Corporations of the future will require a huge pool of sustainability leaders and managers: S Ramadorai

Subramaniam Ramadorai, former CEO and managing director of IT giant Tata Consultancy Services, speaks to Open about the challenges before management schools in India. Ramadorai, chairman of the governing board of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and chairman of the advisory board at Tata STRIVE, the group’s CSR skill development initiative, notes that some institutes have been able to align management curricula with the technological implications and advancements. But much more still needs to be done in this fast-changing digital age, he asserts. The former TCS chief, who was earlier adviser to the Prime Minister of India in the national council on skill development, argues that “self-employment needs to be perceived as a promising career option”. An alumnus of University of Delhi, Indian Institute of Science and University of California, Los Angeles, Ramadorai adds in the interview, “The focus (of management education) will be on developing and pursuing more participative and holistic models of business and decision-making, facilitated through digital frameworks.” Excerpts:

How aligned are IIMs and top management institutes in India with global skill and leadership requirements? What more needs to be done?

The future will be driven and designed by people who have two critical abilities: the ability to understand how to build and use technology, and how to integrate sustainability into our lives. In this regard, aspects such as innovation, thinking out-of-the-box, critical thinking, design thinking, problem-solving or solution creation, all become relevant and important. The challenges of the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world will demand leadership with the aforementioned characteristics and the onus is on institutions like IIMs to build this future talent pool.

With the advent of 5G, Web 3.0, AI, and Industry 4.0 technologies, we are entering a digital era like never experienced before. This will be an era of hyper-connectivity where we will have the opportunity to develop new products, services, markets, and distribution and delivery systems that have never been conceived earlier. Hence, it is critical to align our management curricula with the technological implications and advancements. There has to be a convergence between management education and the impact of technology. IIMB has introduced a new core course on digital businesses, with electives such as gamification, Web 3.0, Metaverse, and some of the latest technology trends. These are steps in the right direction.

Integrating more real-world unstructured problems for students to solve or come up with mitigation measures can help them develop mental agility and broaden their perspective about the complexity of socio-economic challenges around us. IIMA has introduced courses on innovation called ‘Innovation, Live!’, a hands-on, practical course aimed at developing a student’s ability to come up with out-of-the-box solutions, understand innovation methodologies and learn corporate decision-making processes. Such courses need to be scaled up.

Exposure to the lives of the underprivileged through field visits, or assignments where they get to personally impact the lives of the underprivileged, are ways to help students understand the grassroots challenges. The emphasis should be on showcasing research-based solutions to communities that do not have access to institutional knowledge banks. The need is to explore divergent thinking, where there are different solutions to a problem.

The curriculum needs to take into account the social realities, aptitude and interests of the students; and make space for them to pursue subject areas that they are passionate about. There is a need to blend the technical and analytic acumen of traditional management curriculum with the creativity, critical thinking, and ethical intelligence of liberal arts. This can help students broaden their perspective about the world, letting them approach problems holistically and sustainably.

Entrepreneurship must be encouraged at all levels. Self-employment needs to be perceived as a promising career option. Efforts need to be intensified with the objective to build the largest startup ecosystem in the world. More incubation, acceleration and support programmes must be introduced to equip students with the necessary resources that will help them unleash their creative and innovative entrepreneurial skills. The successful application and management of entrepreneurial zeal in improving the challenges related to environment, food, health, education, transport, and infrastructure at a national as well as a global level, can provide a strong impetus to the economy.

Broadening the scope for collaboration with international education institutions through more exchange programmes can help achieve new breakthroughs in research and development. There are major reforms recommended in the NEP for internationalization of higher education. There is provision for high-performing Indian universities to set up campuses in other countries, and greater scope for research collaboration and student exchanges between Indian institutions and global institutions, and vice versa. These opportunities must be leveraged.

Do you think the future of management education is going to change rapidly? If yes, how? If not, why so?

Sustainability is a mega trend that will be the predominant driving force in the present and the coming decades. The world economy as well as education will undergo considerable change because of the significance of sustainability. The future companies and organisations will require a huge pool of sustainability leaders and managers.

Concepts such as True Cost Accounting (TCA), ESG, SDGs, TBL, and green financing will become mainstream in the near future. Management education will have to adapt accordingly.

To solve the interlinked global challenges—be it food security, energy security, water and sanitation, infectious diseases, climate change, migration and displacement, and so on, we will require multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches in research, innovation and decision-making. The education institutions that facilitate a smooth amalgamation of diverse disciplines will be better prepared to adapt to the evolving demands of the future.

Diversity and inclusion will be another theme that will impact the future of management education. The focus will be on developing and pursuing more participative and holistic models of business and decision-making, facilitated through digital frameworks.

First published in Open

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