Ajit Balakrishnan delivers IIM Calcutta Convocation Speech on Thought Leadership

 | April 09,2012 11:59 am IST

This past year, our 50th, was a banner year for IIM Calcutta. Our PGP class was placed in 4 days flat, in the All India Management Association survey we were ranked as No 1 among management schools and we added a quarter- million square feet to our class-rooms and hostel infrastructure.

But, while all that is gratifying, the real measure of an academic institution lies in the extent it contributes to thought leadership. I want to share with you today how we have fared in that area.
The journey of an intellectual idea often starts as a working paper or a case, evolves into a journal article then as a conference presentation, finally as a book chapter or even a book. In a vibrant thought leadership system each leg of this journey is important. During this past year our faculty produced nearly a hundred research papers. These were published as working papers, cases, or presented as conference papers, as articles in peer reviewed journals, or as book chapters.
You will find the full list of papers published by IIM Calcutta faculty in the folder that is with you but please allow me to whet your appetite by summarizing a few of these . I freely admit that the ones I have chosen to summarize are an idiosyncratic choice.

Let me start with a paper that deals with an issue that is life and death for modern businesses- the Supply Chain challenge. How do you as a business respond fast enough to the sudden increase or decrease in customer demand that is a feature of modern business life. If you respond too slowly you pay for the lost sales opportunity, if you respond too fast you may end up with excess inventory. Prof Rahul Roy of our MIS Group has mathematically modelled a Supply Chain as a management game for use as a teaching tool. The originality of this paper lies in the fact he has done this for items of inventory that are perishable. . His paper, The Cake Game- comprehending perishability, was written together with a person from JDA, the leading supply chain platform provider which makes it doubly interesting. It was presented at the 15th Annual International Conference of the Society of Operations Management.

The second paper that I want to draw your attention to deals with a topic that dominates media headlines in India, the battle over telecom spectrum. Little thought has gone into the true underlying cause of this- the narrow definition of a slice of spectrum as being 'owned' by each operator leaving some portions of spectrum idle and other portions hotly contested and every allocation decision being greeted by accusations of corruption. Professor Debasis Saha of our MIS group and Sadukhan of our Computer Centre have a paper that may bring some rationality to this world of smoke and mirrors. They devised an algorithm that dynamically allocates a common pool of spectrum using concepts from game theory. What is gratifying for me is that their paper, A Meta-heuristic based Fair Dynamic Spectrum Allocation Policyis written jointly with executives from BSNL and Wipro and scholars from Jadavpur University. Such cross-sector creative work is very exciting. It was presented at the IEEE 5th International Conference on Advanced Networks and Telecommunication Systems in December 2011.

The third paper that Id like to draw your attention to today tacklesthe paradox of giant glitzy shopping malls in which our citizens window shop but only occasionally make a purchase. This phenomena has led this year to a crisis in the organized retail industry. ProfRohit Varman papercould possibly explain why this happens. He it says that t for Indians, shopping malls are much more than places to efficiently buy things; they are, his words, 'spectacles of Western-ness andsymbols of progress and development....a masquerade through which young consumers attempt to transform themselves and to disguise or temporarily transcend their Third World realities'. His paper, Consuming Postcolonial Shopping Malls, was published in the internationalJournal of Marketing Management in February 2012.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers in New York and the cascading global financial crisis brought home the inter-connectedness of the world financial system. The worlds financial markets seem to be part of a giant international social network where a problem in one centre cascades into a world-wide financial crisis. Ram Roy a Fellowship studentand Prof Utttam Sarkar used the mathematical techniques normally used in modelling social networksto to determine which international stock indices matter. Their paperwas presented at the 2nd International Conference on Ambient Systems, Networks and Technologies, in Ontario, Canada, September 2011.

We all appreciate in a general way that news events can make stock market prices respond in a volatile manner and many researchers have attempted to mathematically model these fluctuations. Prof Ashok Banerjee of our Finance and Control Group used high frequency firm-specific news as proxy for information flow and mathematically modelled the impact of news on volatility of stock returns in his paper, 'Impact of information arrival on volatility of intraday stock returns'. This paper is an early example of work from our Finance Lab, which as many of you know was singled out for mention by the Finance Minister in last years Union Budget with a grant of Rs 20 crores. The other aspect is that this work was done in collaboration with students at IIT Khargpur and people at The Centre for the Analysis of Risk and Optimisation Modelling, Brunel University, UK. Such inter-institutional collaborative work force-multiplies the quality and impact of academic research.

At this point Id like to pause and demonstrate to you that IIM Calcutta faculty are not entirelypreoccupied with esoteric mathematical models. Professors Bhaskar Chakrabarti and Raghabendra Chattapadhyaypaper focuses on the high stakes endeavour of improving the management of our panchayats. Their study of what management systems work achieving co-ordination between panchayats and theline departments of government should be of interest to government administrators. This paper was published in The Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, Nov 2011.

In another policy oriented paper , Professor Sudip Chaudhr looks at the impact of India switching from a process patent regime to a product patent regime in pharmaceuticals. You will recall that our Product Patent regime, that we had adopted in 1970 what whathad given birth to the a large and vibrant pharma industry in India and also made drugs in India available at some of the cheapest prices in the world. Prof Sudip Chaudhrisstudy points out that the switch back to the product patent regime has made large Indian pharmaceutical companies, who are the major R&D spenders in the country, focus on the larger and the more lucrative markets of the developed world. His work appears as a chapter, The Pharmaceutical Industry in India after TRIPSin theforthcoming bookThe New political Economy of Pharmaceuticals in the Global Southby Palgrave Macmillan.