Enthusiasm, the only fuel

 Anand Adhikari        Print Edition: October 3, 2010

Located along National Highway 57, the building's red-brick façade gives it a distinct look, even though the side and rear walls are semi-plastered. The board proclaiming "Institute of Business Management" is the only indicator of yet another campus of dreams.

The huge pile of sand, the goat destroying the small patches of grass…it is a work in progress. But it is also a building more confident of its future than its immediate neighbours - a mall planned by film-maker Prakash Jha of Rajneeti fame, and an airstrip dating back to the Raja of Darbhanga's days.

The Common Thread

  • Private sector institutes duly approved by the AICTE
  • Run by politicians, educationists and corporate houses
  • Fee ranges from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh for a two-year course
  • No grants from the UGC or state; survives solely on students' fees
  • No infrastructure like auditorium, recreation and sports facilities, canteen or a hostel
  • Students come from very poor families in small towns
  • No assurance of campus interviews; companies hardly consider such institutes for placements
  • Faculty's focus on developing soft skills
The mall lies incomplete, caught in a political battle. The airstrip, once home to a private airline in the 1950s, is today used by the Indian Air Force. The address, Dillee More (buses plying to Delhi from Darbhanga used to take a turn here), NH-57, Bela, Darbhanga, is not even on the placements radar of corporate India. The 60 management graduates it turns out each year are mostly left to fend for themselves. It offers a fulltime, two-year MBA, has a staff of two dozen, some 20 classrooms and 120 students.

But no one is complaining. The mood is vibrant, with young boys and girls in smart gray trousers, white shirts - and neckties. Ties are mandatory and learning how to make a smart knot is as exciting for the students as brushing up their spoken English.

The nerve centre of activity is Room No. 20 on the ground floor. Hanging askew on the door is an old nameplate of the director, Prof. Ganga Kant Jha. Inside, it's a typical government office with a portrait of founder director L.K. Mishra, a former vice chancellor of Bihar University, half a dozen chairs and a big table.

"We have a major resource constraint," says Jha, 64. "We operate on a shoe-string budget that does not allow us to offer all the infrastructure that a B-school needs."

Constraint is an understatement: the institute survives on student fees, around Rs 80,000 per student for the two-year course. No grants from the government. The fee was increased last year from Rs 70,000. The institute is not allowed to take more than 60 students a year. Nor can Jha increase the fees any further, since most students come from very poor families.

Closer to the Nepal border than it is to capital Patna, the institute draws its strength from its affiliation to the L.N. Mithila University, Darbhanga, which is recognised by the University Grants Commission. The institute is approved by the All India Council for Technical Education or AICTE. Since it opened in 1984, it has had to shut down twice, the second time for nearly a decade, from 1998 to 2006.

Infrastructure here means fixing potholes, not building gyms or tennis courts. Last year, the institute spent Rs 5 lakh to repair potholes in the compound adjacent to the service road, which gets flooded every year since it is below the highway's level.

Jha, who retired five years ago as head and director of the L.N. Mithila University's Department of Commerce, was instrumental in reopening the management institute in 2006. "The campus was ravaged by floods and looked haunted," recalls Jha. He roped in Seema Kumar, a former colleague, as programme coordinator.

 TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STARS

While the world prefers to be dazzled by the IIMs, XLRIS and ISBs, quite a few B-schools with low or no rankings have produced stars of corporate India. So don't write them off. Here are some people who have defied the B-school pecking order to reach the top.

