Interview by Sakshi Aggarwal

Mr. A. N. Bhattacharya, Professor and Chairperson of SOIL

A Professor of Marketing & Social Innovation at School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL), Gurgaon, India, Atindra is best described as a passionate teacher, trainer and a ‘friendly’ consultant. He is passionate about courses on Marketing, with special interest in Sales Force Management, Network Management and Optimization, After-Market Pricing and Return on Investment, Consumer Psychology & Buyer Behavior etc.

His near two-decade-long experience in the consumer industry helps bring real-life examples and practicality to his discourses. Post his industry stint, he has been facilitating courses for MBA students for the last 10 years.

An Agricultural Science graduate, majoring in Genetics, Atindra went for his MBA from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India. On the way he picked up a Diploma in German Language. He is also a certified assessor of the American psychometric tool – Caliper and is a Certified Large Scale Interactive Process (LSIP) facilitator.

Prior to this, Mr. A. N. Bhattacharya has worked as an Associate Professor of Marketing and Ex-Dean, Academics at IILM Graduate School of Management, General Manager, National Sales Manager, Regional sales Manager (North), Senior Officer & Dhara-Incharge (North), and as Area Sales Manager.

Mr. A. N. Bhattacharya’s experience in the education industry

I had joined the education industry in early months of 2005 after almost 2 decades of hardcore industry practice. I joined the education industry with the primary objective I had in my mind, that most of the B-Schools that churn out MBA, definitely have some conceptual understanding. But that conceptual understanding does not have a sync with what is happening in the industry. So, there was a disconnect between what they have studied and what actually happens in the industry. So, when I joined the education industry, the primary objective was to bring practicality in the classroom so that the students pursuing MBA can actually come out and really help the industry, applying the concepts in a much more professional manner instead of again do internships, training induction process, etc. which is huge cost for most of the companies. The experience has been really good till now. In fact, I have been able to create a reasonable amount of influence in the young minds of the colleges.

Mr. A. N. Bhattacharya’s philosophy of leadership and his leadership style

As a teacher, I have to keep switching my leadership style depending on the type of student I am actually handling. In my 12 years of academic experience, I have come across students who are low on their self-esteem and also those who are overconfident. In both the cases you have to use different leadership styles to influence them, but the underline concept always remains the same. As a professor, as a faculty, as a teacher, my objective is just one-how can I bring change for the betterment of the student. In certain cases, I have to be authoritative, whereas in certain cases I have to be a very friendly leader. In almost all the cases, the leadership style is governed by what is the type of change I want to bring in the student.

Significant challenges faced as the Professor and Chairperson of School of Inspired Leadership

One challenge which I have always grappled with and I think probably most of the teachers generally grapple with is-how to measure the learning outcome of a particular subject being taught in the class. This measurement often becomes a bit of a challenge because the routine practice that we have seen historically in the education sector is that you take a written examination at the end. At the School of Inspired Leadership, we firmly believe that the transformation happens only when a student learns certain things, he is able to recall whatever he has learned at the right time and he is also able to apply whatever he has learned. If he is not able to apply, then the learning is not complete and that is why we generally have a different pedagogy altogether in SOIL which is called the 70-20-10. 70% is through doing, 20% is through observation and 10% is through classroom sessions.

Mr. A. N. Bhattacharya on time management

Time Management is actually a very big problem. Because I am actually available to the students 24x7. So, they can give me a call any time and I am always available through e-mails, on WhatsApp and various other platforms. So, it is a challenge, but the core objective is-how can I bring change in the student and I believe that when I have chosen this particular profession my first commitment is towards student. So, I ensure that rest of the things in my life are secondary. The first and the foremost priority is if there is a student on call I have to attend it. That is how I manage my time.

Curriculum in School of Inspired Leadership

Most of the B-schools in the country you will find, they have a curriculum which is based on subtext which would be at least two to three years old because most of the writers when they write a particular book, the writing work, the manuscript work that itself takes around years’ time and publishing takes another 6 months-1 year. So, the content will definitely be two to three years old.

SOIL has been concreted by 32 top national and multinational companies. We have two annual meetings with these consortium companies. Heads of organizations of my consortium come together and they tell us what the challenges industry is facing are and what are the challenges they anticipate that they would be facing. And then we actually discuss with them what we have in our curriculum and they give us inputs regarding what needs to be changed and what needs to be upgraded. So, it’s a very dynamic course curriculum we have. It actually takes care of the current and the immediate future requirements of the industry and which comes straight from the horse’s mouth. The industry people tell us what should be included and what should be deleted. So that’s how we look at the designing part of the curriculum.

