Article: Converting stumbles to stepping-stones


Converting stumbles to stepping-stones

Dr. Bala V. Balachandran, Founder, Dean & Chairman at Great Lakes Institute of Management talks about the changing times
Converting stumbles to stepping-stones

Organizations should be able to convert challenges to opportunities and have the ability to be upfront about anticipating change and keeping a radar on worldwide developments


In the current times, one cannot ignore ‘innovention’, which is innovation and invention. When one innovates, it’s crucial to identify which existing product should be killed so that costs don’t escalate


With the changing business environment and other disruptions, what kind of people, leaders or organizational structures do you think businesses need to remain agile and adaptable?

I agree that there have been significant changes in the way organizations function and there will be more disruptors, but what matters the most at all times is the people. Even the name of our country India, which was in past known as ‘Bharat’ conveys a meaningful message. It stands for Bhav – people, Raga – processes and Tada – technology. So it is the people, processes and technologies that lead businesses or even nations to continued growth.

It was in 2008 that companies began to feel inadequacies of their current processes. They knew it would not help them sustain in the longer run. The top two or three companies until 2007 did not even exist by 2009. For instance, Kodak faced tremendous losses while Fujifilm picked up really well because they adapted to the changes quickly and were proactive in diversifying their line of business as digital photography took the lead. Organizations need to keep a check on their fundamental business model to ensure that it provides the same value.

The dynamism in the current environment calls for timely change and an ability to adapt. We all know how the internet changed the world in 1995 and soon after that the younger generation was creating new paradigms. For example, Mark Zuckerberg created a business of immense proportions at a very young age. Organizations realized that if they do not pick up the right talent and create the right kind of leaders, their businesses may fall. As a result, the world also saw a lot of inter-functional leaders as CFOs became CHROs and vice-versa depending on the skill sets required.

Earlier, people’s hidden talents were neglected, but Big Data and business analytics became enablers for people and organizations to break through. Since business life-cycles have shortened to three to five years, I would say ‘be distinct or go extinct’. Organizations should be able to convert challenges to opportunities and stumbles to stepping-stones. It’s also about the ability to be upfront in terms of changing technologies, anticipating change and keeping a radar on worldwide developments. In the current times, one cannot ignore ‘innovention’, which is innovation and invention.

Creativity is the ability to use technology for productive reasons at an accelerative pace. Are we preparing our management students or working professionals for anticipating change and constructive destruction? When one innovates, it’s crucial to identify which existing product should be killed as keeping both may escalate costs exponentially. It can be called as the ‘time value of money’ which also hints at the ‘first mover advantage’. It is clear that organizations, management institutes etc. need to rethink and change with the rest of the world.

How do you bring innovention into education?

Yes, education also needs it and that is why there are boutique programs like retail management etc apart from the regular management programs. Education needs to collate the best of the two worlds – one that teaches values, morals & ethics knowledge and the other that imparts skills, technology etc. It should have a global mindset with Indian roots, which implies learning from other cultures and adapting the learning to your own context. Putting the two together leads to a win-win situation.

The unique Indian traits that make people successful are even leading to exodus of talent, so what do you feel about that?

It is the beauty of technology that it has transformed the globe into a little village. Businesses may have the latest technologies and ideas but that is just the core engineering, which is an enabler. It cannot work in the absence of people who can understand people-related issues and anticipate changes. Businesses need someone who can reach out to people, mobilize them and create value for them. Indians used to go to other countries to work, but now there are opportunities that allow one to make the best of both worlds. For example, I decided to stay back in India yet be involved with the Kellogg School of Management. One doesn’t need to give up everything 100 per cent. Technology allows us to balance work locations these days. Also about the recent ‘brain drain’ someone once said, “It is better to have a brain drain rather have brain in the drain”.

You have been involved with a lot of business schools in India before establishing the Great Lakes Institute of Management. So what brought you to establishing the same?

I am a big believer in management education and I’d like to say that I am very fascinated with the IIMs, particularly IIM-A. Back in 1966-67, I worked in IIM-A for about two months under Ravi J. Matthai who did not have a PhD or even a postgraduate degree. With just a bachelor’s degree, he created such a wonderful institution. I was spellbound with his leadership skills. I was also involved in the establishment of IIM-B and was with the school until 1980 creating, designing, promoting and implementing the courses.

Later in 1991, when the economic liberalization began, I was advising Manmohan Singh who was then Finance Minister, on not just liberalizing economies but people, especially bureaucrats. We received more than a million dollar grant from the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and we initiated a National Management Program to train IAS, IFS and IPS officers at MDI Gurgaon by a team from Kellogg School of Management.

That is when I thought of establishing a global business school along the lines of those in the US and established ISB Hyderabad with Rajat Gupta and a few others. Later, I felt the need for a global business school that offered world-class education at an affordable fee as I wanted to make a difference. I think one’s network is his/her net worth. I wanted to do the right things first while others wanted to do the things right first; doing things right is optimism but doing the right things is true leadership. So, I decided to put Chennai on the world map and planned to do it on my own.

My work model is simple. I feel what’s important is passion with compassion, ability with humility and mobility with nobility. It’s all about success but success with integrity is most important. I have always believed in the importance of attitude and behaviour more than any other aspect and still try and incorporate that in all our initiatives.

You do a lot of work in corporate consulting and you have also been involved with the US Air Force. Please share your learnings from these experiences.

I feel that the art of leadership should blend with the science of management. Leadership is about people and management is about technology and processes, but together they make a formidable weapon. Secondly, there are many academicians who take great pride in having published a lot of resources, but I feel publications that cannot be applied in real life are of no use in the longer run. Academic elegance is an absolute must but that alone is of no use. Business relevance is also very important as one must be able to sort out real business issues. I have always endeavoured to combine academic elegance with business relevance and not only have I believed in knowledge creation but also its distribution. Therefore, the consulting work that I do aids experiential learning and benefits us mutually.

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Topics: Leadership, #Innovation, #ExpertViews

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