The USP is the way we manage XLRI: Sharad Sarin

Somnath Dasgupta        Last Updated: August 16, 2011  | 18:53 IST

An MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad (1972), Sharad Sarin taught electrical engineering for three years and worked four years at Larsen & Toubro before joining XLRI in 1976. He has completed 35 years there. He is the man who introduced the concept of marketing fairs. His most interesting research now is for a media company, where he is studying the readership of Hindi newspapers.  He spoke to BT's Somnath Dasgupta.

On his current research
We are doing media research on Hindi newspapers. And what we have discovered is something amazing. It is our assessment that the Hindi newspapers, which cost as low as Rs 2 in Jharkhand and maybe Rs 3-4 in Bihar, seemingly provide more information, more local news than what we get from English newspapers.  And not only that, we also discovered that some of their articles are very well-researched articles…and this I consider, taking their readership into account, a yeoman service to society. Their circulation is increasing faster than that of English newspapers.

I have been teaching strategic management, strategic marketing. There is overlap between the two. Strategic management is like being the captain of a ship. Strategic marketing deals with growth opportunities.

Over the years, I must have collected more than 90 to 100 studies on customer satisfaction, customer feedback, measurements of markets and their size, demand potential.

On XLRI's name and edge
As the name suggests, XLRI began as an institute to train people in the area of industrial relations and personnel management. We enjoyed an advantage in that nobody was near us…. The IIMs were open but were not offering special subjects in PM - personnel management - and industrial relations. So XLRI has a distinctive niche which is going uncontested. We are No 1 there.

We have debated this… when I joined in 1976, people were saying the name is coming in the way…what is management doing in a labour institute? We started calling ourselves Xavier Institute in the 1980s, early 1990s. So when we started interacting with our peers, competitors, they said why are you losing your distinctive identity by becoming another me-too for the IIMs? So that forced us to rethink, and we thought let us promote XLRI in every way.

We don't use the full form. There is a tagline - School for Business and HR Studies. So we have tried to reposition ourselves.

Our USP is the way we manage the institute. It is an environment which is socially very active, academically very active. At XLRI, if you are sincere and delivering, nobody would even ask you where did you go, how long have you been in office. Full autonomy. The work environment is outstanding.

The second dimension about XLRI is that being a private institute, we are very innovative, very fast and we keep on experimenting all the time. I would say we are the most innovative. Other institutes would debate and kill an issue.

What do you mean by innovative?
Innovativeness in anything. For example, I developed a concept, which was published long ago in Business India, Business Today. This was the concept of marketing fair. I was the one who gave this idea to our students, with meager resources.

Marketing fair in its simplest form is marketing research in disguise. There are four pillars that I had conceived, in terms of what we need to achieve through marketing fairs.

One is giving hands-on experience to students, not only to conduct marketing research, but in basic managerial skills like organizing events, group activity, team work, creativity.

Second is, enabling industry to interact with our students….Hindustan Lever, ITC, Godrej, Berger Paints. So they give us a research problem, which our students convert into a game. This will be played on one day, and who will be the respondents? The townspeople. The townspeople come because it is fun.

We began it in 1980, and today most [IIMs] are copying it.

Innovativeness can also come in terms of decision-making. We have opened campuses in Dubai and in Singapore. We were the first to open distance education. When others were debating, we were taking a business decision. At one-third the cost [of IIMs], we are providing the same quality of students to society.  Our output could be almost 400-500 students every year. Our annual budget could be Rs 35-40 crore against Rs 120-130 crore. So that also reflects a lot of innovativeness in how we manage our resources. The fees are a little less that those at IIMs.

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