Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Need for Indian Case Studies

After a hiatus of almost three weeks due to the academic projects, exams and the launch of The Money Manager-the pan-IIM finance magazine, Saketvaani is back with you to ignite the discussion. This time the focus would be “the case for Indian case studies”. Though all of us may not be familiar with case studies but you can use words like journals, research papers etc. interchangeably for cases. First let me tell you the reason behind choosing this topic.

I have finished almost 70% of my MBA education in an Indian B-school and most if not all the cases that I have come across are prepared by foreign B-school (read Harvard Business School: HBS). Should it really be a cause of concern as haven’t we been brought up mainly on books by foreign author? So why complain now, that too in a B-school clamouring for global recognition?

In order to address the above queries, I need to explain the purpose behind incorporating case-based methodology in MBA curriculum. Apart from enhancing interactions or discussions, the business case is a powerful method of narrating the real world happenings and relating them with the theoretical concepts. With the main focus of MBA being preparing the students for the business world rather than research projects, cases have a major role to play, sometimes even bigger than that of books who focus on theoretical issues and ideal scenarios. 

But I am neither going to discuss why we are behind HBS in producing cases nor am I going to preach how we can improve the status quo. My emphasis would be rather on enumerating some of the ways in which over reliance (on foreign study materials or colleges) can negatively affect our country in general and the education system in particular. 

  • It raises questions over our capability as knowledge based economy. Isn’t “knowledge is power” a common adage in today’s world? After all cases could be an excellent way of popularising the Indian perspective or way of thinking and help us in trying it out in different business environments. This would help us in identifying its merits as well as demerits and take appropriate measures.
  • As a close friend of mine, who assisted a leading professor at IIM A in case preparation, mentions that the perspective of an author is very important while preparing cases. So does a foreign perspective really help solve real Indian business problems? Does that really prepare us to deal with issues that may be specific to Indian firms?
  • Such over reliance may result in the Indian B-schools being pale imitations or mere extensions of their foreign counterparts. How can you carve a niche for yourself in the global educational set up in such a manner?
  • Indian institutions have been very successful in preparing and nurturing talents for the developed economies with the Silicon Valley based firms and investment banks being notable examples. But on the flip side, they have been dismal in producing Indian entrepreneurs. Does that reinforce the second point? I think it does.
  • Some argue that it helps in developing a global perspective but should that necessarily come at the cost of local perspective? Remember that “Glocal” (Global+Local) is the new success mantra.
  • As a recent Economist report on British Universities puts it bluntly that the reason why UK wants to attract the Asian students is that “they work bloody hard and drive up the standards. Other students see that, and they have to compete”. This shows that the talent is there but what may be lacking is “the right and relevant tricks of the trade”.
  • Some of the students who have been responsible for carving a niche for the Indians amongst the international students overseas are now in the role of professors at some of the Indian B-schools. So their capability is beyond doubt but may be the need is either not being communicated properly or the right environment is absent.
  • Cases can be an effective way of disseminating successful Indian business stories like Reliance, Amul, Tata etc, if presented with the right perspective. So why not do it rather than wait for an HBS case on e-choupal? There have been some attempts but they are still too few and far between.
  • If some say that it’s better to serve the best offerings even if international rather than half-baked “Indian stuff” then they might be right but remember that our two top B-schools would be now 50 yrs old in a few months. So isn’t it taking far too long? By the way the foreign universities are already knocking on the doors.
To end on a quick note, all I would say that, “you can never claim the winner’s crown if you take pride in being the first amongst the followers of the leader.” Hope this realty check won’t take too long. Looking forward to your comments.


  1. I agree that we need case studies based on Indian scenarios but I do not believe that our academicians are capable enough to do that, I also think that because of the small number of professors we have, we will be expecting too much if we ask them to prepare Indian case studies. Second thing I would like to point out is that an individual benefits most if he further strengthens his strengths rather than channelising his energy on improving his weaknesses, in the same way a nation must focus on its strengths and India's strength is building on a foreign idea and we should be doing that. I do believe that these institutions should produce more entrepreneurs, but there are far more effective measures than stressing on Indian case studies. In your next blog I expect you to suggest some measures which should be followed by Indian professors on developing these case studies, may be we can have a discussion on that. njoy

  2. I am also concerned why we are so proud reading HBS case studies.. It is not wrong that we read HBS case studies.. but concern is .. why IIMs do not have such case studies who claims producing business leaders.
    India is a vast country, it has lot more versatility than any other country, India is greater global market place where experimentation and research is required and that is more meaningful for the business students than that of analyzing 20 years old American business cases. I do not think that we have scarcity of business problems, It is all about the mind set which needs to be re-directed towards the real and new business issues.

    Last note, do not forget that IIMs were created with a purpose to produce business leaders who helps driving Indian industries.

  3. sir i do agree that our education system needs some serious revival....we always wanna compete with the global instis but actually this blind competition is leading us no where.....we have become a bloody follower and no where close to their standards....we should bank on our strengths rather than copying them.....

