Monday, May 30, 2011

World class research

An IIMA-ite settled in the US says the following:

"Take the IIMs: During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a decent trickle of Indian PhDs from respected American universities returning to India, would be recruited by Ravi Matthai & nitish dey. It was a brief window of arbitrage. By the mid to late 1970s, that was no longer the case. You would have classic situations like CK Prahlad feeling, or Paul Mampilly + Suresh Seshan (not US PhDs) seeking greener pastures at AIM Manila. American universities would offer professorships to PhDs in management & engineering to a PhD from a barely average American university, thus there was no longer any need to go back to India. Further, Indira Gandhi had dispelled hope of India to shine soon.

Take the 2000s, 30 years later, with India shining, when ISB took root. The under-trial Rajat Gupta and convict Anil Kumar, as McKinseyites, realized that the Ravi matthai model would not work. Further, they did not want to recruit Indian university PhDs (or even IIM FPMs), because they could see the huge quality difference between faculty at American universities and at IIM/IIT. These ISB founders decided to “arbitrage” across Indian faculty at American business schools, specifically faculty with a PhD from the top business schools, who were active in research, and had proved themselves by earning tenure at some decent American university. They provided these Indians in USA with airfare + campus hotel in Hyderabad, and very little direct cash compensation. Thus, the compensation was indirect, i.e. a free paid trip to India, with the possibility of immersing themselves in (shining) India while there were making their brief 1-2 week teaching journeys, family reunion, etc. The cost to ISB would be higher than recruiting and paying Indian faculty. However, ISB soon began charging US$ fees after its turnaround, sufficient to cover these US$ expenses. It is unclear how long the Gupta/Kumar arbitrage model would work. Thus, ISB (it least in its initial stages) could not be accused of harboring (Indian home grown) faculty which did not live up to world class research standards.

Can the IITs/ IIMs catch up to world class research standards? Note that these world research standards apply only to universities in USA, who dominate the world in academic research output, due to a century-long tradition of academic independence and emphasis on faculty research. US Universities are not seen as mere teaching factories, but epicenters of deep research. Faculty are appointed and tenured based largely on research, with Peking capability being considered a minor component. UK has barely a handful of research universities, and likewise Europe. You don’t hear of much research coming out of Japanese universities. Australia has only three relevant research universities, maybe 4: Sydney, Melbourne, ANU Canberra and Perth, and they’ve got to where they are by emulating Oxbridge research tradition of their mother country. When was the last you heard something novel come out of German/ Germanic universities after Einstein and WW-2? Thus, the expression “world class research” is appropriately substituted by “American university research”."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fracas over quality of IIM / IIT Faculty

The argumentative minister has once again stirred the hornet's nest by questioning the "world-classness" of professors of IIMs and IITs. He has also drawn an odious comparison between the qualities of students and faculty of these institutions. Having been a student of IIT himself, there is an inherent conflict of interest in his utterance. Apparently, he had been unable to benefit academically from his professors. This could be his fault rather than a foible on the part of his gurus. The honourable minister loves to create controversies. Remember the nonsense he uttered about India's Home Ministry while he was in China ? It is clear that IIT has not taught discretion to this voluble politician. To that limited extent, teachers in IIT are blame-worthy.

It is unfortunate that IIT / IIM academicians have joined a slanging match with the minister. Why should they be so sensitive to the rants of a hubristic self-acclaimed intellectual ?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Respect for rule of law

So Dominique Strauss Kahn is out of IMF and is unlikely to be in the race for French presidency. The American law enforcement system has once again acted with celerity. This is in sharp contrast to what obtains in India. The New York police nabbed him just in time before he could depart to Paris, placed him on suicide watch and arraigned him before the judiciary in time. Status, wealth and political influence of the accused did not detract the investigating authorities from their job. Richard Nixon had to resign for committing a crime; Bill Clinton faced impeachment proceedings for a sexual misdemeanour. There was no escape from the long arm of the law.

