IMI Director Bakul Dholakia – A Profile
Bakul Dholakia is presently the Director General of the International Management Institute, New Delhi. Dholakia has been in the education domain for forty-five years, thirty-three of which were spent at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmadabad. During his stint at IIM-A, Dholakia was the Reserve Bank of India Chair from 1992 to 1999, he served as the Dean from 1998 to 2001 and as the Director from 2002 to 2007.
Before joining IMI New Delhi, Dholakia held the position of the Director of Adani Institute of Infrastructure Management and Gujarat Adani Institute of Medical Sciences in Bhuj, Gujarat. Dholakia is a gold medalist from Baroda University and has a doctoral degree in economics. He was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2007 for his contributions in the fields of literature and education.
Bakul Dholakia in conversation with Edu-Leaders about his early college days, first book, teaching, subsequent eminence in the field of education and advice to young administrators.
Early Beginnings: School and College
Bakul Dholakia spent his childhood in Baroda, Rajasthan, where he also attended school and university. Since an early age, he developed interests in fields as diverse as the sciences, mathematics and languages. While at school, he wanted to study medicine to become a doctor, but his college education took a starkly different turn, before it serendipitously changed course. His father wished for him to become an IAS officer and considered an arts degree as the best preparation for civil services. Dholakia recalls that all of his friends were surprised when he decided to pick arts over the much apparent choice of the sciences when joining college.
In those times, Dholakia says, the popular notion of studying the arts to prepare for the civil service examinations meant getting a degree in political science. However, attending to his life-long interest in mathematics, he enrolled at MS University, Baroda with economics and mathematics as his major and minor respectively. The Faculty of Arts did not have arrangements to teach mathematics as a minor but Dholakia was able to convince the Dean of the Faculty of Arts to designate a teacher from the Faculty of Science to deliver the mathematics lectures to him. Dholakia remembers that such a combination of subjects was unheard of, and in the seven to ten years’ history of the institution he was the only student who studied economics and mathematics towards a single bachelor degree.
When he graduated, he was still underage to be eligible for the civil services. With one and a half more years to go till he could write the examination, Dholakia wanted to go to do his masters degree and had his minds set upon top universities in Mumbai and New Delhi. However, his father, who was incidentally a professor of commerce and business administration at the Baroda University, got him to stay and pursue his postgraduate degree at Baroda University so that he could be under his able guidance.
Initiative and mature leadership
His time at Baroda University (BU) can be seen as a maturing of his leadership skills and his interest in education, alongside all the evidence one needs to see Dholakia’s initiatives and hunger for learning. Dholakia, for his masters degree wanted to study mathematical economics and econometrics but the university did not have arrangement to teach the subjects. Once again, through initiative, Dholakia was able to move about the university’s tight departmentalization and study the subjects he wanted. He recalls a Professor Gulati, the head of his department at BU, who had gone on to become a member of the finance commission. Gulati had a lot of influence over the Vice-Chancellor and was able to invite faculty from the Bombay School of Economics and the Delhi School of Economics to teach the subjects he wanted to specialize in. Thus armed, he went on to break all academic performance records at Baroda University. He scored an impressive 77 percent to top his class, and he recalls that 61 percent was the second highest score. Dholakia became the first person in the university’s history to receive a gold medal for distinction at masters level.
Dholakia recalls that in 1967, when he was a masters student at BU, the university saw a mass exodus of faculty, leaving several key departmental and teaching positions vacant. Some of the required subjects for his degree had no teachers. During those years, he says, the first year was spent enjoying being at college. There were mo mid terms and the students had to take examinations for nine papers at the same time towards the end of the second year. As such, when the second year arrived, a number of his classmates realized that they have much to catch up with. Some of them came to him and asked him if he’d be willing to take classes to fill in the gaps and he readily agreed. Dholakia approached the HoD and had a classroom made available for his own classroom sessions. These sessions that would last between two to three hours at a stretch included lectures on core concepts, Dholakia helped his classmates with preparation and notes, and when the results came out several of his classmates acknowledged that they benefitted immensely by these interactions.
