Interview by Sakshi Aggarwal
Dr. Srividya Ragavan is the Chairperson – Center of Excellence (Entrepreneurship Development) and Associate Professor Entrepreneurship and Marketing at IFIM Business School.
She has taught several subjects including Entrepreneurship, Value Creation, through Business Models, Venture Growth Strategies, Business Plan: Writing and Pitching, Creative Thinking and Innovation, Marketing Management, Integrated Marketing Communications and Retail Management.
Highlights of the 12-year career in academics include introduction of industry inclusive and innovative experiential pedagogy, development of new-age and innovative courses, development of award winning cases, several awards for case writing and research, consulting with start-ups and several publications in international and national journals.
Dr. Srividya Raghavan’s experience in the education industry
As a high school student aspiring to a challenging career in an economy that had just opened up, I was in love with microeconomics and subsequently developed a fascination for consumer behaviour and marketing. I had chosen marketing communication and sales as my area of focus. I did part-time jobs in sales just for the experience and wrote advertisements just for the joy of persuasive writing. I was further intrigued by consumer psychology and what communication could do in persuading people. Hence, I decided to pursue an MBA in Marketing. Luckily, I happened to study in an autonomous system even within a central university that followed a credit system with a choice to take some credits in any department of the university. This was yet an innovative system in the 90’s when even the IIMs followed a pretty straight jacket curriculum. However, it always felt like there was so much more that could be done to tap the potential of students in a higher education system.
I moved into retailing with campus placements post my MBA since RPG at the time was trying to professionalise retailing with the first few batches of management graduates. The opportunity to push my learning curve with an organisation which was establishing processes for scaling up sounded fascinating to me. They talked about things that hadn’t been taught in the books (there was no subject called retailing at the time). We were laying the foundations of jargons such as ‘planogram’ and ‘facings’ and ‘SKUs’ that hadn’t been heard in India yet. Everyone from the CEO to the lorry driver would participate in every new store opening and the novelty of it all was rather exciting. But soon, I realised retail operations was like housekeeping – a checklist of things that had to be done and done well, but pretty much routine. I was bound to get bored sooner or later even when I had grown from Management Trainee to Assistant Manager to Independent manager of a store in less than a year and a half.
I quit retail to join my husband in the USA and decided against pursuing yet another MBA and had no plans for an academic career, but I did take the GMAT and get familiar with the education system in the US. I decided instead to do something I never had a chance to do formally before – I decided to learn commercial art which ended in experimenting with fine arts. I practised as an independent graphic designer while I completed several certifications in the emerging area of digital graphics and website designing. A lot of this was in line with my interest in consumer psychology and communication.
On returning to India, I took to academics quite accidentally with an intention to get a 9-3 job since I had little twin babies to take care of. Little did I realise that I had not chosen just a teaching career but had gotten myself into one of the most strenuous full-time doctoral programs.
As I moved into a stage where I was allowed to work with students of my own, I realised that this was one industry where the more one gave, the more one grew. I think this industry taught me more about being human than I would have learnt in any dog-eat-dog competitive industry. There were times when as doctoral students, we earned less than what our students earned on their first jobs and it felt like we had hit a bonanza. While my batch mates went on to become Vice Presidents and presidents of MNCs and rose the corporate ladder, it sometimes felt like I was stuck on a different time-warp. But I knew, mentally I had moved eons ahead of most of them. While they hid in their little cocoons of narrow perspectives and petty industry politics, I was helping students find their lives.
Compared with any other industry, I believe there is such wide scope for work in academia and education that it is constantly challenging, interesting and meaningful. I believe in any other industry, I would have been easily bored and restless, leading to constant jobs shifts, in search of personal growth and satisfaction which can’t be measured in monetary terms. In education, that kind of personal growth happens as a way of life.
Dr. Srividya Raghavan’s philosophy of leadership and her leadership style
I think every place comes with its own genetics and culture. What works in one may or may not work in another. The legacy of an institution poses its own challenges as well. In terms of leadership philosophy, I think it is important to be true to one’s own self – I would think authenticity and integrity are the two most important values I would cherish. And transparency helps to build trust. Being able to persuade people to join one’s cause is an important quality and I try working on it to the extent possible. I expect hard work from team members but do not demand it. I think people must balance all sides of their lives to bring their best selves to work. I would rather work with happy, satisfied people with multifaceted personalities than ambitious, bitter people with unidimensional characteristics. Positivity helps in promoting prosperity and to build positivity, it is important that people believe that they are spending their time an effort in worthwhile pursuits.
An educational institute requires people with very divergent thinking skills – divergent thinking does lead to conflicts, but is an essential ingredient for a learning hub. Hence, there is a lot of opinions and which in fact help to keep a check on the right and wrong practices. Tolerance is thus another attribute that is hard to imbibe and I think essential to educational leadership. While I cannot sermon from a pulpit and do not care much for it, I’d rather work with my team by shouldering the responsibility for outcomes that everyone can be proud of. Actions do speak louder than words. I would rather lead from the side than from the front since I don’t see work in education as a battle but a collaboration.
Changes in the education industry noticed by Dr. Srividya Raghavan over the years
The education industry is rapidly beginning to understand the need for innovation and research. There is more thought on pedagogy and application. However, the types of innovations and the application of research is being questioned today. Which is, I believe a good trend. Research for research sake and innovation, only in name is a waste of resources.