Why is the situation in India different? The present Supreme Court Chief Justice, Justice Kapadia happens to be a bold and unbiassed deliverer of justice. Hence there are instances of criminals being caught and brought to justice, for a change. It is more than likely that his successor, whoever he is, will be less atypical and more amenable to political pressure. It will soon be business as usual in India. For example, it will not be too long before the accused in the 2G scam get back to their usual ways of skulduggery. The basic difference between India and America is that it requires a strong-willed person to set right the legal system in India whereas no one, however strong-willed, can crook the legal system in the US.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Free TVs and nemesis

Voters in Tamilnadu have thrown out the DMK party from power. Politicians like Mani Shankar Aiyer had opined, prior to election, that the DMK had kept up its earlier commitments including free distribution of TVs to all households and hence would be voted back to power. What went wrong?

Possibly, free TVs proved DMK's undoing. Many TV channels gave widespread and unmistakable publicity to the 2G scam. Domination of Karunanidhi's family in all businesses in Tamil Nadu was also driven home repeatedly and effectively. The Robinhood act backfired on the DMK. Nemesis?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Obama sin-laden ?

Obama and his agents did not think twice before killing the unarmed Osama bin Laden. This may be forgiven when viewed against the utterly gruesome deeds of al Qaeda. Opinions of course may vary.

If we do not mind a little bit of malapropism and are game for inoffensive humour, we may call the American President Obama sin-laden.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

2G Scam

Ram Jethmalani is appearing in defense of Kanimozhi in the CBI court. Prima facie he has every right to defend whomever he wants to defend as a professional lawyer. A few ethical questions may be involved. But ethics should not trifle with professional choice. Atleast it is so in the view of some maverick advocates.

Jethmalani has argued that 1) Raja and Sharath Kumar are responsible for the scam of unlawful routing of money and 2) Kanimozhi was unaware of the money transaction. Thank God, there is now admission of a scam.

Kanimozhi has pleaded for her bail on the ground that she is a lady and that she is an MP. These two qualities neutralise each other. Chivalry demands sympathetic treatment of women. Accountability and governance require that an MP is held accountable to higher standards of behaviour and therefore not eligible for any discriminatory and sympathetic treatment. Jethmalani also argues that her "clean record" so far must entitle her to bail. Apparently all first-time offenders irrespective of seriousness of the crime must be rewarded with bail !

Court orders on the bail application are expected on or after 14th May. Tamilnadu assembly election results will be known on 13th May. Further proceedings will depend on the outcome of the election. We need to be extremely gullible to hope for justice in our political system.

What can one think of the following argument? Does it not indirectly acknowledge that all acts of offence have been covert? It appears that Jethmalani is only leading the Karunanidhi family down the garden path.

"My misfortune is that I am Karunanidhi's daughter and an MP. I have 20 per cent shares in Kalaignar TV. Show me one overt act of mine which relates to the offence," Kanimozhi had submitted.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Promoters vs Professionals

In an interview to The Hindu Business Line, N.R.Narayana Murthy has made a lot of interesting observations. He has said, inter alia, "There are many people who comment on founders versus professionals. Unfortunately, none of them knows the kind of sacrifice the founder professionals went through in the beginning. Their wives cooked food for the employees, their wives carried out secretarial jobs; they lived on $250 per month in the US and had to be away from their children. So, I think it is very easy to criticise and comment about founders and non-founders. If you are an entrepreneur, in the beginning, you have to make tremendous sacrifice. Only those who can indeed make that kind of sacrifice should become entrepreneurs."

Well, Murthy is partly right and mostly wrong. It is not clear whether the jibe is directed towards Mohandas Pai. No one denies that the seven promoters of Infosys and their family members had made enormous sacrifice while founding the company. The just reward for that is the handsome return they have got on their equity, sweat and otherwise. Let us not cheapen their sacrifice by allotting top management positions to promoters qua promoters.

Infosys is a company and not a partnership firm. Therefore, the company's management is accountable to the shareholders and is expected to abide by well-established canons of corporate governance. Infosys is expected to be managed by competent CXOs and not by founder-CXOs if non-founders are found to be more competent. A company is responsible to all its shareholders and not only to its founders and their families. Any contrary view even  if expressed  by the most famous exemplar of governance is unsound.