Sri Balaji Society, Pune provides career specific contemporary education with a strong emphasis on practical training and overall development of the students.
Our Institutes
All the courses of our management institutes are approved by AICTE, Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India and granted the status of 'Equivalent to MBA by Association of Indian Universities (AIU)' | Balaji Law College is approved by Bar Council of India, Affiliated to University of Pune & Recognised by Govt. of Maharashtra. | BCACS is affiliated to University of Pune, Recognised by Govt. of Maharashtra & BJCACS is affiliated to the Maharashtra Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, Pune Division Board and Approved by the Govt. of Maharashtra.
B School in India.

CREATING INDIA INC.'S FUTURE LEADERS

Business Baron Vol. VIII, No.3 - 2003

The education boom has spawned a burgeoning industry in business schools and niche technology institutes - a boom epitomized by the Balaji Institute of Modern Management (BIMM) and its affiliates, Balaji Institute of International Business (BIIB) and Balaji Institute of Telecom and Management (BITM). Special Correspondent Rajesh Kulkarni traveled to Pune to meet the group’s Executive Director, Dr. (Col) A. Balasubramanian, regarded as one of the founding fathers of management education in Western India and, as president of Sri Balaji Society, Pune, a leading philanthropist.

 
Dr. (Col) A. Balasubramanian
PRESIDENT, SRI BALAJI SOCIETY

IN THE FERTILE FIELD OF MANAGEMENT EDUCATION IN PUNE, Dr (Col.) A. Balasubramanian, or Dr. Bala as he is popularly known, needs no introduction. An eclectic man, Dr. Bala is known for many unique and bold initiatives in management education in the country. All the institutes which he has started in Pune are acclaimed to be successful. For example, the Distance Learning Department which he stared under symbiosis institute of Management Studies (SIMS) is now an independent institute and also the richest one in the Country. He is clearly a daring, unconventional and creative educationist. Dr. Bala was the first to conceive the idea of launching a management institutes exclusively for armed forces personnel and their dependents to solve to some extent the educational problems faced by them which was not accepted even by the army in those days but the risk was taken by Dr. S.B.Mujumdar of Symbiosis. A revolutionary idea at that time, it culminated in the birth of the now well – known SIMS with Dr. Bala as its Director, despite severe opposition from various quarters. An army veteran-turned-education crusader, Dr. Bala shot to national fame again in 1997, when he became the first subedar in the army to be directly promoted to the honorary rank of a full colonel: a honour bestowed upon him by the then president of India, K.R. Narayanan, in recognition of his invaluable contribution in the field of education.

Today, even at 57, Dr. Bala continues to further the cause of providing quality education to the deserving with the same zeal and enthusiasm of his younger days. In his new role as president of Sri Balaji Society, Pune, a charitable trust instituted by him, Dr. Bala runs a slew of premier educational institutes. These include the Balaji Institute of Telecom and Management (BITM), Balaji Institute of International Business (BIIB), Balaji Law College (BLC), Balaji College of Arts and Commerce and of course the flagship Balaji Institute of Modern Management (BIMM), an institute of quality management education that is today rated as one of the top 30 B – schools in the country. All this has been achieved in the extraordinarily short span of five years, virtually single handedly, setting a historical precedent of sorts.

The climb to success has been long and hazardous for this army man for whom life has been a series of unending battles. Born on June 25, 1946, in the village of Kandithempettai in the Thanjavur disricts of Tamil Nadu, Dr. Bala’s early days have an interesting tale to tell. Now, speaking nostalgically in his rather modest office room at the BIMM campus, Dr. Bala reminiscences: “My father was an active member of Netaji’s Indian National Army (INA) and lived in Singapore till the time he was expelled to India for joining the communist movement. As a young boy I was a model student and completed my Standard VIII at a school in my neighbouring village. I even became the student chief minister of my elementary high school.”

But the young Bala’s dreams of securing a good education was soon to be shattered when his father refused to let him continue his education. “His pretext for refusing me was that the school was too far away and in the next town. Moreover, financing higher education was a major problem. Instead he wanted me to focus on cultivating our land,” recalls Dr. Bala. Left was no recourse, Bala chose to run away from his home and admitted himself into an orphanage. “I stayed there for three years and continued my studies till I completed my 10th standard.”

