Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ravi Matthai versus Verghese Kurien Models of Institution Building

Verghese Kurien Model versus Ravi Matthai Model
T. V. Rao
Formerly Professor at IIMA and currently Chairman, TVRLS
(Written in 2005)
In these days of IRMA controversy I am tempted to write about the two models of governance of educational Institutions. The first model I call as Ravi Matthai model and the second model as Dr. Kurien’s. I have talked about this model in several forums in a few years ago much before the current IRMA controversy. I worked closely with Ravi Matthai the first full time Director of IIMA who took over from the then Honorary Director, Dr Vikram Sarabhai. I observed from a distance Dr Kurien. I had only a few interactions with Dr Kurien as HRD Consultant to NDDB.

Every one fondly addressed Ravi Matthai as Ravi and perhaps there is something about your philosophy that gets reflected in the way you are addressed. The legacy to address Dr. Kurien formally as Dr. Kurien perhaps has come from the need to build a different type of organization like NDDB where certain degree of formality is required. Ravi stepped aside as Director seven years after he became the first full time director. I joined IIMA just after Ravi stepped aside (whenever we talked about it his stepping down as Director, Ravi used to correct us by saying that he stepped aside rather than stepped down and he used to say that the Director was never above the faculty to step down). The way in which he stepped aside is also interesting. He got an “IIMA Review Committee” appointed to review IIMA and give it new directions. As the committee was completing its deliberations and giving it final touches he stepped aside and said that the new director should take the institution forward using the direction set by the Review committee (and not the previous Director!). The tradition continued there after and such review committees get appointed every time the Director’s tenure was getting over and provides new opportunities for the faculty and the new Director to give new Directions to IIMA. I had the privilege of serving in one such committees Chaired by Dr. C. Rangarajan during Samuel Paul’s time. Ravi not only stepped aside but continued as a Professor in the institute. The most interesting thing to note is what the person does if he continues to be in the same institute. Ravi wanted to facilitate management in various sectors. He chose the education sector and worked until he died in 1984 to work on linking education with development through professional management. He never interfered in the running of the IIMA once he stepped aside as Director. There was a gradual withdrawal of guidance to the new Director also. For a few years he was on the Board and the Faculty Evaluation committee. I still remember how the faculty discussions used to take a new turn if he attended a meeting and gave his views. He used to feel uncomfortable that the faculty should be swayed away by his comments and gradually he spoke less and also withdrew from the Board. In my view this is what has built IIMA culture and has thrown up several leaders. There was a great degree of faculty autonomy and some times we felt that this autonomy was even to a dysfunctional extent. I think if IIMA is what it is today it has great foundations laid in terms of its culture by Ravi Matthai and Dr. Sarabhai from whom apparently Ravi also learnt a lot.

I have used Ravi Matthai model very successfully with the National HRD Network which is now an internationally recognized body- this institutions was born in Ahmedabad and at IIMA. The same model did not work in the case of Academy of HRD.

Perhaps NDDB needed a long term leadership given the nature of the organization and Dr Kurien was very justified in his long tenure with NDDB. It was this long term tenure which has got the white revolution going and changed the cooperative movement besides benefiting millions of farmers. However the issue becomes different when it comes to an Educational institution like IRMA. It goes to the credit of Dr. Kurien to build IRMA and supply a huge manpower of trained professionals to be available to the rural development sector when no one dared to go. It is not small contribution he has made. Understandably it becomes difficult for him to believe that the institution can be on its own.

During Ravi’s time and to a large extent thereafter IIMA always welcomed back its professors even when they left. Even when Professors left to work abroad IIMA maintained their names on the faculty list and welcomed back. Ravi maintained that Faculty are the Intellectual capital of the institution and they should be attracted back even if they go for short or long periods of time. I understand that IRMA has a policy of not welcoming back its faculty once resigned and left- a policy largely promoted in Dr. Kurien’s model perhaps with legacy from NDDB. The basis behind this is perhaps the need for long term commitment to an institution which Dr. Kurien perhaps strongly believed and therefore would not forgive any faculty who left to join another place not in tune with IRMA.
I do agree that managing NDDB is not the same as managing IRMA. However, Dr. Kurien should be credited for demonstrated that it is important to have non-negotiable value of service to the rural poor as basis to both the institutions. None else could have done this other than Dr Kurien and value establishments require a long term involvement. As an educational institution the backbone of IRMA is the faculty and students. Educational institutions need complete autonomy as the main resource they have is there intellectual resource and it needs to be constantly generated. Faulty and students need to be protected from outside interferences so that they devote their time to learn and generate knowledge. If the leaders are fighting it could be very demoralizing to the Institution. We experienced it at IIMA once when there was a great delay in appointing Director by the HRD Ministry.

Whatever may be the case too much of long term tenure of Chairman of an educational institution is not perhaps in the best interests of the institution.

In the case of another institution like Academy of HRD where we tried to follow the Ravi Matthai model it did not progress when the founders withdrew. They withdrew within a short time and handed it over to a Director who was associated both with IIMA and IRMA. It did not grow the way it has grown in the initial years and it is perhaps a big mistake of the founders to withdraw from it too soon. From this perspective, Dr. Kurien should be credited for not following Ravi’s model. Dr. Kurien was also needed to ensure that the institution stabilized. He got many luminaries as Directors in the initial years (Dr. Kamala Chowdhury, Dr KRS Murthy, Dr. Haldipur etc.) and remained until it got stabilized. Some times it is difficult to judge exactly when to say good bye and how long to treat the institution and its care takers as children.

In the initial stages when the Director of one of another IIM tried to get him self a long tenure it did not grow until he left it and made space for new Director to come and provide new leadership. Once he left this IIM grew at a high speed and has become one of the best. There is every danger of personal interests getting mixed with institutional interests and public institutions getting privatized. It becomes often difficult to differentiate personal interests from institutional interests. Specially when one holds strong values and believes that institutions should be run following those values only, in a world of changing values it gets politicized and what is happening to Dr. Kurien may happen. Kurien Model of long term tenure may be fine with NDDB (even that up to a point of time) but educational institutions like IRMA deserve a better model with a properly timed withdrawal of the Founders and Directors. Institutions are larger than individuals and no one individual can be bigger than the institution. If any one tries to be so, he/she is limiting the growth of the institution and assuming too much about himself/herself.

We all admit that AMA is a great success story. It has surpassed All India Management Association. It has changing presidents every two years. However along with the Presidents there is one person who did not change for the last thirty years and is one main factor behind its success. We all know how much this person as executive Secretary or ass executive Director made a lot of difference. Perhaps it is wrong to conclude that one is better than the other but the timing is very important and one should exit before one becomes a source of politicization which affects the institution.

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