Interview by Bhawna Rawat

Akhil shalani

Mr. Akhil Shahani is currently working as the Managing Director of Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management, Mumbai. He has a valuable experience of 3 decades working in different capacities. He has received several awards for his excellent work including the Bharat Shiromani Award for Education, Bharat Gaurav Award, Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award, Asia's Who's Who - Men & Women of Achievement Award, Innovative B School Award for Industry Interface, PIMR Outstanding Educationist Award, Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Fair Business Practices and Rex Karamveer Gold Chakra.

Experience of working in the Education Industry

The Shahani family has been in the education space for over 100 years, right from the days of the founder of our group, Dr. Thadomal Shahani, who was the Principal of one of the prominent colleges in Sindh before Partition. Today, we are currently on the board of 24 iconic colleges in Mumbai.

However, as these colleges are affiliated to the local state University, I found their education system too much driven by rote learning and not effective in giving students the job skills needed by modern corporates. Hence, I founded the Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management (TSCFM) in 2010 to build the careers of management students via industry driven courses affiliated to Universities in the UK.

We have grown rapidly over the last few years as students appreciate our industry oriented and technology-driven global education model that enables them to develop their aptitude, skills and domain knowledge via experiential learning. I believe the education industry is probably the best one to work in because no other industry allows you to help build the lives of thousands of young people. The growth of India is dependent on the way we educate its future leaders. So, I am very happy to add my efforts to this endeavor.

Servant leadership is the philosophy which focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people

Most of the great leaders, who I admire, from Raja Harishchandra to Mahatma Gandhi, were believers in the concept of Servant Leadership.  A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the community to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different.

The servant-leader shares the power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop & perform as highly as possible.

I have personally found that being a Servant Leader has worked well for me over the last couple of decades. The simplest way this works is to identify talented people who share a common vision with me, i.e. the need to revolutionize India’s education system. I then hire them, give them the overall goals they need to achieve for the quarter and then get out of their way. I never micromanage the day to day work of my team. My role is more of a coach and mentor to help them to grow as leaders and achieve their vision, which coincides with mine. This gives them a strong sense of ownership in our organization and enables them to perform their best.

The education system in the US and India

Each country’s education system has its strengths & weaknesses. India focuses more on acquiring knowledge to be assessed via written exams. The US is more focused on developing students’ critical thinking abilities which are assessed through written project work. The US system tends to develop students who are more creative but can get bored easily by repetitive work. The Indian system usually develops students who can work in a focused manner on difficult problems but may have difficulty doing out of the box thinking.

US education is very expensive, and most students need to pay off their education loans over a 10 to 15-year period. Indian education is highly subsidized, which allows us to educate a much larger number of students at a lower cost. I feel that both education systems can learn from each other. The US can adopt some of the hard academic rigors of India, while we can allow our students to develop their thinking skills and creativity.

Students are allocated projects and mentors by the companies every semester

TSCFM’s model moves away from the factory style approach of conventional MBA institutions and understands that every student is unique with different ambitions and strengths. Each student undergoes a psychometric test at the beginning of the MBA program, to understand his or her strengths & weaknesses. These are matched against the career they aspire to have on graduation, and an individual learning path is created for them.

Faculty, who are all ex-senior managers from the corporate world, teach the students in a tech-enabled learning environment that builds their skills and knowledge via practical live industry projects. Every student is given projects allocated by actual companies every semester and they work under industry mentors to complete them. There are no exams which require students to memorize textbook facts. They are mainly assessed on how well they execute their industry projects.

This education system ensures that students are able to develop the attitude, skills, and knowledge which they need to get their dream job. Due to this, our students have gotten jobs in top multinational companies around the world and in India.

Choosing the right team members and trusting them help in my time management

Due to my “Servant Leadership” style, I hire the best possible team members who share my vision of transforming education and trust them to work towards our common goal. This means that I do not need to spend a lot of time micro-managing what they do.

Our colleges also use smartphone-based productivity applications like to-do lists, project management tools, shared calendars and chat groups to get work done faster and in a more efficient manner.  All of this frees up my time to meet people and learn from them while focusing on more strategic work for our institutions.

Teachers should act as facilitators in an ideal school environment

In the ideal college environment, the faculty should be facilitators for student learning and not just professors who give lectures. This means that instead of the teacher standing behind a podium and sharing what he knows, the students and facilitator should sit together in a class and explore a new topic jointly. The facilitator should introduce the topic and ask questions that will encourage the students to share their points of view.

Any information which they do not have can be searched online during the class itself. Students should be encouraged to step outside of class to research their topics by speaking to other people. There should be a joy in discovering new things and the willingness to share insights with each other.

The way to encourage this is to hire faculty who have experience in the learning & development departments of companies. They are already familiar with this model of experiential peer learning and would easily implement this in the college environment. The college management also needs to give them academic freedom to alter the curriculum & pedagogy to serve the industry hiring needs in the best way possible.

Our curriculum is updated on a regular basis with the suggestions provided by the industry

As our college is focused on building highly employable graduates for employers, we are constantly in touch with companies to get updates on what knowledge we need to incorporate in our curriculum based on the latest developments in their industries.

We have a strong advisory board of industry leaders that guide us on the ways to enhance our pedagogy.

We also incorporate the best e-learning content in a smartphone app that helps teach our MBA curriculum.

Being available for the students despite handling Director’s responsibilities

Beyond the regular speeches which I give to my students during major college events, I am also available to speak to any student who needs my advice & support.

Our goals include offering a wider range of courses

We currently have two colleges in Mumbai and have recently started two more campuses in Ahmedabad & Vadodara respectively. I see our college group growing into additional cities in India, over the next few years, offering a wider range of courses.

Advice for the current youth and the aspiring students

Any student who wants to be successful in their career should read as much as they can about the industry they wish to join, identify mentors who can guide them and get involved in extra-curricular activities that build their overall personality. Students will only achieve long-term success by making constant efforts to develop themselves.