Key To An Institute's Success Is Culture: Dheeraj Sharma, IIM Rohtak

In an exclusive interaction with BW Education, Dheeraj Sharma, Director, IIM Rohtak, talks of the unique culture and orientation of the institute and more. Excerpts:

Tell us about your journey in IIM Rohtak.

Reflecting on my association with IIM Rohtak since 2017, I think I am proud of the contribution made by IIM Rohtak to the various policy matters of government, development of ethical and managerial talent, creation of future business leaders, helping capacity building both in industry and government departments, generation of the highest level of scholarly work, and our ability to make nation-builders in our students and faculty. I had envisioned providing participants of our programs with the most enriching learning experience through the highest quality of management education in a diverse and thriving environment. We have achieved this by making available the best faculty resource from some of the best institutions in India and abroad to our students. I also envisioned making high-quality education available to the maximum number of deserving students from various student groups, including undergraduates, graduates, working professionals, and researchers. Today, I proudly say that we are the largest IIM in terms of the number of students and programs. During this journey, I have participated in the execution of several projects that can help us make our small contribution to Bharat ki Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. 

What has been your biggest challenge as a director of a distinguished institution like IIM? How did you manage to overcome them?

Key to the success of any institution is its culture. Culture must be based on widely held and shared values and beliefs. Culture provides a sense of identity and promotes achievement orientation among its students and faculty. My biggest challenge at IIM Rohtak was building the institute's culture. The institute was operating from a rented building on the campus of a traditional university for its first eight years. IIMs operate uniquely distinctive from conventional universities. Hence, the challenge was still to promote the unique IIM culture in the institute and thereby delineate its identity in the eyes of students, industry, and faculty. First, the challenge was to complete phase 1 of our campus to allow students some space and orient them to the IIM culture. The second challenge was to foster research orientation among faculty. Institute did not have many top-ranked journal publications in 2017, and now we proudly claim to have more than 35 A*/A-category publications in an academic year. Finally, getting the best corporations to come to IIM Rohtak campus to recruit was very challenging. We worked meticulously with industry, organised management conclaves in the campus and other metro cities over the years for industry leaders to interact with the students, encouraged virtual industrial visits and encouraged immersive learning, among other activities. I can proudly say that today, the average salary of a student of IIM Rohtak is 16.06 LPA which is over 40 per cent higher than in 2017. Today, I can proudly say that we have been able to develop this culture among its students and faculty. This is also evident from the fact that with AMBA accreditation received, the institute is now part of the top 2 per cent of business schools worldwide. 

What are your core values as a director? How do you ensure to maintain those values in the institution?

I strongly believe in the importance of innovation, knowledge creation and excellence in all professional endeavours. Innovation is a critical strategy in today's dynamic and competitive environment. Knowledge creation is important not only for survival, but it has far reaching societal and national consequences as well. Further, excellence requires passion, focus, and vital emotional intelligence to achieve the best results. I have strongly followed these values during my journey with IIM Rohtak. IIM Rohtak was the first IIM to introduce the BBA+MBA degree program in 2018. The institute is also a pioneer in starting BBA+LLB Integrated Degree Program and a two-year Post Graduate Diploma in Sport Management. IIM Rohtak has created a benchmark for other management institutions in the country. We have been able to achieve excellence in academic and gender diversity. Today, IIM Rohtak is number one worldwide regarding women's representation in its MBA programme. The institute has also emerged as one of the best institutions with reference to research output per faculty. The faculty has been doing important public policy work with various Government institutions. During the period of COVID crisis, the faculty and researchers of IIM Rohtak concentrated on extensive research on diverse subjects of concern during this time and presented various papers on agricultural procurement, migrant laborers, blended learning and financial markets, among others that were shared with the government and government bodies for further study and implementation. This is testimonial of my conviction towards knowledge creation and human resource development to benefit business and society. 

Being a marketing expert, how do you see the future of Indian management institutes post Covid?

Covid-19 created an enormous disruption to the education system in history, affecting over one billion learners globally. However, it has also allowed us to introspect, innovate and re-engineer the learning methods in higher education. Today, we find that the role of the educator has been shifted to being a facilitator who will guide and coach the students to achieve holistic learning. Covid situation, coupled with New Education Policy can help us redefine the format, content and methods of delivery of education. We have witnessed a massive shift towards online learning and self-learning. I believe the ideal will lie in blended education. Specifically, a combination of online and offline is probably the future of management education. Also, blended education, which leverages technology, can also allow institutions to expand without significant infrastructural constraints. Additionally, the students now also have multiple entry and exit options which will further reduce the dropout rate and provide flexibility to the students. Further, the student evaluation will also become more continuous rather than periodic assessments as it is more comprehensive, systematic and guidance oriented. 

Recently, India achieved the feat of becoming the world's fifth-largest economy. With a GDP of $370 billion (PPP basis), Delhi NCR is now ranking 30th globally in terms of the size of a region's economy and is expected to be 11th globally by 2030, according to the Oxford Economics forecast. The primary drivers of NCR growth are a juxtaposition to policy-making, the availability of superior and growing infrastructure, and excellent education and research institutions. Businesses have become more global and technologically advanced, which requires highly proficient employees who thrive in a time of change. Therefore, management institutions must constantly focus on producing committed professionals who can analyze problems and articulate solutions in the most efficient and effective manner. Hence, the students are expected to have the ability to lead others, collaborate across networks, and have agility and adaptability to the dynamic business environment. Thus, the management institutions are expected to adapt to the changing expectations and make students efficient communicators, analysts and innovators. 

Despite being a second-generation IIM, the institute has provided world-class management education and ranked among the top 5 IIMs in research. What have been the pillars of this thriving success?

The institute focuses on providing a holistic learning experience to its students that shall make them business leaders, managers and policymakers who will exhibit superior work ethics, high commitment to work, and a positive attitude. Our faculty are trained at some of the best international and domestic management institutions. Institute has been keen to involve itself in temporal subject areas. In other words, I encourage the faculty and doctoral students to engage in meaningful and timely research to offer solution to several current issues. Such as, we conducted the oxygen utilisation audit for the state of Haryana during Covid and based on the same we offered various suggestions to public and private hospitals. We also formulated the food grain supply network during Pandemic situation. Additionally, we examined workplace management strategies for workers at the cutting edge during Pandemic situation. Our work was recognised by WHO (World Health Organisation). 

We also have several contract and adjunct faculty members from some of the best international universities in North America, Europe and Asia. With our continuous interactions with business corporations, government bodies and policymakers, we have created a learning environment that will uniquely blend theory and practice in imparting management education. This blend is necessary for creating cutting-edge professionals in business management. Recently, we offered our student opportunity to examine live projects in rural parts of India. In addition, we provide simulation-based learning using live data to augment decision-making in our students. The students are engaged in rural immersive projects and other research-based mandatory projects to develop research orientation amongst the students. They are encouraged to write case studies with the faculty members. We create foster student-industry interaction through management summits, leadership lecture series, virtual tours, etc., that keep the students updated on the latest trends and demands of the industry. 

Finally, a continuous assessment methodology has been adopted wherein students are assessed on their regular learnings to facilitate the constant learning process for each student. We have adopted methods that help students acquire a more focused approach toward understanding the industry requirements and prepare themselves to be ready as per the current and future needs of the industry.  

Any message for students aspiring degree in management and budding managers?

I firmly believe that there is no surrogate for hard work. Labour can translate to luck, but luck cannot translate to labour. Therefore, I advise that one must work hard with clear conviction. You will have to devote yourself. The students must enjoy the work that they do. If they don't enjoy their work, it will feel like drudgery and no one likes it. Secondly, a business leader's most important quality is being imaginative. I would tell the budding managers that you must envisage what you would like to see as the end product of your efforts. This will allow you to streamline your effort and you will remain conscientious. Lastly, integrity is an essential trait required in any business or working environment. It is a highly valued quality. Everyone must have strong moral principles, stand by their words and do the right thing. The budding managers must strive to make a contribution not just to their organisations but the society at large. I repeat the words of John F Kennedy “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

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