It is always interesting to meet thoughtful minds from Academia. They are a converging force of passion, experience, knowledge and anecdotes. Team MBA Rendezvous was fortunate enough to meet and speak to one of the top researchers in the field of Strategy in India, Dr. Shailendra Raj Mehta, President and Director, MICA, Ahmedabad.
Dr. Mehta has a career spanning over 29 years where he has taught at leading institutions such as Purdue University in the United States, GISMA in Germany and IIM Ahmedabad in India and headed institutions such as Ahmedabad University, Auro University and now MICA. His core fields of research include Entrepreneurship, Information Economics, Industrial Organization, and Experimental Economics. He has made significant contribution in the field of Synthetic Economics as well. He is an author and member of several high power committees convened by the Government of India. Apart from being associated with top class universities he has also taught senior executives from all across the globe, including CEOs across the border in Pakistan.
Our team spoke to him about his passion for entrepreneurship and vision for MICAns in the creative and analytical domains.
Team MBA Rendezvous : How MICA has developed & grown with its vision for creating 'Leadership in Strategic Marketing and Communication’?
Dr. Shailendra Mehta :
As you know, MICA was set up in 1991 and initially our focus was only on Advertising and related Creative Communication areas. But over the years, there has been an increase in the demand for professionals who are creatively and analytically inclined. Thus, we gradually broadened our focus to include Marketing, Branding, Design, Digital and Data. Now MICA has a natural affinity with emerging new economy companies throughout the world, including companies such as Google, Amazon, Uber, and others. And some of our biggest recruiters who value MICAns come from this area.
The great thing is that right from its inception, MICA has been associated with some of the finest minds in India and outside as well. They have been members of our Governing Council, faculty members, partners and advisors, and our Alumni, and we have leveraged their knowledge base to come up with the brand that is MICA.
Team MBA Rendezvous : In the digital age, how would you see Brands evolve & keep pace with ever-changing consumer demands?
Dr. Shailendra Mehta :
Actually this is a challenge as well as an opportunity that we have in front of us. If you see the recent McKinsey report it looked at the extent of transformation that is occurring around the world, the biggest driver for it is Digital.
As a result, every industry from hard core manufacturing such as automobiles to advertising is being transformed and driven by the impact of digital. This is where I must say that there is no Management School in India or in the Asia Pacific region that is as well positioned to take advantage of it as MICA. The world is talking about it now but MICA has been focusing on it for over a decade.
More importantly we have a critical mass of individuals in terms of our faculty, our partners and our students, who intensely engage in thinking and reflecting about these activities. Also we are building some very interesting partnerships in the United States and Asia, so that we can leverage a comparative perspective about these problems.
Team MBA Rendezvous : What are your views and advice to students on becoming entrepreneurs?
Dr. Shailendra Mehta :
This is my passion and the reason is that I have founded not one, but two companies. When I was a Professor in the United States at Purdue University, we commercialized our research and started a company. So I had 2 full time jobs – teaching & running the company, which I did for 8 years.
Everything I knew before starting this company about business was only theoretical. When I started running the company, everything became live. And it seems that every problem that a business is likely to have, we had it, including scaling up. So for me, my start up was my biggest learning, much more than my PhD. And it has stayed with me for all of these years. For many years, I taught the Entrepreneurship course at Purdue University and at GISMA as well, and when I returned to India in 2007, I continued to teach the Entrepreneurship course at IIM Ahmedabad for many years.
Now there is another start up that we have founded and I am involved in it. Although, I cannot run it like I used to, since I have an institution to look after as well, but there is hardly any day when I do not talk to them, or understand their challenges and help them overcome them, including how to scale up.
Since I got my PhD in 1990, it is now my 29th year of teaching, and I can tell you that nothing has excited me as much as the challenge of having a start up. It is like having a business baby. And it has all the excitements, challenges, frustrations and joys of having a child except that it is a business child.
Coming to your question, the reason I contextualized it is because I wanted to communicate the passion that I feel with it. This year we have in all 240 students joining us in our 2-year, 1 year and Doctoral Programmes. We took all of them through an entrepreneurship workshop starting in the orientation week itself even before they started with their classes. We told them that they will be working on a business model throughout their stay at MICA and they are working on it even now. There are a total of 40 teams with 6 people each, which is a mix of minds from business, creative and analytical backgrounds. They are working on various ideas, and I hope that in the time that they are with us at MICA, they are able to advance this idea and even do a beta test of it. So much so that by the time they are ready to graduate, I sincerely hope that at least 10% of them will decide to become entrepreneurs from day one after their graduation. And they will themselves come to us and say that though we have these wonderful placements from some of the top companies in the world in front of us, we would work for ourselves rather than working for any of these top companies. Even if this is a risky business for us, we would want to take the plunge. And I would like to say, that at any time in the subsequent two years if their venture doesn’t work and if they want to be placed after all, they can come back to us. This also minimizes the risk.