Gagan Banga, Director & CEO, Indiabulls Financial Services

  • Goa Institute of Management, 1998
  • Ranked 41 in BT study
  • What I learnt at the B-school: "Discipline and the pressure to complete assignments within deadlines is something that I learnt while studying MBA"

Ridham Desai, MD, Morgan Stanley, India

  • L.N. Welingkar Institute of Management Development, 1992
  • Ranked 29 in BT study
  • What I learnt at the B-school: "Welingkar provided me with a platform of insights, whether it was in financial accounting or in a slightly more advanced subject of marketing finance"

Sanjay Verma, CEO (Asia-Pacific), Cushman & Wakefield

  • Management Development Institute Gurgaon, 1997,
  • Ranked 23 in BT study
  • What I learnt at the B-school: "During the two years at the business school, the quality of students and the group work based teaching philosophy gave me an opportunity to work with people from diverse backgrounds"

Anshuman Singh MD & CEO, Futures Supply Chain Solutions

  • Institute Of Management Studies, Indore, 1995
  • Not in the BT top 50
  • What I learnt at the B-school: "MBA gave a much broader perspective to my experience as an engineer. Missing out on an IIM-A brand tag was also a driving force to work harder in my career"
"We used our personal contacts," says Seema. The duo managed to get 36 students to enrol, after pushing the AICTE and state to allow the institute to reopen. For faculty, they brought in friends and colleagues. In the second year, the institute got 100 applications for the 60 seats. "We have a very professional core faculty," says Jha, who also manages to get guest and visiting faculty.

"Every member of the faculty is an MBA at the least," says Seema, herself an MBA with an M.Phil and Ph.D. Jagannath Mishra, a former chief minister of Bihar, is the institute's chief patron and L.K. Mishra, founder-director, now 93, is the president of the board of directors. The roll call of Jhas and Mishras is not unusual; this part of Bihar is home to highly-educated Maithili Brahmins, who go by surnames such as Jha, Mishra and Choudhury.

As Jha steps out of his office to take us around, there is a flurry of activity. Students touch his feet and seek his blessings. Most of them are from poor families in places such as Begusarai, Samastipur, Chhapra, Hajipur and even Patna. "Anybody who has a little money goes to Mumbai and Delhi for higher studies," says Jha.

Seema says the students are bright but need some polishing. She teaches soft skills like speaking English and wearing a tie. The students have science, commerce and arts background, and all have gone through the Management Aptitude Test or MAT.

Manish Kumar from Samastipur, who is in the third semester, shells out Rs 1,200 a month for lodging and Rs 700 for food and travelling. "It suits my budget," says Kumar, explaining why he chose to be here. Director Jha does his best to ensure that girl students are not put off by the location outside town limits: there is a bus for them. Nearly half the students are girls and the share is growing.

Jha takes us up proudly to the recently-added first floor, ignoring the betel-juice stains on the walls of the stairwell. Upstairs is the computer room with a dozen machines, a library of 4,500 books, and a guest house. "We spend Rs 3 lakh a year on books," says Jha. The guest house is for visiting professors.

Placements are a big challenge. "We don't have a structured placement," admits Seema. The stateowned sugar and spinning mills in the district closed down long ago. "The big companies from the cities tend to go for big names," says Seema. Even so, she writes to prospective employers and uses personal contacts to place her students for the mandatory eightweek summer training.

"This probably is the first step," says Seema, referring to the summer placements. Royal Bank of Scotland, Procter & Gamble, India Infoline and Star Union Dai-ichi have made offers, she says, but through direct interviews rather than campus placements.

Tariq Raza, who graduated in October 2008, got a break with Royal Bank of Scotland through a direct interview in New Delhi. "It's difficult if you have an MBA degree from a small town," says Tariq, 26. Deepak Rai, who runs an auto ancillary unit, Tuff Seals Pvt. Ltd, in Jamshedpur, vouches for students of this management school. "They are simple in their approach, but far more effective," says Rai who took two students last year as summer trainees for the first time. "If you guide them properly, they are as good as any management graduate from big towns, "says Rai.

Jha, the director, likes to think big despite his shoe-string budget of Rs 75 lakh: Wi-Fi on the campus, a 300-seat auditorium, a welldesigned canteen and even a hostel building. He has plans to start diploma courses in media science, computer applications, human resource development and bio-informatics. "We are ambitious, but also cautious," he says.

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