes that allow our students to grow into leadership positions and be ready for a dynamic business environment in general.
We are clear that any programme of study must not only find the right balance in terms of its curriculum to provide the relevant ‘operational skills’ required to hit the shop floor running, but also build competencies around management aspects as well as leadership potential. Our Programmes (Business Management/ Hospitality Management) in general have an even balance of modules that build business and operational skills that allow learners to become critical thinkers, have financial analysis aptitude, learn about environmental sustainability, digital marketing, revenue management and strategic thinking.
The programmes are structured to enable career progression into management and leadership roles. The career paths of numerous Vedatya alumni have demonstrated the value added by management subjects or modules on our programme.
The feedback from the industry on the quality of output emerging from academic institutions has been adverse in general and is indicative of a ‘gap’ in terms of what the industry expects and what is being made available in terms of employable talent.
At Vedatya, we have bucked that trend and have consistently received positive feedback on the quality of students coming out of our programmes at both graduate and postgraduate level. This is validated by a strong placement record, including a strong percentage of students being absorbed by the industry at ‘management trainee’ positions.
Our approach towards any programme of study that we offer is to first connect with the industry, get feedback on the programme curriculum, content and structure, and only once we have a broad positive industry validation that we take the programme to market. This approach ensures that the graduate attributes and learning outcomes are aligned with industry expectations. Collaboration with the industry is the key; our jointly certified ‘postgraduate programme in revenue management’ with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is a standing example of this approach. The programme has 96% absorption of graduates by IHG after 6 cohorts.
The delivery of the programme is the next critical factor. A delivery approach, where the teaching pedagogy embraces experiential learning, supports application, and allows contemporary research in the area, finds its way to the classroom to ensure that the learners are engaging with the right content in a manner where there is higher probability of their actual understanding and demonstrating application in an actual business setting.
None of these things can be implemented without a team of faculty that has the right balance of industry experience, strong academic credentials, and aptitude for teaching and training. Our entire faculty has significant industry experience that includes international work experience, stellar academic qualifications from internationally reputed educational institutions, and are ‘certified to teach’ through a yearlong programme that prepares them to understand and engage with our approach towards education. They need to be research active as well. A recent book entitled “Indian Hospitality Industry: Dynamics and Future Trends” published in New York, is one of the many examples that showcase the thought leadership of our faculty team.
In addition to the above, we have invested heavily in terms of developing best-in-class infrastructure, offering the right learning environment and resources and ensuring that students are exposed to industry standard equipment, software (opera, micros), and training facilities (multiple kitchens, front office/ housekeeping labs, training restaurants). Our on-campus ‘farming initiative’ is an enhancement that differentiates us and is indicative of our overall orientation and willingness to experiment and evolve. In fact, the campus is built on the theme ‘pursuit of knowledge’ and encourages both learners and teachers to recognize ‘knowledge acquisition’ as a lifelong journey.
Growth of students through placement opportunities available at Vedatya Institute
Our students find internship and placement opportunities across a wide range of hospitality brands (international and domestic). Given our strategic relationship, IHG is usually the 1st employer on campus, followed by all the major players in the hospitality business (Carlson Rezidor, Hyatt, Marriott, ITC, IHCL (Taj Group), EIH (Oberoi Group), etc. The students are usually placed nearly 6 months in advance of their programme completion. Similar opportunities with a wide range of employers are facilitated by the business graduates as well.
Over the last 16 years, the institute has maintained a 95% plus placement track record, with many students finding multiple employment opportunities in a role of their choice. We achieve a significantly high percentage of ‘management trainee’ placements among our peers. The quality of placements validates the strength of our programmes and our approach to their delivery.
Prof. Sandeep’s relationship with the students being the Director of Vedatya Institute
We view students, parents and the institute as key stakeholders with a unifying objective. This overarching belief allows us to remain in dialogue, share ideas, concerns, feedback mutually.
Ideal school environment according to Mr. Sandeep and how he encourages that kind of culture at Vedatya Institute
One that enables learners to engage with their programme of study, build the skills, knowledge and attitudinal construct that allows each student to realize his/her god gifted potential. An organization with a work culture that supports both individual and team pursuit of service excellence at levels and functions alone can provide a superior learning environment. Efforts to create accountability, autonomy with responsibility are approaches that can help build such a work culture.
Goals in mind for Vedatya Institute for the next few years
We will continue to deliver high-quality programmes of study with superior employability commence programmes in the domain of healthcare services, sports management, and design as these sit well with our focus on being an ‘educator for the service industry’. We will build platforms for industry and educators to share research and best practices and innovate in terms of learning-teaching approaches that allow students to enhance the value that they are able to drive from their time at Vedatya.
Suggestions for the current youth and the aspiring students
Students should take responsibility for their learning and development. Be mindful of the requirements that their chosen fields will demand of them and make efforts to build competencies that will help them achieve their career goals. Some general attributes that employers in the service industry look for are problem-solving mindset, service orientation and warmth, eye for detail and creativity, discipline and punctuality and ability to work in teams.