This is the entrepreneurial age and it is the best time to be an entrepreneur. There is no better place than MICA to be an entrepreneur than MICA. The reason is that MICAns have all the management skills that other Management Schools teach but they also have unique skills in the form of creativity. This is because, MICA selects its students through not one but two exams. The first one (it could be CAT, GMAT or XAT) tests for Analytical and Verbal abilities but then they have to take the MICA Admission Test (MICAT), which tests for creativity, empathy and out of the box thinking. As a result, MICAns have both left brain and right brain attributes, the ability to think creatively and analytically and to be comfortable in arenas that require both hard and soft skills.
We all know that we need to create jobs, almost 12 million of them every year. The government or the corporate sector can create only a small share of these jobs. But the bulk of jobs will be created by entrepreneurs.
For example, every city in India has people who have started with small set ups, as small as being a door to door hawker, and some of them have gone global. In fact out students are working on just such a case study of an entrepreneur, who started with a push-cart in Ahmedabad, and now has a branch in Times Square in New York. If they can do it, then we would certainly want our well educated MICAns to do it as well. We would want our students to create, technology heavy, digital heavy, marketing and branding heavy businesses.
Another advantage that we have is our Incubator, which is very different from the other incubators. The reason is that we focus primarily on businesses that require a lot of marketing, branding and digital to go forward. This is our USP. And we would like to create businesses in all areas but which make very heavy use of these three areas - marketing, branding and digital.
Team MBA Rendezvous : If ‘Strategy is a Theory & Communication is a skill’ then, how do you view and how would you like to contextualize both?
Dr. Shailendra Mehta :
Today, if you look at the three major leaders of the world – Mr. Xi Jinping from China, Mr. Donald Trump from US and Shri Narendra Modi from India – they all have mastered and succeeded in the art of branding themselves at an individual level, branding their party (at the national level) and branding their country (at the international level). We may agree or disagree with them, but we are forced to take them seriously. Most importantly, they have sharply defined themselves. And nobody can question the fact that if you are going to be a leader, be it in the social or the business sector or indeed the political sphere, you must understand how to communicate, strategize, market and brand yourself and know how to connect with your audience, and strategize around it and execute. I can proudly say that this is what MICA has been doing for the past 25 years, surely better than anybody else. This is what makes us special.
Team MBA Rendezvous : What is your advice to budding managers on ‘evolving creativity and how it is combined with business acumen'?
Dr. Shailendra Mehta :
A few years ago, IBM did a study of 1500 CEOs and asked what are the kind of leadership skills you need to be a successful leader in corporate world today. They identified three broad areas – Creative Leadership, Understanding the Customer and Outstanding Execution.
Talking about ‘Creative Leadership’, nobody involves creativity in their management program as well as MICA does. As we discussed earlier on account of our selection process, the typical MICAn who comes in, is not only good in the analytical domain but she is equally good in the creative domain. And I can effortlessly say ‘she’ because 50% of our MICAns are women. This mix of left and right brain, analytical and creative skills, empathetic and hardnosed qualities and focused and relaxed minds at the same time, are typical attributes of MICAns and I would proudly say in Hindi ‘MICA jaisa koi nahi’ (There is no one like MICA).
Team MBA Rendezvous : How MICA be perceived as a dependable powerhouse for producing creative leaders?
Dr. Shailendra Mehta :
Historically we have produced top marketing professionals. And if you look around in any major corporate house in India, and increasingly outside as well, you are likely to find a MICAn, who is managing or leading creatively. We want to produce people who can not only own marketing and branding, although that is our key strength, but apply creativity to the whole domain of Management. That is why we are strengthening our finance capabilities, supply chain capabilities, organizational behavior capabilities. We want MICAns to be able to add end to end value to everything they do, communicate that value, appropriate that value and share that value. At the end of the day, we want them to be known as people who create real value for everyone and do it creatively. I hope they are the ones who create billion-dollar companies or billion-dollar divisions within big companies. And I hope they are the ones, who find creative solutions to problems not just in the corporate sector but also in the social, government and other domains.
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