Tuesday, June 24, 2008

IIMA - The First Placement

Here's a very interesting article on IIMA's first placement season.

From the Archives


Prof. S. K. Bhattacharya

One of the major concerns of the Institute in early 1966 was the question of placement of the first group of IIMA graduates. However, at that time there was no placement office and nobody in the Institute had any inkling about the manner and process of finding placement for business school graduates. It was clear that the kind of placement that our graduates obtained would affect the future activities of the Institute in two different ways. If the companies recruiting our graduates were not of the kind which represented the upper crust of the corporate world and if the compensation packages offered were not attractive enough, the Institute would not be able to attract the right quality of applicants for its post-graduate programme. Also a ripple effect of an unsuccessful track record in placement would be that leading companies would not look to the Institute for recruiting its future entry level managers. While we were generally aware of the process of placement and campus recruitment in the US business schools, since no corresponding experiences were available in the Indian context, we were not sure what would be the appropriate steps to follow in our placement effort.

Campus recruitment by leading companies was very much the desired thing, but the manner of organising this activity was not very clear. This concern and anxiety was explicitly brought out in the faculty meeting. After a somewhat desultory discussion, I found one of my colleagues proposing that I must take up the responsibility of placement and organising this activity. Before I could protest and convey my view that at no point of time was it made clear that I would have to take up such administrative responsibilities when I joined the Institute, my colleagues strongly favoured the proposal. It was unanimously decided that I should take on the responsibility for placement. The faculty meeting resolved that all possible help should be provided to me in carrying out this responsibility. When I enquired from some of my colleagues after the meeting "Why me?" I was provided the most simplistic answer that since I had come from the business world (before I joined the government), I would naturally be the best equipped person to undertake this task since I would have many "contacts" in the business world. To add substance to their argument, many of my colleagues mentioned that since I had served in the Department of Company Affairs and as Registrar of Companies, I would no doubt be able to derive considerable support for placement given my past association with many senior industry people. It was, therefore, the consensus amongst the faculty that it should not prove to be such a difficult task.

The "Travelling Salesman"

I was without a clue as to how to go about this task except that I felt that four things had to be done right away: Firstly, we must send brief bio-data of the graduating group to a select group of companies who were likely to be aware of the contribution that could be made by management school graduates in their operations. Secondly, we must write individual letters to the Chief Executives of large industrial organizations in the public and private sector inviting them to come over to Ahmedabad for campus recruitment, with the further request that they might like to let us know in advance the kind of management level positions they had in mind so that these job descriptions could be circulated to the students in advance.

Thirdly, senior members of the faculty and members of the Board of Governors should write to their counterparts in the world of industry and government requesting them to support our placement activity.

Fourthly and lastly, we should identify the likely kind of personnel some of the companies would like to employ as managers in terms of their prior professional background in addition to their management education. For example, we felt that people with engineering qualifications or chartered accountancy degree would be of interest to engineering (and manufacturing
companies) and banks and financial institutions respectively. On this basis, we could quickly scan the background of the graduating batch of students and selectively write to the companies, particularly heads of personnel function, to consider the appointment of a particular student in the light of his curriculum vitae.

Having decided on this strategy, there was only one anxiety. How would the corporate world react to our scheme? We put together the format of a letter to be addressed which was issued under the Director's signature. Similarly, we identified the companies which could be addressed by the members of the faculty and members of the Board of Governors. I personally compiled a list of 150 prospective companies and set forth on a eight-week tour of industrial cities carrying with me detailed curriculum vitae of the graduate students. I was promptly dubbed as the "travelling salesman of the Institute's products". The first few replies I received in response to my letter saying that I would like to call on the Managing Director and Chief of Personnel were polite but tentative. The general tenor of reply was that while they would be interested in considering the Institute's graduates for appointment at the entry level in the managerial cadre, they were not sure in which field they would best contribute to the operations of the company. It was quite interesting to note that only one area which evoked considerable interest was marketing. There were several enquiries as to whether any of the students we would like to place had any previous background in marketing. Some companies enquired about the kind
of exposure our graduating students had in consumer goods and industrial products marketing.

"Ahmedabad had arrived"

One of the things that was done to help me carry out the task of organizing the placement activity was the provision of a secretary specifically for the purpose of this new activity. The person who was assigned was singularly innocent of all knowledge regarding filing, drafting or taking any action on his own. To add to all this, his capabilities in secretarial terms – just to
keep the correspondence activities on an ongoing basis – was less than heartening. When I left on the right-week tour, I was quite apprehensive as to what would happen to enquiries in my absence, since my placement secretary was in that habit of disappearing from time to time, particularly when the workload increased, on French leave. I came back from Ahmedabad to find loads of correspondence and letters unanswered and unfilled. I tried to imagine the effect this would have on the enquiring companies. When I compare that state of things with the current sophistication level of placement activities, I sometimes wonder how we actually got through the first placement programme body and soul together! To everybody's surprise, the first placement programme was a great success. The graduating students represented some of the best products
from the Universities, Institutes of Technology and the professions because of the very rigorous admission tests administered. At the time of the interview, employers could discern right away that they represented an elite group of students with fine intellect, and excellent academic and professional qualifications.

Also, because of the interfunctional exposure to the various business disciplines and the case method of instruction they were able to respond to the various issues raised at the time of placement interviews with considerable depth of understanding, articulation, and, most importantly, insight in the business planning and decision making process. Leading multinational and international companies participated in the placement programme and many of them came to Ahmedabad for placement interviews. Notwithstanding the near-chaotic state of the placement office, they were greatly impressed with what they heard and saw. Most graduating students had at least two, and several had three or more offers. Two other distinctive characteristics of the placement programme were that the salaries and compensation packages offered were extremely attractive compared even with the IIT graduates and professionals. At another level, the jobs offered were managerial in their content rather than functional (i.e. a specific position in manufacturing or accounting or purchase with no particular potential for moving up in the general management ladder).

At the end of the programme, we knew that Ahmedabad had arrived in the professional education scene. The achievement was of course built up on the part of the students' intrinsic merit, but credit has also to be given to Vikram Sarabhai, senior faculty members and several members of the Board of Governors who contributed their generous support to the placement programme. The immediate fallout of the success of the placement programme was the quality
of students we attracted in the succeeding academic programmes because of the perception that "you had to have merit to qualify for Ahmedabad in the keenly competitive admission test, but if you did so – and pursued your studies rigorously and purposively – the placement opportunities at the end of the programme were the most attractive in the country."

(Source: Institution Building, The IIMA Experience; Vol. I: The Early Years)