Business Today

The rise of an iconic institution

twitter-logo Alokesh Bhattacharyya       Print Edition: Apr 15, 2012

The IIMA Story The DNA of an Institution
The IIMA Story The DNA of an Institution
The IIMA Story The DNA of an Institution
By Prafull Anubhai
Random House India
Pages: 270
Price: Rs 599

The Ford Foundation was established in 1936 by Edsel Ford, the son of the iconic founder of Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford. Set up with an initial gift of a mere $25,000, the foundation - in which the company no longer owns shares - today has assets of over $10 billion and disburses grants of more than $500 million. Why am I writing about the Ford Foundation in a review of a book on the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A)? Because the foundation played a crucial role in the founding of India's first two IIMs at Ahmedabad and Kolkata, partly by funding and partly by helping the two business schools get influenced by the models of Harvard Business School and the Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, respectively.

In The IIMA Story, author Prafull Anubhai - a student-turned-faculty member of the institute - captures how these stakeholders along with the Indian government and people such as scientist Vikram Sarabhai, politician Jivraj Mehta (Gujarat's first chief minister) and business baron Kasturbhai Lalbhai created one of India's world-class educational institutions.

The foreword by Keshub Mahindra, a former chairman of IIM-A's board of governors, sets the stage well, talking not only about how the institute came into being, but also about the author, Anubhai. The introduction by the author and the first chapter take forward that spirit, and provide a concise account of the goings-on behind the setting up of the institute. The perseverance and contribution of the local business community of Gujarat are of particular interest. Lots of interesting nuggets abound. IIM-A would probably have been IIM Bombay if only Bombay University had agreed to be a partner in the initiative. And despite IIM-A being conceived earlier, it was actually IIM Calcutta that was first launched, in November 1961. IIM-A's launch followed a month later.

After the first chapter, though, the narrative gets more technical and academic, and holds true to the author's promise of presenting an 'analytical biography' of the institute. But while there is less drama, the information in the rest of the book is full of depth and insight, and will be of immense value to those wanting to know the nittygritty of IIM-A's constitution, the role of its director, its faculty hiring methods, its association and tussles with the government, its evolution over time, among other things.

Admittedly, writing 'the making of…' saga of a 50-year-old institute is a tougher task than doing so about a younger school such as the 10-yearold Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. Pramath Sinha, author of An Idea Whose Time Has Come, the recent book about the ISB, had the added advantage of being one of the institute's founders (see Building the Right B-school, March 18, But while Anubhai may not have contributed to founding IIM-A, he is no stranger to the institute, having been associated with it for over 45 years, 27 as a member of its board of governors.

The book is a true reflection of this long stint, but it misses out on the student experience. Some of the brightest business minds have passed out of IIM-A and have subsequently contributed greatly to companies, society, and to the institute itself through its alumni network. A deeper insight into this important arm of IIM-A would have been of immense value. Again, Anubhai's deliberate omission of his own role in the development of the institute gives the book a slightly detached, impersonal feel.

There are some valuable black-and-white photographs of bygone days at the end, but their captions are poor. These drawbacks, however, do not take away from the overall value of Anubhai's effort.

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