Interview by Bhawna Rawat
Dr. Anirban Sengupta is presently working as the Executive Director of ISB&M, Pune. He holds a B.E degree in Electrical Engineering, MMS, Management degree from NMIMS and a doctorate degree in Management from the University of Pune. He believes there is only one life to live and there is so much to achieve and therefore, every moment counts. Bridging the gap between theory and practice has been his single most source of inspiration all throughout his professional career. He has been honored with the Dewang Mehta Best Teacher Award in 2009 in the area of Retail Management, he has taught Retail Management at IIM Indore / IIM Kozhikode for eight academic years.
Dr. Sengupta has 2 decades of strategic cross-functional and leadership experience – evenly spread out between industry and academics. First ten years has been in manufacturing with CEAT as an Assistant Superintendent (electrical) and credit rating with CRISIL, Duff & Phelps Credit Rating India and FITCH Ratings India. As Vice President and member of the start-up team of Duff & Phelps and FITCH Ratings India, he played a key role in establishing the start-up operations of these agencies over a five year period from 1996 to 2001.
Dr. Sengupta played a key role as the Chairperson Placement at Goa Institute of Management from 2002 to 2008 in establishing it as an institute of the top league. He moved into active academic leadership roles from mid-2009 as the Director, Center for Healthcare Management, ASCI Hyderabad (positioned its Hospital Management program as a leading player in the healthcare arena), as the Director of ISB&M Nande Pune and later as the Director of College of Management & Economics Studies, UPES, Dehradun.
Experience in moving from the BFSI sector to the educational sector
I have experience in the management field in the education industry. While for me it is exciting, it also depends on the outlook of a particular person how he/she wants to position himself/herself in this whole industry and what perception she/he has. Also, one has to make it more exciting. My experience has been exciting because I have worked in the industry before moving into academics.
In industry, I have worked in two broad areas of research. The research was practical and industry-oriented. Also, we have been meeting people from the corporate world which is the other part of networking, exchanging ideas, understanding their perspective of business and then assimilating.
Obviously, academics in management has a kind of knowledge application research side that helps me a lot to be useful in the educational field. The second important thing is to understand the industry as now it has become really important to go beyond functional specialization, talk about cost functional knowledge and understand the perspectives as the industry demands a lot. The marketing guy should understand what finance and supply chain are. Similarly, the finance guy should understand what marketing is. So, this cross function perspective is very important to be brought in the classroom and that has been my forte.
For me, it is not moving from one type of job to another as there is a lot of continuity which I can see. I am a business manager who has moved from the business sector to the educational sector.
I never saw myself as a professor. I see myself as a manager from the BFSI sector to the education sector.
The important question is how I or other such people define the whole education sector. For me, it is very exciting.
Ensuring a positive culture or climate among students from diverse cultures
In order to ensure a positive culture, we try to mix it up with the spirits. Right from the hostel rooms deciding who will stay with whom to making the sections and making various groups considering who will be a member of which particular study group in the classroom learning, it is a planned decision and is not just random.
So, the planning happens from day 1 which involves a cross-mixing of different cultures. Somebody from the north will speak to somebody from the south so that it is done in a very methodical method and doesn’t happen by chance. So, the moment it happens the students actually get exposed to different cultures. It is a part of the learning process that they go through and which is very important because when they go to the industries they will be working in an environment with people from different cultures. India itself has so many cultures.
Also, when today we are talking about globalization where our people are moving to different countries or expats are coming into our country, it all builds up a cross-cultural environment.
That is why we make sure that from day 1 the students get accustomed to the cross-cultural environment and learn from each others’ values.
The two sides to the philosophy of leadership
For me, leadership has two sides. First is the participative leadership, I think I am not the best in everything as I may be surrounded with people who are far better than me in different activities. So, I give them their space of course within the certain framework within which the institute wants to be. That is how I have been working.
The other side is to be a leader with a certain vision and that is why a lot of comes on my table, for example, how I see the future, the institute and the competitive landscape, and how we can do the networking. So, that is the leadership part which I keep to myself. I drive from the front and of course, wherever it is needed I take my team along.
Suggestions for the aspiring management students
When I was pursuing MBA in 1991, it was a very significant year for me for two reasons. The first reason being the onset of the liberalization policy and the second reason is that it was my first year of business school. If I look at these 25 years that how India has been developed and how I as an individual have developed and evolved, I think there has been a significant value addition.
The present scenario is very exciting. The students of today are extremely lucky that they are getting the B Schools or the corporate world at this age when India is doing so well. There are so many opportunities not only in India but all across the world.
I suggest the students be cross-functional because at the end of it we want every student to be a potential CEO of his/her firm but if you have to reach that level, you cannot function on a single function. You have to cross-function and being in the rating industry this is what I have learned.
Every student that I find in B Schools, they only think that the annual report will be something which only the finance students will look at and Marketing, HR, Supply agents, Media don’t get to look at the annual reports. For me, the annual report is like a religious text that everyone needs to know. Annual report gives a lot of information which is true for every business. When you look at the profit and loss and balance sheet’s numbers, try to understand the business behind the numbers. So, don’t consider it as just a report for accountants and instead try to understand that what is the story that the business is telling. Many time the numbers are not telling a story but you have to make a story out of the numbers.