PhD and beginning of teaching career
Such extraordinary initiative and talent did not remain unnoticed. A number of his professors urged Dholakia to continue on at the institute by enrolling in a PhD programme to further his research interests. He enrolled and the looming shadow of appearing for the civil services evaporated. Dholakia says that both his parents, who were in the education space, had an immense influence on his interest and subsequent training in education.
His PhD thesis, titled ‘Sources of Economic Growth in India’, which he wrote between 1969-71, was a landmark work on economic growth in India. He says that no substantial work had been done on the subject and his thesis was very well received both by his referees and peers and experts outside. One of his referees was a professor at the University of Chicago who saw great potential in Dholakia’s research. His work was subsequently published and he became an author of a book at the age of twenty-seven.
While doing his PhD, Dholakia began his first donned a serious teaching role. The following four decades saw him teaching at some of the best colleges and universities across the country, and he authored a wide range of papers, monographs and books.
The initial success received through the publication of Sources of Economic Growth in India, led to him being noticed by Samuel Paul, the then Director of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmadabad (IIM-A) who invited him to the institute for a seminar in 1974. The seminar led to his recruitment as an assistant professor at the IIM-A, where he immediately began his landmark work on the efficiency of public enterprises in India.
Thoughts on teaching
Dholakia declares that his vision in life was to be a doctor, do research and contribute to humanity. Although events panned out differently, his research vision has stayed. He became a doctor, but with a PhD and not a prescription pad. He says of teaching, “When you like a profession, you dedicate yourself to it. You do not let other things detract your attention. You remain focused. When you do teaching you give your hundred percent to that, when you do research, give your hundred percent, and when you do training, you give hundred percent to that. What has always delighted me is when the students appreciated my class, when they rated me as the best teacher, when the institute gave me the best professor award, these are the things I cherished very much. When you teach a group of executives, they give you extremely high rating, they give you a standing ovation when you complete your class, those are the kind if things that you value very much. When you write a paper, you like your peers to appreciate it. You like the professional reputation you get in terms of people sighting your work, and people appreciating what you have said.”
Dholakia says that the key to effective teaching is to always look for new ways. Much of his research work is empirical, and he acknowledges the contribution this orientation has had on his success at a business school. He goes on to say that conceptual clarity and theoretical understanding are indispensable part of empirical work. This is has been the driving mantra for his role as a teacher, where he says that “the students appreciated my classes because the way I teach economics is that I relate it to practical life.”
Speaking about research at business schools, he says that it is driven by the clients, and as such a well-grounded empirical orientation towards one’s research are necessary elements of a well developed research portfolio. Dholakia takes the example of his work with the India government where he was able to combine theory and empirical research with real world problems. He says, “if the Government of India wanted us to carry out a study on irrigation, I worked on irrigation, if fisheries then I worked on fisheries, if energy then I worked on the energy sector. The point is that the principles of economics, finance, strategy, and therefore the principles of management should be effectively applied to various fields and that is how you come up with great research and that is what I have always been driven by.”
Advice to Administrators
Dholakia’s advice to administrators young and old is that the foremost objective of being a good leader is to have clarity of goals. He tells, “Is academics something one is dedicated to for a long period of time? I should actually be a ‘lambi race ka ghoda’. Only by being a good teacher, researcher and trainer can you become a good academician. Unless you excel in all of these, you cannot command the respect of your colleagues. Administration should not be looked at as a position, it should be looked at as giving leadership and in leadership you should not have followers who are forced; rather a leader should be someone who naturally is followed by people and they should relate with you."
He goes on further, "They should respect you because of your worth not because of your position. Everyone respects the boss but that respect becomes lasting respect if it’s earned by virtue of your accomplishment rather than by force or position. Autonomy definitely matters in educational institutes; you must be able to give the freedom to people to innovate. Also, what makes a good administrator is your love for administration. It’s not a quest for a position, but it’s about what you want to and will do for the sake of the institute. Your job is to motivate people to get the best out of them. Never act like a boss, be the first among equals. One can never put self above the institute. It is always institute above self. Any administrator who has a personal agenda will not succeed, one must have institutional goals, objectives and agendas to lead efficiently and manage an institution.”