XED: In the backdrop of an entrepreneurial and start-up revolution the world over, what is the role of executive education? The scene is changing with traditional managers from brick-and-mortar companies like Coke and PMG giving way to a new work order. Does executive education meet the demands of this changeover?
Bala: Recently, we had a group of education managers for executives from ISB attending a programme. They were about paying Rs 35 lakhs for the part-time program. The cost aside, they are all senior executives like Vice-presidents and CEOs. The course schedule included one week in Kellogg, one week in Wharton and the remaining days in Hyderabad with ISB.
They have amazing faculty and the topics were good. But the fact is that none of them were teaching anything relevant to their business. The moot question is: can I learn something today that I can apply straightaway to make a better quality product or something with better value that brings in better profits?
That is when I came into the picture and interacted with them for less than two days. And this is what they said at the end of the programme: "Sir, you taught us in six hours something we can take back and apply in our field or work at once. So, in effect, we have learnt much more in six hours than what we ever did in a programme of some days costing some Rs 35 lakhs!" That does not make me superior from the rest. But the thrust of my approach was to teach them value maximisation, rather than things that are not easily implementable.
XED: Can you go into the specifics of what you taught them ?
Bala: I don’t teach from the book. The book contains somebody else’s concepts. Rather, I teach concepts culled out of my practice in 30 years. I made money. I set up a business school single-handedly with no outside help -- without the backing of the government or venture capitalists.
How did I do it? I come from a lower middle-class background, but I made money on the strength of my skills. I did consultations all over the world, I have published more than a 100 papers and created an identity for myself in a world where power and position give rise to a snob-value.
But if you ask me, what I really value is doing something that can be implemented tomorrow, to bring in immediate results – read that as rake in profits. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh in India also endorses this thought. It is important to understand clearly the 'whys' and 'where-ofs' of your customer or your target audience. Can I give them something they cannot get from anybody else or from any other programme? Am I on the right track?
XED: What is the current relevance of Activity Based Costing that you developed?
Res: Every CEO can read and apply it right away. There is no software or a consultant. You can run it with your own people and the available data. So I have now built a brand image for myself from this idea. I charge around 5000 dollars for a half-day programme.
What do I do? I have created the Great Lakes institution. I don’t take any funding because I want to do it my way. Suppose you are my partner and have a financial stake in the venture, then you will have a say in matters. And that in turn may lead to a clash of ideas. Then I won't be able to go ahead. There is regression which is not the best thing. Therefore, I have single-handedly created this school. I take the pain along with the gain in its running. I can say with confidence that I have been successful in my attempt. But I must also add that not everybody can do it.
XED: What is the difference you have made as an entrepreneur?
Bala: See, I am an implementor. Normally, what is in theory, not even 10 per cent of it is applied in practice, right? But I ensure my theory is practice-based. Secondly, instead of giving a differential equation to solve, I will give you some simple numbers that you can comprehend easily. The effective way of communicating is to make a totally theoretical topic understandable practically.
For example, the activity-based costing: assume, four of us go out for dinner. The assumption is that all of us will share the bill .Now assume that I am not a straightforward person, I load up on the food and have five drinks and order expensive things. But we are sharing the bill. I am being wasteful with my order – I can't finish the food I ordered. The idea behind Activity Based Costing is not just better measurement of the cost. It is motivation to manage the resources efficiently.
XED: What is the one piece of advice you will give an entrepreneur on executive education?
Bala: In my opinion, executive education is the best thing for leaders because it is about life-long learning. In life-time learning, the changes in technology, changes in the disruption of business models or changes in the way the world operates, will all change. You cannot say, I got an MBA from Harvard in US, so I am the best. You may have got the degree but you may have no knowledge of practical application of what you learnt.
What is the best? I think you should go through the brick-and-mortar learning in a good institution. Once you do that, it is not absolute but just sufficient learning. Sufficient is continuous learning. When the technological knowledge you have becomes obsolete, you have to think of the next step. If the next step is drastically different and the opposite of all that you learned so far, it doesn’t matter. Diversification is good. But one thing I know. I know I can forecast two years ahead as to what can happen. Given that, I can change my approach and adapt before the competition gets there.