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Cover Story
“Indian B-schools are now rising”
In a wide ranging conversation with B&E’s Amir Moin, Praveen Kopalle, Professor of Marketing at the Tuck School of Business, talks about reinventing management education and the state of Indian B-Schools
Issue Date - 08/12/2011
Praveen Kopalle joined the Tuck School of Business in 1996 after a stint in teaching at the University of Arizona. Kopalle’s research has been at the intersection of technology and marketing, particularly in the retailing domain, where he is continuously hailed as a thought leader. He serves as the Associate Editor of Marketing Science at the Journal of Retailing and is also on the editorial boards of Marking Science, Marketing Letters and other top journals. Kopalle has spoken at over 40 universities and institutes worldwide and in 2005, he won the prestigious John D. C. Little Award in marketing science for his paper on “Predicting Competitive Response.” He is an excellent example of combining various techniques and analysis to both test theories and to inform about the actual practice of marketing. In this exhaustive interview, he talks about how B-schools can keep themselves relevant, what the drop in GMAT applications implies and what differentiates management education practices in India from those in the US.

From a time when MBAs were required to engineer complex debt-based instruments at Wall Street to now when they a required to clean the mess, what is the greatest challenge for B-schools today in your view? What must they do in order to stay relevant?
The biggest challenge for business schools is to change the perception about the B-school students’ greed for money and that it was what got us into the financial mess to begin with. In order to stay relevant, B-schools need to show the humane side of business and highlight ethics, ethical behaviour, and social responsibility in their curriculum. For example, at the Tuck School, it is required that every student must take a required number of courses in ethics and social responsibility from a menu of 10 or so such courses before they can graduate.

According to a latest GMAT report, 2/3rd of B-schools reported that applications for the two year full time programme have dropped. Another 57% reported that applicants for one year programmes have dropped. What does this imply?
This implies three things: (1) Diminished usefulness of MBA as a degree either for a career change or value added in the current career path. (2) Given the higher than normal unemployment rate, prospective students do not want to leave their current jobs for a full time MBA and (3) MBAs now seem to have the bad rap that lawyers used to have in earlier years. All of these lead to a lack of interest in business schools. I must admit that at least at our Tuck School, I am happy to report that our applications for our full time, two year program have actually gone up by 10% this year.

France has planned to invest $10.6 billion in establishing world class universities and management schools which can compete with those in the US. Do you think investing alone can cater to the need of relevant human resources around the world?
You know, about a century ago, if you look at the top ten universities in the world, many of them would have been from Europe. If you do the same ranking today, none of the European Universities would make it to the top ten list. I am glad that France is planning to invest billions of dollar in establishing world class universities and management schools. However, investing alone cannot guarantee success. It is the right kind of sustained investment that is required. It will take at least 10-15 years to establish a world class university or a management school. The money has to be invested in talented people, research facilities, and linkages with cutting edge research institutes and labs worldwide – so, collaboration is key.

What do you think are the most important factors that differentiate faculties of top B-schools from the ones, which are not so sought after?
There are three key factors:
Rigorous, high quality research that is conducted by the faculty and which is sought after by cutting edge journals
Staying relevant, i.e., impacting the practice of management in terms of the how and why of business activity
Excellent teaching where theory and practice are closely intertwined and viewing interaction with students as a two-way learning process

How important is industry interface for B-school faculties and the industry?
Industry interface for B-school faculties is extremely important. Faculties do cutting edge and relevant research and companies look forward to bringing the research to practice. Therefore, it is very important that faculties and businesses stay inter-connected. On another note, what I also find is that interactions with managers and the problems they face are actually a source of research ideas for the faculty.

You have been teaching marketing since the past so many years. How have you seen the subject evolving since you joined Tuck in 1996?
During the past decade, three things have happened: (1) Data storage costs have gone down exponentially, (2) The computing power of machines has gone up exponentially, and (3) Globally, companies and managers now have an analytical mindset. In my view, the stars are well-aligned now for companies to leverage the vast amounts of customer purchase behaviour data that are now available in the marketing arena via store scanners, factory shipments, E-commerce, mobile-commerce et al. The biggest evolution in marketing that I have been seeing is the notion of marketing analytics and the optimization of marketing tools. Marketing analytics involve collecting the data, estimating the various marketing elasticities, and then determining the sweet spot for adopting marketing tactics. Such analytics also help consumers via reduced prices, incorporating the voice of the consumer, better and tailored products et al. In essence, it is a win-win situation for both consumers and marketers.

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