Bala’s academic pursuits, however, received a serious setback when he failed to clear his SSLC exams. Simultaneously, at that time the Indian army was on a massive recruitment drive after the 1962 war against China. A casual visit to one such recruitment camp ended with Bala being recruited as a clerk (general duties) and dispatched to Nashik for emergency training.

After completion of training, Dr. Bala was part of the action in the 1965 and 1971 wars and also participated in the Indian Army’s controversial operations in Sri Lanka at the height of the LTTE insurgency problem. “I had just gone to see what an army jawan looks like. I was spotted by the recruitment officer and literally brainwashed into joining. Since I had nothing better to do, I finally relented,” reveals Dr. Bala of his induction into the armed forces.

It was again, while performing his military duties, this time as an orderly to a superior officer that Bala decided to take a fresh perspective of his life. He explains: “The only difference between him and me was that he was a matric pass while I a matric fail. This forced me to think about the past. The only solution for me was to improve my education. I subsequently passed my SSLC and went on to secure a masters degree in arts (M.A).”

After gaining his degree, Bala was transferred to the Southern Command Headquarters in Pune. “At that time Operation Blue Star was in progress. For security reasons, Southern Command generally functioned up to 2 p.m. while management institutes worked only in the evening hours, as they do even today. I had all the time in the world at my disposal. So I went to IMDR to do my PGDM. I passed out with flying colours. Subsequently I joined the Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) where I got my masters degree in personnel management, securing a first class with distinction.”

It was while completing his course at SIBM that Bala came in contact with Professor M.S. Pillai, a man he describes as, “a veritable genius who reminded me a lot of my village teacher. A simple person totally dedicated to his students with lots of innovative ideas.” It was a bond that later evolved into a strong friendship.

After opting for voluntary retirement from the army in 1991, Bala was introduced to the founder director of Symbiosis Society, Dr. S. B. Muzumdar. “I was introduced to him by Dr. George Judah, the then director of SIBM. George was the pillar of SIBM. His contribution to SIBM in its foremost years will be remembered by history. Though he was brutal with me, I will always remember him for it was he who gave a turning point in my life by asking me to join SIBM. Based on his recommendations and my credentials, I was appointed as the Head of Department of HR in SIBM. Not only did Dr. Mujumdar give me a job, he also solved my housing problem by making me the rector of the Symbiosis hostel,” reveals Dr. Bala, acknowledging the efforts of two of his closest friends and fellow teachers. “The entire credit for what I am today in management education shall go to greatest educationist of Maharashtra, Dr. S.B. Mujumdar. I had the privilege of honouring him later with an award of “Educationist of the Decade” at the hands of Balasaheb Thackeray. The Chappalwala Bala became Safariwala Bala because of his bold and courageous support to all my initiatives I will never forget him. He is a role model to every one of us… a genuine gentleman.”

By this time, however, the idea for a management institute exclusively for defense personnel and their families had already begun to take root: an indigenous idea, which received the full support of Dr. Muzumdar, but faced serious opposition from the army brass who scorned at the idea. Says Dr. Bala, “Some sneered at the idea that a retired subedar was being given too much importance, but my guru stuck by me. Thus the Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies (SIMS) was born and I was appointed as its director.”

The rest is history. SIMS went on to become a huge success and is today rated as one of the leading institutes for management education in the country, especially for serving officers of the armed forces and their dependents. It is a success story that is today readily acknowledged as having been largely scripted buy the efforts put in by its founder-director Dr. (Col.) A. Balasubramanian.

It was while SIMS was going from strength to strength that Dr. Bala was confronted with perhaps the darkest chapter of his illustrious life --- a phase that cost him his job as director of SIMS. Understandably reticent to divulge details of what exactly transpired, Dr. Bala reveals: “What happened was unfortunate and I thought it best to resign rather than jeopardize the future of my students, who are like my children. Yes, I could have fought and cleared my name of the false allegations, but I chose to quit and move on.”

