The idea was triggered when...in 2011, Professor Parimal Merchant, Director of the Centre for Family Managed Business at SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, received an email from an entrepreneurs wife.
Prof Merchant had spent the previous evening discussing the opportunities for family businesses with first generation entrepreneur Rajesh Dadu. Dadus wife Deepa, a silent spectator to that interaction, later sent him a message expressing an interest in studying management to become a strong pillar of the business empire her husband had founded. In just a year of joining the family business, she was feeling the need to do more to make her presence felt.
Deepa appealed to Professor Merchant to guide her. Prof Merchant was struck by her eagerness to learn and the ability to muster the courage to write to him. It showed determination to getahead. Although the language lacked polish, her ambition came through very clearly. She wrote: I also wanted to make it so clear that we should not fear anything and start opening branches all over India. She was thinking of a pan India presence for her familys business! Reading between the lines of the message, Professor Merchant became aware of a major unaddressed societal need. Close to 90 per cent of the wheels of the Indian economy lie in the hands of small and medium family businesses, he explains. These businesses make an invaluable contribution to the economy and are rapidly growing. But salary is a major constraint for the small and medium scale sector, as a result of which they hire individuals with limited competencies and face talent shortages. Hence, there is a pressing need for owners to get involved with the business. Confidentiality is another pre-requisite for family businesses facing intense competition, and the best way to keep their business strategy under wraps and hidden from their competitors is to share it only with family. Women from business families understand these intricacies and aspire to contribute to the business. But are they up to the challenge?
Professor Merchant took the email as a call to action: There is a need to educate responsible women who can be appointed to senior positions in family businesses by virtue of their familial ties and the inherent trust that comes with the territory. But who clearly need grooming to positively impact the business.
Launching a ladies only course made sense because...
Professor Merchant came up against many hurdles that were unique with women helping run family businesses. Language is a big barrier for many women from traditional business families, he explains. They arent well versed in English.
Time is another challenge. How much time do you expect women aged anywhere between thirty and sixty, with families to care for and some also with small roles in business, to spare for studies? Many such aspirants live in joint families, and must fulfil the expectations of elders in the family before indulging their own needs, he observes. Professor Merchant also questioned the suitability of the content of the Family Managed Business Programme for women aspirants. Women with less exposure need more than management lessons. Modules on finance, operations, marketing, human resources and general management arent enough to bring them up to speed. They need assistance in personality development and in acquiring communication skills, he explains.
All these factors strengthened the case for a ladies only course in management. Not to mention that allowing women from similar backgrounds to interact with each other would strengthen their business networking skills.
Professor Parimal Merchant saw merit in going this route and developed it by... drawing insights from SP Jains family managed business programmes. The team relied on their interactions with 2000 business families to understand the unique position of women in the family, their capacities and skills and their current occupations.
We found many to be confined to the kitchen and busy raising children. Some were involved with the business but felt their skills were wanting. We wanted to change the situation and make them as competent as the men, shares the Professor.
This became the basis for their value propositionPricing was a major concern for this course because many women would be dependent on their husbands for funds and would have to justify the spend to their families. Too high a price would put off candidates. It was important to show the value being delivered and correlate that with the price, he adds.
Highlights of the programme are:
TEACHING PEDAGOGY: Teaching happens in a blend of English and Hindi. Since the candidates are raw in management theory, teachers clarify the fundamentals of each subject and sensitise students to different business scenarios. Role playing is a key part of the pedagogy.
COURSE DEVELOPMENT: Women Manager Programme is being gradually developed. A broad framework was laid out at the outset. The content was not frozen. This flexibility allows for adding and subtracting concepts and modules as they improve their understanding of evolving needs of the candidates. Industrial visits and personal growth lab were added at a later stage after verifying their suitability for the group.
COURSE CONTENT: The curriculum exposes participants to functional subjects, such as finance, marketing, human resources and operations. Also, they are trained to develop public speaking, computer operations and leadership skills. Participants are additionally taught attitude development. The idea is to teach skills that prepare women to face life better, not just for business.
CLASS TIMINGS: Daily classes would be a burden. Instead, the programme is spread over 12 months, three consecutive days per month.
PUBLICITY: Women Manager Programme was introduced in 2011. It helped that the Economic Times, a paper whose main readership is business people, got wind of the course soon after its launch and covered the initiative.
NOVEL MARKETING: Since Women Manager Programme is a new concept, the programme is offered free of cost for the first two months. A trial period helps candidates who arent sure if the programme is for them, to ascertain its value. Those who see benefit formally enrol for the programme and pay the fees, explains the Professor.
The idea is now... gradually gaining acceptance. In 2013, the intake of the programme was 50, a promising achievement considering that the only ongoing publicity is word of mouth. It is attracting participants from all over India. The participant profile includes women who are thickly involved in their own or family business as well as women who are busy running households but who aspire to do so. Candidates express qualitative improvement in their skills and competencies.
They gain confidence to contribute to discussions about the family business. Over 50% of the participants have got more involved with operations of their family businesses. About 15% of the candidates have even started their own ventures. Prof Merchant expects the programme to become as big as their Family Managed Business programme by 2015 with an intake of 300 participants a year