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'IIT-ians have created a global brand'

By Rediff Business Desk
December 18, 2008 19:31 IST
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R Raghuttama Rao is managing director, IMaCS (ICRA Management Consulting Services Ltd). He is also an Indian Institute of Technology alumnus.

IMaCS is a multi-line management and development consulting firm headquartered in India. The company has an established track record of 14 years in consulting and a diversified client base across various sectors and countries. IMaCS has completed over 700 consulting assignments and has worked in over 25 countries across the globe.

Rao, who is also chairman of the 'Infrastructure Track' at the Pan-IIT 2008 event to be held in Chennai from December 19 to December 21, speaks about the significance of the Pan-IIT conference and what makes IIT-ians what they are. Excerpts:

How do forums like the Pan-IIT help? What are the biggest achievements of the Pan-IIT?

IITs have been around for about five decades, and more than 150,000 students have graduated from all IITs. They are spread all over the world and many are in influential positions.

Pan-IIT is an attempt to rally the IIT community under one banner to channel the cumulative talent, capabilities, resources and efforts towards a calculated 'payback' to nation and society at large. This is the third Pan-IIT meet, and I think the movement has caught the eye of the stakeholders - the alumni, the institutes, the academia, and policy makers.

I see the principal achievements of the Pan-IIT movement are to provide a feedback to the IITs in making course corrections in their strategic direction, policy makers in the area of higher education, and alumni in better directing their efforts in the course of nation building or even contributing to their respective fields.

What do you think is the biggest contribution of IIT-ians to India?

The biggest contribution of IIT (and largely by the IIT-ians) in my opinion is the brand that they have created at the global level. The IIT brand commands respect for capability and excellence of a very high order in most academic institutions, corporate circles across a wide range of industries, and even government.

This success of the IIT brand, largely built on the successes of IIT-ians around the world, has increased the respect for India around the world. Of course, there have been other factors that have contributed to the 'India' brand, but IIT has a reasonable share in that success.

In difficult times like these, how do IIT-ians plan to help the industry, the country?

Simply by doing better what we are doing. There is nothing special that IIT-ians can do just because they are from IIT.

How does Pan-IIT plans to boost entrepreneurship, through infrastructure development?

Pan-IIT has a track on infrastructure development. The three sessions in the Infrastructure track cover issues related to infrastructure creation, the correction in policies and governance required to enable infrastructure creation, and some technical issues pertaining to financing, and specific areas such as energy, urban transport, and water and sanitation.

The track on Infrastructure is designed more from a improving the delivery of public goods/services and from a public policy perspective and not with a view to boosting entrepreneurship. There is a separate track for entrepreneurship.

How do IIT-ians plan to give back to their country and to transform it?

IIT-ians have contributed handsomely to India's progress in many ways. More than two-thirds of IIT-ians are in the country in industry, government services or academia. Industry will include manufacturing, services, and entrepreneurship. A large number of IIT-ians have reached senior positions in industry.

Transforming a country needs actions on many fronts -- political, social, technological, agriculture, and all sectors of economy. There has been an attempt to capture the contribution by IIT-ians in the India growth story, which I understand is the first of its kind of study in India.

How does Pan-IIT plan to nurture entrepreneurship? How many good business plans have you received?

I am given to understand that the proportion of IIT-ians who are entrepreneurs in some way is a good number, which is contrary to general perception -- the IIT Impact study has the details.

The Pan-IIT provides a platform for information sharing, networking and exchange of ideas both formally and informally (the latter is quite important for decision-making and forging alliances), all of which foster entrepreneurship.

There is an entrepreneurship track in Pan-IIT, which has several speakers sharing their experiences. I do not see Pan-IIT being an "investor meet" where business plans are evaluated from an investment perspective.

How is Pan-IIT planning to help IITs be leaders in research?

As part of Pan-IIT's research and technology initiatives in nation building, various sessions are being held in input and output quality optimisation, examining the research ecosystem, and leveraging IIT research and technology in rural development.

A competition is also being held on 'IIT Leadership in Research', for which a rolling trophy will be awarded. The debate in improving IITs' research capabilities focuses on: (a) Examining IITs' current research priorities (b) what are the deficiencies in infrastructure and the ecosystem for research in IIT that hinder achievement of current goals, (c) finding optimal solutions to go ahead and (d) a robust mechanism for validating the excellence in research and measuring progress towards the stated goals.

Many IIT-ians have preferred to go aboard rather than work in India. Do you think this trend will change in the wake of the recession?

I understand that more than two thirds of IIT-ians stay back in India. Second, a high proportion of those having gone abroad do return to India at some point. Third, over the years, the proportion of IIT-ians going abroad has reduced.

How important is innovation for an entrepreneurship to succeed?

Very important. The span of innovation should go beyond technology and engineering, and should cover all organisational issues such as finance, administration, operational processes, and HR. Organisations succeed when they are able to differentiate themselves on any parameter(s) which the customer recognises and values.

What is it about IITs that sets its graduates apart from others?

I think the question is flawed. IIT-ians are part of the overall system and society, and are not different. There are several outstanding performers who have not been to IIT.

Having said that, I must add, however, IITs have been a good platform for those students who were lucky enough to get through the entrance exams. The IITs provide a stimulating environment for learning, an outstanding peer group for comparison and improvement, and good faculty. Several other institutions in India in various disciplines are just as good at IIT in their areas.

When you made it to IIT; what was that experience like?

I was in IIT in the early eighties. I consider the time I spent at IIT as some of the best years in my life, learning not just from classes and laboratories but from an outstanding peer group. Some of the deepest and long-standing friendships got built there and it is fantastic to see most of your friends and classmates achieve outstanding success in their careers.

What advice would you give today's IIT-ians who are tomorrow's entrepreneurs?

Besides technology and engineering, it is more important to understand the "business of business".

Should India have more IITs? Why?

India could look at more IITs. However, one must remember that maintaining high quality of output (students, research, consultancy, etc) is very important. Increasing the number of IITs and IIT-ians at the expense of quality would make everyone poorer.

Improving the quality of all academic and research programmes to the best by global standards should be a higher priority than increasing intake.

Increasing the number of IITs should be undertaken if it can be established that the quality of the non-succeeding students at the margin (those that just fail to make the selection grade) is as good as the quality of those being selected.

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