Devastated at the sudden turn of events, Dr. Bala was on the verge of retiring but for his friends from the industry who advised him to start something of his own. Recalls Dr. Bala: “Unable to reach a decision on my own I went to Tirupati and put five sealed chits in front of the Lord. Four of them had a ‘no’ while one contained a ‘yes’. I told the Lord that he would have to help me choose a path. I then picked up one of the chits. It was the one with a ‘yes’ written on it.”

IT WAS A DECISION THAT WAS TO CHANGE the course of his life forever. On the return to Pune, an emboldened Dr. Bala released an advertisement in the papers. “It was a simple advertisement that invited applications for Dr. Bala’s distance learning programme of management.” The advertisement attracted approximately 300 applicants from the armed forces.

Encouraged by this overwhelming show of support, Dr. Bala launched a family trust --- Sri Balaji Society --- and opened his first management institute --- Balaji Institute of Modern Management (BIMM). This was followed in quick succession by Balaji Institute of International Business (BIIB), Balaji Law College (BLC) and the Balaji College of Arts, Commerce and Science (BCACS). Many more colleges are on the cards.

“A good personality accounts for 50 per cent of an individual’s success with conceptual knowledge contributing the other half,” avers Dr. Bala, veering the conversation to his pet project, BIMM, of which he is also the executive director. “In my institute all students undergo at least 100 workshops which are designed not only to gain expertise in the concerned discipline but also to shape their personality. To launch them on a journey of self-discovery, to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to make personality alternations wherever necessary to get them into the corporate mould.”

He continues: “Besides this, we also host a slew of co-curricular activities. The college is practically run by the students themselves. We have a powerful student council, which functions as a cabinet with an annual budget of about Rs. 50 lakh. It is they who govern the institute and thereby gain valuable experience in the day-today running of an organisation.” This is religiously followed by all the Balaji group institutions.

A good 80 per cent of students admitted to the BIMM are from outside Pune. In the absence of any existing hostel facilities these students are housed in about 70 rental flats hired for this purpose near the campus at a nominal extra charge. Food is provided by the institute mass, which runs on a no-profit-no-loss basis.

Dr. Bala ads: “Selections are held in 14 centres by our experts committee which consists of senior managers. We follow the usual format of interviews and group discussions, except for a little psychological testing which we have introduced. We bring out two merit lists---one for boys and one for girls; 40 per cent of our students are girls, and the rest are boys from all parts of India.”

While admitting that almost every reputed management institute in the country boasts a comprehensive syllabus, an all-India selection, group discussions and interviews, Dr. Bala stresses that BIMM has all this and a lot more to offer. Says he: “What makes our Institutes unique is the way we conduct the course and focus on each individual. From the first day onwards, every student of mine is treated as a corporate citizen requiring having unique features and behavioural patterns. They are trained and groomed to become successful corporate managers. They are taught about the immense value of time, etiquette and group dynamics. For example we don’t believe in any holidays. Our institutes function for 365 days in a year from 7 in the morning till 9 p.m.”

BIMM’s extensive faculty includes a host of senior managers from Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and even Bangalore who regularly visit the institute, not only to educate students with workshops and management games but also to equip them with practical hands-on experience about industry. The impressive roster includes professionals like Dr. B.R. Dey, former director, TMTC, Dr. S.M. Phadke, management consultant, Dr. S.W. Deshpande, former HOD, department of psychology, University of Pune, Dr. V.V. Ramasastry, Dr. Dilip Sarwate, Dr. S.A. Siddanti, Prof. L.C. Jhamp, D.R. Kurane, Jamshed Khurshigara, Col. Gidwani, Ganesh Sherman, Sumitra Das (flies from Chennai twice a week) and Mondip Kumar Tamuly, corporate advisor and senior consultant to US firms.

Explains Dr. Bala: “We invest heavily in getting the best possible faculty in terms of experienced professors and senior corporate executives. Running an institute that functions for a minimum of 10 hours every day and is open for 365 days in a year involves heavy costs. BIMM is the best paymaster with the best managers from Pune, Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad coming to teach our students. They are all top-class managers who take time out to visit us to interact with our students extensively. We only have senior managers teaching practical management. That’s why I say that we are better than XLRI and all the IIMs. They don’t have the pleasure of being taught by practicing managers. I depend heavily on industry professionals who bring with them contemporary practices and inject corporate culture into my students.