Growth of students through placement opportunities available at School of Inspired Leadership

SOIL is not a placement agency. We really do not bother about the placement of the student but we definitely give a guarantee that learning that we provide to the student is world class. The point is, how we position ourselves. We say that School of Inspired Leadership has transformational leadership programs. The name says it all. And it means it.

There are people who come from the IT sector, say from a company like IBM, TCS or WIPRO. There they have been doing quality assurance job, coding job, system engineer’s job. What they generally do is they would say this is something back-end job and I enjoy talking to people, I enjoy relationship building. So, with the help of psychometric test, with the help of a behavioral interview, we try to understand the areas of interest of the student, his competencies, and his strengths and then we tell them that this is the career track which is best suited for you.

So, we do not give them a job but we tell them that if you have these strengths, these jobs would be best suited. And by God's grace and because of good work of some of the people in the organization, we expose our students to a large number of companies.

Now it is up to the student how does he showcase his strength in front of corporate leaders. Till now my students have been placed very well in most of the organizations and most of them are doing an excellent job in their career.

Read more about the placement opportunities available at SOIL

Relationship with the students being the Professor and Chairperson of the university

I firmly believe in open door policy I have. My telephone number, my e-mail ID, my Facebook ID, my LinkedIn, all these things are 24 hours on, the students are available and my first priority is the student and I am available. So, whenever the student has a problem, he can reach out to me at any point of time either through the mail or through WhatsApp or through a phone call I am always ready until and unless I am not in the class. So, they can access me whenever they want and not just current students even the alumni can reach out to me anytime they want.

School of Inspired Leadership

Ideal school environment according to Mr. A.N. Bhattacharya

The School of Inspired Leadership is a very different school. We say that you cannot police people. Most of the students we have are adults they have a couple of years’ experience also. So, my ideal school environment would be a place where people are allowed to make mistakes and then they are also allowed to learn from their mistakes, rather than creating an environment where they are stopped from doing mistakes and they really do not know what are the repercussions of making those mistakes. So, at the School of Inspired leadership, we ensure that there are students who make mistakes and then we ask them Okay, you have done this mistake say maybe, for example, missing an exam, missing a particular class. So, we ask them and let them take the decision and take the responsibility of the consequences of not doing something that they were expected to do.

So, if they leave a particular exam and then they actually do not score well. Student themselves come and say-Sorry sir, I did not attend the classes or did not give the exam so that is why my grades are less and next time onwards I ensure that at least I do not make this mistake. We are not there to Police them we are simply there to handhold them. They will take the responsibility of the consequences for whatever they do. This is one of the key philosophies of SOIL around which this Institution is created.

Goals do you have in your mind for School of Inspired Leadership for the next few years

The founder Mr. Anil Sachdev, had a goal that we have to produce 5,000 inspired leaders in the first five years and these inspired leaders would have competence plus character. Most of the B-Schools emphasize on competence, they will say my students are very good when it comes to analytics, marketing, digital marketing etc. But when you ask them that can you guarantee that are your students good human beings? Would they be concerned about the challenges that the society is facing? Will they take responsibility for maybe the inefficiencies which are there in the system? Most of the B-Schools will say-No, we do not focus on these things.

But we say and our entire goal is we are not looking at producing some managers who will create a value for few shareholders, we consider an organization to be a part of the larger ecosystem and a person who is working inside an organization

So, most of the students of the SOIL, if you meet them, they will talk about-how can we make Indians prouder of their culture, how can we make Indians higher on self-esteem, how can they take the responsibility of the strive there in the society, the stress which is there in the society, the conflict that we see in the society. So, these leaders have to take responsibility for that. That is what the goal is, and what SOIL stands for.

I am not saying we are 100% successful. Work is still in progress, but yes, we have made a beginning and I think in days to come we will definitely create impact.

Suggestion for the current youth and the aspiring students

Yeah, the only suggestion that I have for the current youth is-they should always look at the holistic picture. They should not only look at their own self-interest because even Ratan Tata, who he is today, is because of the rickshaw puller and the laborers who are buying his salt. So even if a 1 kg salt is bought by a rickshaw puller, a fraction of its profit goes to Rata Tata. So, whatever we are today, we have to understand that we are because of the entire ecosystem, it is because of the people who are at different levels of the society. So, we should not be selfish and only be looking at our own self-interest, our salaries, our job, our company, our shareholder. They should look at the entire ecosystem and take responsibility for whatever is happening there.