Dean Dr. Ranjan Banerjee on the SPJIMR brand

Date: 
Tuesday, July 26, 2016

As SPJIMR unveils its new brand identity to a larger community, Dean Dr. Ranjan Banerjee dwells on what has changed and why, and the road ahead for an institute noted for its distinctive path in the field of management education. Excerpts from an interview recorded in mid-July 2016, soon after Dr. Banerjee completed one year in office. SPJIMR's new brand campaign was seen today (July 27, 2016) in The Economic Times among other papers.

There has been a big rebranding exercise at the institute. Why did you have to jump into it at this stage in the journey?
It is important to realise that we did not jump into it at the first instance. The rebranding is happening post a year of listening, thinking, discussing and collecting thoughts and ideas. And if you look at the way the rebranding has been done, you’ll notice that it has been done very gradually. The big branding announcement has hit the major national newspapers now. 

Why the re-branding at all?
So there are three or four consistent things about SPJIMR and I saw this as I came into the institute, which is one of the top five management education institutions…and incidentally it is not just me but there are a lot of other people who are saying this as well: the student quality is (and I can tell you this because I have taught at the other institutes) clearly comparable to an IIM - A, B or C; not significantly better, not significantly worse. Our students can walk into those and do well. So the student quality is clearly at the higher end of the spectrum. If you walk in and meet the faculty, our faculty in terms of dynamism, openness to learning, teaching ability and currency of knowledge of business are very competitive. 

However, if you looked at the frontage of the institute, if you looked at the branding, if you looked at the level of engagement with the world outside – we were not doing justice to our standing, our stature and the quality and depth of our work and our achievements. Now one can argue that an institute which is authentic and is doing good work just needs to do good work and perceptions will follow, but we are living in a world where a lot of people are communicating better than us. We also have a brand confusion issue and there is a lot of money that is being spent by other interested parties and therefore we must engage in this more fully and deliberately. 

Also, you have to understand that when students come in and join institutions, perceptions play a role and therefore there was this strong belief (and this was confirmed by research) that our brand perception lagged our brand reality. At the extreme, I have gone and made a statement to the effect that we are world class on certain dimensions but the fact that we are world class is a well-kept secret. 

" Now one can argue that an institute which is authentic and is doing good work just needs to do good work and perceptions will follow, but we are living in a world where a lot of people are communicating better than us. We also have a brand confusion issue and there is a lot of money that is being spent by other interested parties and therefore we must engage in this more fully and deliberately."

We did multiple things. The first was to go out to the international forums. I went out and spoke, and other faculty are going out to engage and we are getting invited more regularly to speak at important events and conferences. So our visibility and presence in important interactions and forums has gone up manifold.

How was the re-branding exercise planned and how did the execution bit unfold?
We surveyed students, we surveyed recruiters, we surveyed the alumni and the needs that came across were consistent. We needed to present ourselves better. In the process, we asked that if you have to personify the SPJIMR brand, who would it be, and then surprisingly, it came independently (from multiple quarters and different stakeholders), that there is this character called Phunsukh Wangdu in the movie ‘Three Idiots’, who resonated with the attributes of the SPJIMR brand. 

So the point is that we had the hypothesis that our branding is not doing justice to who we are, we researched it with multiple stakeholders and we found out that there was a gap. We also found out that some dimensions of the institution were reflected in the way we are projecting ourselves; attributes like “grounded” and “authentic” were coming through but “innovative” and “dynamic” were not. 

I think the larger problem with the branding was maybe when we are projecting ourselves, people saw us as being a little traditional, non-contemporary, not dynamic, not innovative, all of which is very untrue. It was not only we who saw the mismatch, many of our stakeholders were unhappy that we were not doing something about it. So that is why we moved the needle on the brand and we did it once we had a certain alignment but also after there were certain things we had done fundamentally in terms of the institution, and after first we worked on strengthening the core. 

So if you ask the reasons for the re-branding exercise, I think the answer would be two or three fold: 
One, we need our branding to be consistent with our institution, that we want to build not only our branding but all our communications. 

Second is that one of our strengths -- that we are a constituent of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and the values we have at the core are for us a differentiator -- we were not reflecting that well enough, and we find that in the new brand presence, the association with BVB is far clearer. 