For example, there is a very big company in the field of the auto sector and I was doing a rating assessment for them. They told me that the business is growing. However, when I analysed the last five years’ numbers, the story which I could see with the numbers was totally different from what they told me. They had set up a new plant in one of the places in the country, assuming a certain kind of growth and demand happening in that particular product category. They invested a lot of money on that. The factory was commissioned in 18 months but in the 18 months, the demand they were forecasting actually crashed due to certain market conditions and the products couldn’t be sold.
So, the challenge before the company was they had to pay the debt in a certain time and for that, they didn’t have money and needed more debt to pay that debt. All in all, when the company gave me a certain story I countered them with my story, saying that you have your own version but I have my own version. The company had no other way but to accept that the story of mine was right. Now, that is the kind of analysis I want the students to look at. For understanding the business, unless you look at the stories behind the numbers you can never be a good business management student.
This is, what I feel, a tremendous kind of learning. These school students need to study one annual report of a company. Mastering an annual step is essential. They should understand how important this is and develop an interest in the business.
Growth in the retail sector
I think retail is a phenomenal sector. I am very fortunate to be a part of retail as a sector as a student of retail management in that way. Today we have evolved a lot but still there is a long way to go. So, India is a huge market. Retail is significantly different from manufacturing, something we Indians are familiar with. So, retail has certain specific nuances and until you understand retail as a business, you cannot really appreciate it. Retail is a huge opportunity.
In manufacturing, you are doing the value addition while in retail you are simply buying the finished product and you are selling it. In retail, the margins are very less so you have to manage your cost very well. Also, retail cannot afford to pay higher salaries. But those who stick into retail get into the serial management roles then the salary structure matches up with the management role.
So, for being in retail, you have to be passionate, good with numbers and also be people-oriented. We are saying that retail pays very low but you will have to provide customer service and loyalty. If you are into it and if you are passionate about it the sky is the opportunity for you. It is always advised to be part of a high growth sector. So those who are in retail you might get more opportunities in the future if not now or immediately and interestingly that growth opportunities won’t be there for you in the manufacturing field.
ISB&M has mastered the art of being different
ISB&M PGDM Program is definitely good for the students. It is different and I think being different is very important for being competitive in the market. Being different is a skill and art which we have mastered as our process, through which we prepare the students, is different. Also, it is not visible from outside that which process is being followed so it is very difficult to copy it from others. Until you are sensing it you cannot actually articulate what is the difference.
Our alumni have done phenomenally well. I think they are our brand ambassadors.
We are proud of them. It is because of the success of alumni that the position of an institute gets improved. I would like my current students to follow in the footsteps of the alumni. I think alumni have made our job much easier and we continue to do our job as the part of the process.
ISB&M aims to be different than the crowd and making students job-ready
I think wherever ISB&M is positioning right now in the minds of the corporates, we need to move to the next level from there. Our faculty is working on it. We, from the senior management, are also working on it continuously. Our alumni work very closely with us. We are grateful to them. We keep on creating the differentiation in the market space which will always help ISB&M to be perceived as something different doesn’t matter whatever the competition comes.
ISB&M should be perceived as providing training to the students in such a way that they are able to make a difference and deliver from day 1 in any of the jobs. I think this will ensure that ISBM continues to remain different from the crowd and also it will make the rankings even better.
We have formulated learning practices according to the needs of the students
ISB&M is one of the most flexible management institutes that we have. We are continuously improving ourselves. For example, in terms of classroom learning, we all know that the attention span of students is coming down. So, instead of going through the 20 pages of Harvard case studies, we try to go for the current news-based learning. We take a news and try to make a sense out of it.
We take tutorials that means beyond the classrooms, we have interactive sessions. Students actually do the talking in the tutorials much more than the professors. We have also worked on significant industry association where possibly students should be sent for live projects which might take 2 to 3 months. Besides the classroom studies, we have a self-study guiding format. Other things like inviting speakers to the classrooms, involving alumni and senior managers as part of the courses where the core faculty work as the anchor faculty and the invited speakers take 3-4 module sessions and really bring in the value-added corporate input into the classrooms.
We make sure that not only we are updated with the changing mindsets and perceptions of the students but we should also be in touch with the changing grounds of the latest developments taking place in the marketplace. Such changes may not be captured by the books because by the time the new changes of markets have been incorporated in the books, the markets change.
Everyone has 24 hours, our success depends upon how we manage our time
Time management is really simple yet very difficult. It is really difficult as after spending a certain time in your healthcare you get a limited time for work. So, one is that you have to do multitasking. You have to do so many things at the same time. Two days before, I was travelling extensively in Mumbai, meeting so many corporates and none of my work was left because technically I was always working on Whatsapp, talking to faculty and students through groups, guiding and suggesting them. Therefore, nothing stopped because I was travelling and not present here.
So, time management requires multitasking and it also requires a tremendous amount of focus for whatever work you are doing. For example, do something for half an hour and for that half an hour forget everything. Then do the next work. So, divide your time into compartments of 30 or 40 minutes.
Today, there is no difference between a professional and a personal life. You might be sitting in a movie hall but you might be still on the job or celebrating with your family but handling calls related to work. So, never feel disturbed. Never think that somebody is intruding in your personal life. Every time is personal and everytime is professional. Once you start looking at things from this perspective you can do a better job.