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March 3, 2000

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Kellog prof to lead IT revolution in AP

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Shanthi Shankarkumar

Bala V Balachandran Twenty-six years ago, Bala V Balachandran was the only Indian professor at the prestigious J K Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Chicago, where he has specialized in accounting information systems and decision sciences.

"If I had screwed up, no Indian could have got in," said Professor Balachandran with a laugh, pointing out that the 125-strong faculty today has 20 Indian-American professors. Considered one of the top 10 management gurus of Indian origin in the United States, he has always unstintingly shared his talents and expertise with India. The itinerant professor, who has lived in America for 32 years, makes almost four trips a year to India.

He has worked with previous governments in various capacities and is an advisor on the present Planning Commission. He is on the board of directors of the Credit Rating Information Services of India and is working with people like Sam Pitroda to integrate information technology in states like Gujarat, Maharashta, Punjab and Rajasthan. He is also a consultant to the governments of Israel, Malaysia and Peru.

Now that a massive Indian-American management and information technology onslaught is all set to hit India's IT-savvy state, Andhra Pradesh, he has a big role to play there.

AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu who, incidentally was offered an honorary professorship at JK Kellogg Graduate School of Management, has appointed Professor Balachandran to set in motion a more management-literate and IT-aware government.

He is also helping to bring a world-class business school on the lines of Kellogg and Wharton business schools to Hyderabad.

Naidu, always the man-in-a-hurry, hopes to transform his government into a SMART (Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsible and Transparent) government with help from top Indian-American management and information technology experts.

"He said, 'I cannot wait for one-and-a-half years, so you'd better come and change the AP government'," says Professor Balachandran.

He is hopeful that the Naidu experiment will lead other states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to jump on the IT bandwagon.

"If 8 to 10 states do well, competing in a friendly way but at the same time co-operating -- the whole country will evolve. Let it take even 10 years -- for 50 years we did not do anything," he said.

But how does one use information technology to change the mindset of people? How does one motivate people to be above corruption and responsible? These are just some mind-boggling tasks before Professor Balachandran, who admits he has a long haul ahead.

"Technology may not end corruption, but it will make the system transparent and hopefully dissuade people from being corrupt," he says.

In January, he began what will be the start of a year-long series of lectures by the cream of Indian-American management and IT gurus. He spoke to a group of 210 people in Hyderabad, including Naidu, his cabinet and top bureaucrats on Strategic Services and Value Management: The Knowledge Game.

"For three hours, I paralyzed the Andhra government," Professor Balachandran says, chuckling.

Professors Krishna Palepu of Harvard and C K Prahlad of Michigan, who gave lectures in January and February respectively, followed him. Others who will give lectures through the year include Dipak Jain, Sunil Chopra and Mohan Sawhney (all of Kelloggs), Jitendra Singh and Jagmohan Raju (Wharton), Raghu Rajan (Chicago) and Raja Reddy (Carnegie).

"We are all doing this purely out of love for our country. We are not taking a penny. This one-year program is a gift to the country," said Professor Balachandran, who usually charges between $ 5,000 and $ 10,000 for a talk.

"We are really looking at the user aspect of information technology and how to integrate them all without they being islands," he said. "My job is to create the linkage and not teach what we teach in the schools here but to bring it to a poor country's citizens and show them how to create value, improve lifestyles and eliminate poverty by using management principles."

The lecture series will be directed at three levels of the Andhra Pradesh government. At the top level are a group of 210, consisting of the chief minister, his cabinet and top bureaucrats. Next, comes a group of 4,000 to 5,000 people consisting of collectors, district collectors and other Indian Administrative Service officers. And then there are village level administrators like the tehsildars.

"If people can see NRIs not as Non-Relevant Indians but as Nice Reliable Indians, I will be happy," he says.

The lecture series are really a precursor to an ambitious business school -- the Indian School of Business -- that will be affiliated to the Kellogg and Wharton business schools. The Dean of Kellogg's Graduate School of Management, Donald Jacobs and his faculty advisory committee (comprising Bala Balachandran, C K Prahlad and Krishna Palepu), have the huge task of attracting high-caliber international faculty. A task that will not be easy considering that let alone Hyderabad, even India is not on the international management map.

But ISB hopes to overcome this by offering a school that is no different from any other leading business schools in the world.

Initially, 25 per cent of the faculty will be from abroad. Fortunately for ISB, there is a large group of faculty of Indian origin in leading American business schools. There are as many as 35 professors in the top five business schools and as many as 151 in the top 20 schools. ISB hopes to tap this abundant talent.

Naidu wanted Balachandran to head the ISB, but he opted out in favor of Dean Donald Jacobs who will be an interim head.

"I told Naidu that I would be of better help from here. In India, I would be a nobody, but here I am somebody. Besides Dean Jacobs, who made Kellogg the number one business school for eight years from 1986, is giving his services absolutely free," said Professor Balachandran.

The school was originally meant to be located in Bombay, but Naidu's strong lobbying convinced the board that Hyderabad was the city of the future. Naidu rolled out the red carpet for the scouting team and gave them 250 acres at a token price.

"This guy is unbelievable. In ten years, Hyderabad is going to be better than even Bombay," said Professor Balachandran, who also put an end to all the suspense about President Clinton's stopover in Hyderabad. "I have got it from reliable sources that Clinton is definitely going to Hyderabad," he said.

A total of 120 students are expected to form the first batch of this 12-month MBA program. Of this 25 per cent will be from abroad. Already 35 students have been selected -- bright achievers sponsored by various companies like Reliance and Mahindra and Mahindra. For starters, applicants must have a minimum of three-year work experience. And admissions will be purely on merit.

Financing schemes for the course fees, which will cost the students $ 15,000, are being worked out. "The students get some kind of sponsorship for 10 per cent of his course fee. For the remaining 90 per cent he can take a loan at about six per cent from institutions like ICICI or IDBI," said Balachandran. Incidentally, a two-year MBA program at Kellogg costs almost $ 40,000.

The school's masterstroke was the creation of a governing board that consists of heads of some of the biggest firms in the world: Mitsubishi, Citibank, Sara Lee, Enron, Coca-Cola, Motorola, Morgan Stanley, BAT industries. The Indian presence includes bigwigs from Birlas, Bajaj, Mahindras and others. The board, which has already met three times in New York and London, may have created a ready-market for ISB students.

Move over IIMs -- you've finally got competition!

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