Third is that the colours that we are now using are more vibrant; they represent the emotion and the larger piece is that I think it resonates with the millennials, it resonates with the students of tomorrow: I think the way the community, particularly the alumni and the students have received the new identity is one of the biggest validations and makes me think and say that the branding exercise has already been extremely well received. 

Of course, the point is that ours is an education brand, and an education brand is a service brand.  If you are looking at a service brand and if a service brand has a set of values, then the larger part of branding is not just in the logo or in the colours and in the consistency, but that all our processes and all our interactions must be geared to reflect the brand. So there is a fair amount of training and re-training required around the contact points. 

Does our reception reflect the values of the brand? Does the way that we respond to enquiries reflect the values of the brand? Equally important, and this is work in progress, and we have some movement as seen in the recent expansion of our mess facilities, but does our infrastructure represent the values of the brand? Is our infrastructure easy to use? Are we user friendly as an institution? 

I think what we are seeing is early steps. We really have to reinvent the core of our service to be student friendly, to have a far better integration between faculty and staff, and all those are equally important attributes because if we change just the manifestations of the brand without changing the core, it won’t stick in as a service brand. After all, the largest part of the service brand is the experience. 

So there are elements we have to strengthen in the total experience. We also have to strengthen what is already there. So if teaching excellence is our strength, how do we take teaching experience to even higher levels? This is tied to a sharper focus on consulting, a sharper focus on industry interface, on research and on teaching. We don’t see these as divergent activities. To teach well, you will have to be current with practice and theory. As you teach well and are current with practice and theory and you consult, your practice and theory get continually updated.  So we see teaching, consulting, research, and thought leadership as synergistic aspects of the role of the faculty. 

So what we are really trying to do is expand the way we look at excellence and then the sustained excellence means that our faculty will emerge as leaders not only in terms of pedagogy, which has always been our strength, but now also in terms of thought leadership and content leadership, which may not always have been our strength.

Looking at the brand and how it has emerged, not everyone would have liked it. There are those emotionally wedded to the older colour, or the older form or the feel, and there would be of course some who would embrace the new. How have you reacted or responded to those categories of people who would probably say that this is not what they expected? 

There is very little of that. We have put it out on social media and there is very little of that. I think the overall response to the brand has been very positive. I look at the messaging and I know quite a few alumni, so people who communicate to me communicate fairly straight.

I don’t think we have seen any backlash. There may have been a comment or two which says that we have seen a lot of external facing activity. So we are seeing branding, we are seeing alumni activity but are you seeing the fundamental changes at the institutional level? 

And that question comes as the consequence of the fundamental changes we are making that we haven’t spoken about. For example, we don’t go out and say, look, non-classroom is our strength but I feel that strength has lessened a little bit. I am reinventing or re-strengthening that core in a deep way. So a lot of the more fundamental things we are doing in terms of pedagogy, in terms of internal culture building, in terms of integrating the non-classrooms, in terms of design thinking and how we are trying to build it as a mind-set – all these we haven’t spoken that much about. 

I would say that the branding has been surprisingly well received. If you would have asked me when we launched it, I would have said that at any launch like this, it should be something like a 70 per cent ‘for’ and 30 per cent ‘against’. I find the actual perception is significantly better than that. So I do think the brand or the branding exercise has been well received. People might disagree on the colour here or there, but the recognition that our branding is superior and we are doing a far better job of representing the institute is clear. I think the new website has also been very well received. The new SPJIMR News as a magazine has been extremely well received. We have a lot of alumni testimonials coming in saying that this is much better. 

So a lot of the more fundamental things we are doing in terms of pedagogy, in terms of internal culture building, in terms of integrating the non-classrooms, in terms of design thinking and how we are trying to build it as a mind-set – all these we haven’t spoken that much about. 

So if I frame it differently, we are doing many things externally. What is the tangible progress and how are we working on fundamentals?
There are tangible achievements on multiple fronts. These include new infrastructure, faculty development initiatives (both research and teaching), curriculum innovations like Design Thinking, recruitment of new faculty, significant alumni events, new initiatives like SParc Talks, national and internal recognition and new programmes which are to be shortly introduced. In fact, by the end of this year, we will launch a fellow programme in management, which has been a gap for a long time.