The institute’s curriculum also includes a host of exercises designed to improve every student’s personality to the accepted level as Dr. Bala explains. Says he: “We teach them to respect their teachers and elders and also include a slew of co - curricular activities as well. We charge a fee of about Rs. 1 lakh per year per student, who is why we are in a position to spend so heavily on them. My students go on picnics to places like Goa, Mumbai and elsewhere; cultural activities and monthly parties where the students dance enthusiastically are mandatory in all our institutes. So it’s not that our thrust is only on teaching, we also create opportunities for the students to come together, to understand each other and share their joys and sorrows and to ensure holistic development of each individual.”

DR. BALA IS QUICK TO STRESS ON THE fact that his institute follows an open door policy wherein students are encouraged to voice their opinions freely at monthly sessions organized expressly for the purpose. Says he: “In fact, we carefully note their suggestions made at these sessions and attend to their grievances. Once in three months we also host the ‘Worst Critic Award’ on our campus. Any student, who can criticize the institute in the best possible manner, gets an award of Rs. 10,000. We function as a family and follow a democratic system. This is how there is a one-to-one. Every faculty has been given a mobile and is accessible to students anytime. I have also appointed a full-time doctor to attend to my students’ medical hospitals, which any of our students can approach and get treated at without any immediate payment.”

Continuous Dr. Bala: “Our college follows a different set of rules and regulations in the larger interests of the students. We are very strict about attendance and ensure that parents are given monthly reports. All our exams are held between 9 and 12 at night. We don’t want to waste time in the name of examinations. Our teaching methods go beyond classrooms with numerous workshops conducted by industry stalwarts. We assist in the corporate grooming of our students by teaching them to make presentations, how to talk and listen properly and even discuss appropriate attire for corporate life. This is how we are different from the other management institutes.”

The institute, which has been in existence for about five years now, how witnessed the graduation of three batches so far, with the fourth due to pass our in the near future. Adds Dr. Bala, “All the three batches that have passed out have been placed very well with leading companies. We have succeeded in attracting about 180 companies to our campus for recruitment. Every year we are trying to market ourselves better and attract more companies.”

Continuous Dr. Bala: “I am grateful to industry and proud that my BIMM students have received excellent placements. Many of them have also got international placements. Many of them have also got international postings and my alumni are everywhere. For this I am grateful to my friends in industry and corporate stalwarts who repeatedly take time out from their hectic schedules to come and lecture my students.”

On asked how his institute competes on various parameters with the formidable IIMs, the forntrunners of quality management education in India, he says after a momentary pause: “I probably lack the infrastructure that IIMs have. IIMs are the pampered children of the government and products of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. They have the advantage of starting much earlier and hence have built a strong brand in the last 35 years of their existence. Economically they are very sound. They got everything on a platter: 100 acres of land, crores of rupees in aid, funding for their entire infrastructure. Today hardly any institute in the state gets any monetary grant from the government.”

Having said that, Dr. Bala confidently rates BIMM higher than even IIM, Ahmedabad, a B-school with the reputation of being one of the best in Asia in terms of quality of education. Justifying his claim, he says: “We have practicing senior managers teaching at BIMM as opposed to academicians at the IIMs. With all the advantages that they enjoy like unlimited funding, a strong brand and the best of students, the IIMs are like a new Mercedes Benz conveniently driven by a driver with 25 years experience on a concrete road with no traffic. What is the big deal even if you drive at 200 kmph? Instead you drive in an old car on a crowded road fenced in by heavy traffic at 50 kmph and still reach your destination in good time without causing any mishap. That is the real measure of success, which we have achieved.”

Continues Dr. Bala: “Though the IIMs attract the cream of students at the end of two years I will still say that my students from BIMM are on part with them, if not above them on the most levels. One look at their placement brochures reveal that most students at IIMs hail from the IITs and have work experience. They are all proven people and leave nothing much to prove. This is one reason why I would never like to become a director at any IIM. It offers absolutely little sense of achievement. For me selecting ordinary people and making them extraordinary is the real challenge. It still gives me a thrill every time I do it.”

Venting his undisguised anger on the prevailing situation of the country’s education system, Dr. Bala makes no bones about the fact that the system is a sorry condition. Says he: “India’s education system has gone to the dogs. A case in point is the excessive number of holidays that we follow. For example, an MBA programme is supposed to be for two years. But the fact is actual teaching seldom exceeds one year. About four months are consumed by weekend holidays, public holidays account for another two months while another couple of months are sacrificed in the guise of summer and winter vacations. What is left effectively is just one year during which a student can get away with just a 70 per cent attendance record as per the inexplicable university rules.”

He adds: “Today the government has no funds for education. At the same time they want to tell the world that they are running the education system when in fact they have done precious little. If we still have some kind of a system in pace the credit goes entirely to private initiatives. If India is today considered IT superpower it’s no thanks to the government, which made absolutely no material contribution. Education is now a part of the competitive market where only the best will survive once market forces seize control.”

Knowing first hand how a crippling financial disability can ruin a promising career, Dr. Bala has taken the onus on himself to aid deserving, but poor students in their bid for quality education through his charitable trust. For starters, BIMM has provided three children from SoS village with a full scholarship, in addition to bearing their boarding and lodging expenses. “Furthermore, we also give them an allowance of Rs. 300 per month,” he adds.

In the last five years, Sri Balaji Trust has donated a whopping Rs. 85 lakh for charitable causes. The funds have been well spent on initiatives such as adopting 200 children from an SoS village at the cost of Rs. 3.8 lakh per year.

Elaborating further about his trust’s many philanthropic endeavours, Dr. Bala reveals: “During the three years I spent in a overcrowded orphanage, I used to frequent the premises of the Jayalaxmivilas Higher Elementary school at nights with just a small lamp for company. I visited the school again just recently and was shocked to find it in a dilapidated condition. The roof had long since gone while the walls were crumbling due to water seepage. I immediately donated Rs. 3 lakh to get the roof replaced and am committed to donate another couple of lakhs to them.”

Continues Dr. Bala: “Even the village school where I studied in the fifties, one of the best schools of the time, barely exists today. Its students were forced to sit on the rough floor since the school couldn’t afford any furniture. I donated Rs. 2.5 lakh for buying much-needed desks and blackboards for the entire school. We have implemented many such charitable gestures over the years. I am not saying this to paint a very philanthropic picture for myself but to encourage other institutions to do the same and help the needy.

However an act of charity, which gave him immense pleasure on a more personal level happened when Dr. Bala donated a sum of Rs. 5 lakh to SIMS, an institute that he conceived and gave birth to, though he later had to resign under difficult circumstances. “I donated the amount to their construction fund since I thought it was my duty to come to the aid of an institution that I had helped build,” he avers with quiet satisfaction.”

Having achieved most of what he had set out to do, Dr. Bala’s latest endeavour involves elevating all his institutes to the elite group of top ten management institutes in the country. As a step in this direction, his Balaji Trust has already purchased 15 acres of land at Tatyawadi on the Mumbai-Pune highway, which is slated to house a state-of-the-art-integrated campus.

“It’s going to be a Rs. 50-crore project and should be ready in the next two years,” beams Dr. Bala. “The campus will host three of our institutions which are BIMM, BITM and BIIB. Balaji Law College is going to be housed on a different piece of land which we have recently acquired. It is going to be a totally residential campus with an abundance of facilities such as a walking track, health plaza, recreation clubs and even pubs minus the liquor. We have allocated two acres of land within the campus for an all-religion place of worship which will house a Ganesh temple, a church, a mosque, a Jain temple and a gurudwara. All the temples are being constructed by our trust at an estimated cost of about Rs. 1 crore.

Amazingly enough, even before the campus is in place. Dr. Bala has already set his sights on his next list of priorities which includes starting a medical college, an engineering college, a nursing college, a college for architecture and last but not the least a B.Ed. college. “The first two, are our immediate priorities,” he smiles. “We have submitted our plans to the government and hopefully things should start moving in the near future.” But knowing Dr. Bala, this is surely going to be just the tip of an iceberg of surprises from a soldier who just refuses to lay down his arms and walk away into the sunset.

Dr. (Col) A. Balasubramanian,
President, Sri Balaji Society, Pune

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