I also believe we are on the brink of a paradigm shift in education. With technology and information at our fingertips, there has to be a redesign of education to make it relevant for the future. It’s the era of mass customization and no industry needs this more than education. Education is a personal experience and we must soon get out of the industrial era legacy to work towards making it meaningful to every student. I think educationists can see it, but solutions are far and few in between. We are yet trying to band-aid and bridge gaps in the existing systems rather than address the real problems in education. I think the most important changes are yet to come.
Path according to Dr. Srividya Raghavan that is the most optimum for a student wanting to excel in any field of management
Students must apply as they learn. They cannot wait for someone to tell them what they need to learn or do. They must find their own unique ways to apply their knowledge and find their own ways to add value to business and society. It is important for students to find their own purpose and work towards achieving those. Being unique in a meaningful way is important in a crowded space. I think self-driven experiential learning will bring the best out of the students and educational institutions must facilitate that.
There is a lot of distraction in the environment today, shutting out the noise and being able to focus is another important discipline they must learn. Sorting through information and critical thinking are extremely relevant in today’s information glut. Sensemaking of situations and being able to call upon the balanced judgment is very important in a more casual world we live in today. While competition helps to keep us on our toes, collaboration helps to deliver better and I think increasingly corporations are going to focus more on collaboration than individual performances.
In terms of hard skills, digital communication skills, quantitative skills, being able to use technological tools etc., are becoming a basic employability requirement. The better and faster they are at using these, they are better armed to face the future.
Curriculum and placement opportunities available at IFIM Business School
IFIM provides students with the first launchpad, since most of the students are freshers, and are provided ample opportunities to prepare for the launch. Owing to the location – Electronic City in Bangalore – it is right at the heart of the industrial action and hence there are ample opportunities for industry interaction and experiential learning.
IFIM has innovated the Industry Internship Program which is usually a 2-month program into a 4.5-month program where students can learn and add value more meaningfully. This is evidenced by the good number of preplacement offers garnered by them. We have innovated in the areas of Social Immersion Programs and the Research Incubation program. The Personality Enhancement Program is unique and developmental in nature. It combines lifestyle and life skills to ensure holistic development of students. The curriculum itself is flexible and allows flexible learning pathways. The mentoring program which is a co-curricular program helps students identify a purposeful career and plan their careers right from the beginning of the program. The students are prepared in functional areas, personality enhancement in communication, grooming and etiquette, social responsibility as well as job winning skills.
The school aims at continuous employability and its curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are designed to help students become employable in a sustained manner. Hence, in that way, the curriculum incorporates not just the best practices but has a more evolved version of the same. In line with the spirit of the school – ‘igniting minds’ – the school helps students to find their purpose through the guided mentoring process, allows them flexibility in creating their own learning pathways and supports them in learning and preparing in multiple dimensions.
Dr. Srividya on what makes IFIM Business School stand apart from other institutions
IFIM is unique in its single-minded focus on continuous improvement in all areas of operations. In most schools, it is business as usual and improvements are carried out as a regulated and periodic activity when time permits. At IFIM, there are constant discussions on improving process and procedures for the betterment of the curriculum and student experiences. It is a dynamic and entrepreneurial organisation that is willing to push the limits of value addition in education. While other business schools try not to stray too far from the norms of the industry, IFIM has been willing to push the boundaries in terms of innovations in curriculum design and student experiences as evidenced by the number of awards we have received for our various programs.
Qualities which, over the years, have helped Dr. Srividya and the entire management to create a brand name for IFIM
IFIM imbibes the values of transparency in all its activities, it is not bureaucratic, but agile and swift in its continuous improvement practices. The school has ensured rapid implementation of processes and quality adherence measures. Hence, there is constant action in terms of curriculum enhancement and student services. IFIM is more holistic and realistic in its approach to education. The school believes in student-centric objectives and measures which are reflected in the design of curriculum and student services. The school has been an active participant in the educational and industry ecosystem.
Dr. Srividya on how he prepares students to face challenges of modern organizations and global standards successfully
The world is increasingly becoming unpredictable owing to the dynamicity. It is difficult to understand what future careers might look like. To face challenges of modern organisations, students are provided with a holistic education in combining wellness and personality development inputs. The idea is to ensure that students pursue balanced living by habituating them of the same while they are at IFIM. Bangalore is one of the most global and cosmopolitan cities in India and hence extensive industry interaction prepares them for the global standards automatically. Students also have foreign exchange programs and we have international students on campus every year for at least a term, leading to mixing of knowledge and culture.
Goals in mind for IFIM Business School for the next five years
The school will continue on its path of continuous improvement through accreditations, improve quality and quantity of faculty for better delivery of programs, focus on increasing the number of students who can benefit out of the program. Three centres of excellence are in the process of being developed – entrepreneurship, business analytics and banking. These areas will help to focus on emerging areas that are relevant to business education in the future. The school aims to reach for the deemed university status in the next few years.
Suggestions for the current youth and the aspiring students
Learning to learn is an important skill. This is perhaps one of the most important needs of the coming years when industry needs will continuously change expecting the workforce to be updated constantly. It is important to be open about what one considers a career. With increasingly fluid working class – people might want work on multiple jobs at the same time. With increasing automation, routine jobs will be passed’ and ingenuity is the need of the hour. Replicable jobs will be lost easily, bringing uniqueness into the performance is important. Innovations and entrepreneurial mindsets are useful in managing uncertain futures. Being enterprising, agile and constantly learning is the suggestions I would give to the aspiring studnets. Best way to do this is to seek out and accept all opportunities to apply what one learns. This is why IFIM offers opportunities to explore and equip oneself with knowledge, skills and attitude through a flexible format of self-discovery and personal learning pathways.