 

"There are soap operas where they take feedback at the end of every episode and then they give some characters more space and some characters less space. That is not a model of leadership for us. You do not build an institution on the basis of a popularity contest."

I just got back from an alumni meet (Editor's note: The Pune alumni meet) which was very well attended, and where the general feeling was that a lot of things had happened and alumni were comfortable with progress. The number of alumni who want to engage with the institute in multiple areas is testimony to this. However, I think there are certain processes that are deeper. So if I am working on strengthening pedagogy or strengthening a deeper understanding of management and reflection on management as a process, this will play itself out over a longer time frame, say, a two to two-and-a-half year period. 

Second is that fundamentally we are building the core processes of the institute. There are areas where we have not been as prompt or as successful, particularly where we are trying to overcome some legacy processes. I think we must listen to what people are saying. You must try to understand why they are saying what they are saying. If there is something to learn in terms of something we are not doing, we must evaluate it with an open mind, and act quickly where necessary. But beyond that, we must run the institution, a) with a sense of wanting to contribute to stakeholders, b) with a sense of service but c) according to our own convictions.

There are soap operas where they take feedback at the end of every episode and then they give some characters more space and some characters less space. That is not a model of leadership for us. You do not build an institution on the basis of a popularity contest. So what we are doing is that we have a clear vision and a direction that has been co-created with the faculty. We are focussing on changes that are deep and fundamental. In parallel, we have always been dynamic and we are putting new ideas in place. But what we have learnt to do over time is to say that even after looking at new ideas, I must focus on three to four key changes that I think are fundamental and put my energies there. There are other things I can put into motion but if I had to bet on something, those three or four things are what I bet on. 

The changes that we are putting in place are deep, fundamental and difficult. We have non-classroom initiatives like Abhyudaya that have been in place for the last 10 years. We are making changes to the structure and those changes havegot wide traction and positive feedback within a year. I would say these are deep changes and they were needed to take reflection and internalisation to higher levels - both students and faculty felt that it had eroded over time.We have a programme like ADMAP (Assessment and Development of Managerial and Administrative Potential), a unique programme to teach management and administration. The programme got diluted over time because the link between teaching the theory component and the reflection around the doing component got eroded over time – correcting and fixing that is a deep change. 

We have been able to simplify the process, deepen the link to institutional activities and find mechanisms to refresh the reflections around it so that the internalisation of what it takes to get things done is stronger. All these are examples of fundamental changes. Why are we not talking about them? Because it will take us the better part of two years to get this completely right and that is the time we will have the validation also. 

So today I don't have the data, I have internal feedback, I have early student feedback, which is very positive. Occasionally, you get lucky and you have an initiative like Design Thinking, when in the first year you can talk about it because it has worked in year one itself. Normally, I will say any initiative which is fundamental, which involves change of thinking at the student level, at the faculty level, is not something I would want to talk about in year one. It’s almost irresponsible to talk about it in year one. 

But according to me, the larger thing is this: we have managed to make lot of changes in the institution in a collaborative way with the support of the entire faculty body and the reason we have been able to do that is that the faculty body have sensed that we are strengthening the core and not fundamentally changing direction. Otherwise, our attrition would have been at a different level. Not only that, if you talk to senior faculty, the people who have seen the institution for a longer time, they will tell you that what we are doing is a very judicious mix of understanding and strengthening what is the core to the institution and then building an architecture for the future. 

Some criticism is useful. I think some of it is necessary, and some of it is a reflection of the fact that we have a very high level of communication and we can't communicate everything and even that communication will evolve as people see what we are doing. The fact that we have a few critics who are alumni shows that there are many people who care about what we are doing here at SPJIMR and that’s a very good thing.

SPJIMR
Bhavan's Campus
Munshi Nagar | Dadabhai Road,
Andheri West | Mumbai - 400 058, India
Tel:+91-22-2623-0396/ 2401
      +91-22-2623-7454
Fax:+91-22-26237042
www.spjimr.org