  4. @sid.. are we really buliding up on the foreign ideas?... as far as entrepreneurs issues are concerned.. i do feel that B school have a role to play... case studies because of their vital importance can play a big role... as far as suggestions for developing cases are concerned, I think we need to first get to down to reasons why cases are not being developed, it could even be that firms are not eager to share data.. or academia lacks the influence... if you have any insight pls do share...
    @ Sanjay and Avinash... I agree... i feel that lack of critical research or output is the result why best talent is not getting attracted towards teaching jobs whereas there is so much rush to get admissions in those very colleges.

  5. Most of the HBS cases are written in American context. We can learn some of the most enduring lessons of business by finding indigenous solution of the needs of Indian customers. Can we blankly follow the American model for Indian context? I feel that if top B-schools of India will come forward to develop case studies,they can better address the issues faced by our indigenous industries.

  6. I think the reply u gave to Sanjay and Avinash is the reason we can not think of inducting Indian case studies into the ayllabus rite now, i dont think getting accurate or reliable data for an IIM prof would be a difficult job , i mean they can use fictitious names if the companies want to. The lack of good talent in the academia is the major problem we have . It boils down to the same old problem we have had in the R&D department i.e. lack of good talent.But I think we have the best talents in our student populace. My suggestion would be to include developing a case study in the syllabus at major B-schools so that we students develop a case study. The professors can develop these case studies within their limited time and use it for future batches, atleast this way we can have indian case studies for future batches.
    If you have some other ideas do share with us.

  7. @Kunal ... well said, the need is there for a collaborative approach.
    @sid... if you go through the HBS cases, you would find that the names of the firms are explicitly mentioned, may be the deterrence could be something else say lack of transparency or a genuine effort from the academia, utilizing the student fraternity would be a good idea but won't it be asking them too much if we want the output to be at par with the very best. A two year course has its share of rigors. This step may give quantity but quality... I am not sure.

    Thanks for your comments.

  8. I can smell little bit of patriotism here, but lets go back to reality.

    Case study, as Saket has mentioned, is all about simulating business environment for class room discussions. The question here is - what type of business environment do we want to simulate for our class rooms so that maximum learning can be imparted to B school students? Perhaps, the latest edition of Fortune 500 list will help us in looking at the right direction. Only 8 Indian companies managed to get their names in this coveted list and unsurprisingly more than 50% of these companies are PSUs. Needless to say, Americans are toppers in this list.

    Education in B school is about enlightening students regarding various scenarios that have occurred ( or can possibly occur ) in the business world, so that students can learn and apply these learnings when they join the corporate world. Case studies are nothing but a pedagogical tool which can help in achieving the same objective. Now, as the Fortune list points out, we do not have so many local " Material " stories of successes/failures and hence simply due to this lack of data base,we can't write good case studies which can cover as many aspects of modern business as possible( No faults to teachers as well as students of Indian B School).

    Lets accept the reality. Western world has completely dominated the business world - both in real life as well as in class room education. Very rarely a local company has survived the onslaught of competition by MNCs ( basically American/British/French... companies) - and if some one has survived like Asian Paints did, then we have already prepared a case study on them, haven't we? - so it clearly indicates that westerns are good at doing business, whether it is in their territory or some body else's, and if it is true, then it doesn't seem a bad idea to learn from somebody who has mastered his art.

    If we look at the text book of Mathematics, we see references of Newton, Kepler, Leibniz, Euler, D' Alembert, Fibonacci - all Europeans. Now if American's start complaining about lack of an American presence then god knows what will happen to American education system.

    Thankfully, we Indian's can lay claims over S Ramanujan.

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  10. @ Amit, your comments were very thorough and take us in the right direction that the foreign firms have been doing quite well and we don't seem to have answers to them at least for now. But as you told that success as well as failures both can enlighten us so there is no reason why case studies can't explore the reasons for failures? Even India has success stories like TATAs, Reliance, Amul etc. despite the not so friendly industrial atmosphere. Due to the HBS effect, we consider everything vis-a-vis US say the country risk, forex etc. This shows the American perspective or the lack of Indian one. Even the fortune 500 parameter may not be the best parameter as we are still a developing economy so it would be better if we are judged on sound business concepts and practices rather than high turnover which will come with time only. The 'one size fits all' approach rarely works.
    Americans may not complained about the European greats but they did successfully produce great sons or even imported them whereas Indian still visits ancient history to find them.
    As you rightly said, its about learning from somebody who has mastered the art but are we really learning?
    Thanks for your comments.

  11. Completely Agree. The "case studies" should do at least justice to it's name.

    Bringing an another view on the table, it does not matter where the case studies come from, as long as it serves the purpose, mainly because you never know where the knowledge might be coming from in the truly global economy and also due to lack of sufficient academic experts in-house. Moreover, there are many Indian-origin professors in HBS doing case studies on Indian Economy.

    Now that we are comparing the quality of education provided at IIMs, it would be great if the IIMs students have exchange programs with Ivy League institutions in order to have broad exposure and that would pave a way to building brand name of business schools in India itself.

  12. Deepa, well said that exchange programmes can be an excellent way of broad exposure and brand building. But you would agree that exchange is a give and take process. We can just take i.e.parasitic relationship won't give us fame rather it has to be a symbiotic affair. An Indian or India-born professor doing HBS case is not rare but Indian professor doing Indian case does seem rare.

  13. Few news articles on case studies:

    HBS in India: