Interview for GoFYI

‘Target for Harvard, Stanford, UCLA and so on…’

…says, DR CHARAN SINGH, former Senior Economist at IMF, a former RBI Chair Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, where he taught comparative monetary policy and policy issues in Indian economy, and CEO of EGROW Foundation. In conversation with Kalyani Majumdar, Dr Singh shares his teaching experience in the top B Schools in India and abroad, and the need for quality research on policy oriented issues.

Q. You were teaching at IIM Bangalore from December 2012 till March 2018. How was the experience?

Teaching at IIM Bangalore was fabulous. They have some of the best minds in the country and it was a privilege to interact with them. I was a professor of Economics, and I was teaching them Macro, Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy and the exchange rates, the balance of payments, how to compute GDP, challenges in computing GDP which is one course that I used to teach in a standard Macro course. I also taught two electives; one was the comparison between the monetary policy of advanced and emerging countries. Here, I would compare India, China, Russia — all emerging countries — and UK, US and Europe — all advanced countries. Then I would teach the comparison and contrasts and how to interpret monetary policies. According to me, if you understand monetary policy, you can understand that local economy.
Another elective I offered was on Indian Economy. For the most part of my life, I have been a policymaker. So, I devised this course which would cover ten important policymaking issues in the country and cover it from 360 degrees.

Q. Tell us a bit about how it was like doing your post doctoral research from Harvard Business School?

I went to Harvard for my postdoctoral research on Debt Management. I was already the Director of Research in that Debt Management department. I was mesmerised by the intellectual challenges and the thrill that one gets while studying at Harvard. And I found that there was absolutely no parallel to the synergy of Harvard. The ecosystem in the East Coast in Boston is beautiful. Because of that you feel more confident to handle any subject, and the professors there are very interactive and humble. There, the professor is constantly challenged. At Harvard, once in a week you can attend lectures. There is not a single day that you don’t get the top notch people from across the world visiting Harvard. After going there I learned that if you go to Harvard, you must excel at what you are there for.

Q. According to you how important are case studies and industry expert sessions. Do you think there should be more of one or the other?

I think there has to be a standard mix. Case study gives a good overview of what real life stories are, and industry experts take you into an actual live situation. I think that is the quality of training that the IIMs have. There should be a balance between the two as both are important.

Q. Are there any major differences between MBA in India and MBA abroad?

Yes, there is a substantial difference. For example, when I taught in UCLA Anderson School of Management, I realised the thrust was very different. Here in India, MBA programmes are very academic and classroom oriented, and our projects are to a great extent theoretical.  At UCLA, students were doing live projects with companies and they were being evaluated not by their own professors, but by the GM of the company! In live training, when you work on a live project in a corporate environment, you already have the proficiency, efficiency and confidence by the time you join the firm. This is a great difference between what we do in our country and what is done abroad.

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Q. Do you have any suggestion for MBA aspirants?

My suggestion is that they have to work hard; they have to aspire for the best institutions in the country. There should be no compromise on that. I would like to add that you should also target for Harvard, Stanford, UCLA and so on, because the exposure that they can have is life changing. Frankly, I am not really satisfied with one Indian heading Google, and a total of 6 Indians are heading the multinationals in the world. This gives me a very sinking feeling. Indians are 16% of the world population! There are around 5,000 to 6,000 listed companies on Wall Street, and if only 6 are headed by Indians, it is very insulting! At least 16% of Wall Street-listed companies should be headed by Indians. And, if the IIMs have not been able to produce that many, then we have to send our students to Harvard or Stanford and so on if we want that 16%. If our training is not getting them there, then Indians should take their training abroad.

Q. What is EGROW Foundation and what was the trigger for you to start this foundation?

I conceived the EGROW Foundation in 2009 when I was working with the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC. There I used to go for lectures at The Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) and there I saw people working on policy oriented issues. Their researches were well documented and based on those researches they made policy recommendations. And I thought we really needed a similar institution in India. I was also fortunate that at that time, Dr Arvind Virmani was posted there. We both used to talk about how we can provide a think tank like this when we return to India. So, it was a collective effort.

It is a Section 8 company and our purpose is very simple. We want to disseminate well researched policy-oriented issues with the public at large, including the government. We also want to undertake good quality research on topics that we have expertise in and contribute on fiscal policy, monetary policy and other issues, along with our expertise in social, agriculture, health and other economic issues.

Q. Do you think MBA education in India is ready to evolve and recalibrate itself because of advent of Fintech?

At the moment, students have to develop these skills on their own substantially. But yes, the professors are there and they are dynamic, and if some students are interested in going to incubation centres and working on these skills, I don’t think they are going to be at sea. But if you are asking me if they will make a big difference directly in the training or in the curriculum, I haven’t noticed it yet. You see, the Indian mind is in high demand right now everywhere in the world, and will continue to stay in demand. So an immediate reaction to this digitisation is not going to take place. Sooner or later, when the intake is impacted in universities and B-schools, only then at that point of time will the curriculum be rethought and redesigned.

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About Dr Charan Singh: A former RBI Chair Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, India. He was also a Senior Economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Washington DC from August 2009 to November 2012. He was Director (Departments: Research; Debt Management) at the RBI from 1997–2009 where he had joined in 1984 as a Research officer in the Economic Department. Singh earned his doctorate in Economics from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia and was a visiting scholar (post-doctorate) for more than a year each at Department of Economics, Harvard University and the Stanford Center for International Development, Stanford University.