Global mindset, Indian roots: Great Lakes Institute in Chennai makes management education a real-world experience for students

Gautam Lakhamraju, COO of the Great Lakes Institute discusses the the need for an MBA degree, and the role of the Great Lakes. Gautam Lakhamraju, COO of the Great Lakes Institute discusses the the need for an MBA degree, and the role of the Great Lakes. Gautam Lakhamraju, COO of the Great Lakes Institute discusses the the need for an MBA degree, and the role of the Great Lakes

ByRama Ramanan

Published Dec 09, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdated Dec 09, 2023 | 9:43 AM

Global mindset, Indian roots: Great Lakes Institute in Chennai makes management education a real-world experience for students

A vision and willingness to give back to the community were the only ingredients Padmashree awardee Dr Bala V Balachandran had before setting up the Great Lakes Institute of Management in 2004. Twenty years later, his purpose has carved a career path for lakhs of students who look up to the institute for a future in the management space.

But this success was not overnight. It was during his tenure as Professor Emeritus at Kellogg School of Management that Dr Balachandran became deeply involved in the Indian management education space.

With the involvement of other Indian-origin intellectuals, Dr Balachandran set up a full-time MBA programme at the Management Development Institute, Gurgaon.

He didn’t stop there. He went on to become one of the founding members of the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad.

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Bringing the B-school to Chennai

After having set up multiple business schools in India, Dr Balachandran desired to establish one in his home state, Tamil Nadu. Back then, Chennai didn’t have any B-school. This was the perfect opportunity for him to ultimately set up the Great Lakes Institute in Chennai, as one of the top-class management schools in India.

Gautam Lakhamraju, COO of Great Lakes Institute. (Supplied)

Gautam Lakhamraju, COO of Great Lakes Institute. (Supplied)

Born with the philosophy, global mindset, Indian roots, Great Lakes Chennai is an institution for management studies where global intellectuals steer the career goals of students.

“Our students work on a leadership programme called Karma Yoga. We have adopted 25 villages where our students go and work on projects there. These projects include education, helping the locals learn Maths, English, and sanitation projects too. The idea is to have a global perspective rooted in local ecosystem,” says Gautam Lakhamraju, Chief Operating Officer of the Great Lakes Institute.

In a discussion with South First, Lakhamraju discusses the vision, philosophy, the need for an MBA degree, future of management education and the role of the Great Lakes in providing a real-world management experience to students.

Excerpts from the interview.

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How important is a degree in MBA in today’s times?

Should one pursue a degree in MBA should be the first question. It’s completely optional. Schooling and college is basic education. After that, everything is optional. You can specialise in any area of your interest.

Now the economy has diversified significantly so opportunities are in different areas.

Great Lakes has an incubator called Atal Great Lakes Balachandra Incubator, which is under the Atal Innovation Mission. (Supplied)

Great Lakes has an incubator called Atal Great Lakes Balachandra Incubator, which is under the Atal Innovation Mission. (Supplied)

As far as MBA is concerned, it’s a deliberate choice that people have to make in terms of building certain basic management skills.
Management is an area which is fundamental to doing business better. You have to manage people, finances, branding and marketing your product.
One can gain those skills through experience, but, over some time, the other alternative is that you go to a high-quality programme, and get the foundations laid in terms of both skills and knowledge across a wide spectrum of management sciences.

That’s where an MBA comes in.

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How does one choose the right B-school?

I think if somebody should do an MBA, they must do it from a good school. And for that, one needs to look at multiple aspects.
Brand recognition and the reputation of the school are the foremost. Next is having a great faculty.

Great Lakes started as a small school on a rented premise. (Supplied)

Great Lakes started as a small school on a rented premise. (Supplied)

For example, Great Lakes started as a small school on a rented premise by one professor. But we grew over time, competing with much older schools. That’s because we have an excellent faculty. Not just from India, but from across the world.

The learning part itself is critical.

Business school placements are pretty well-structured. Students look at outcomes and the return on investment that they make.

Beyond that, you have all the other things which lead to the experience. For instance, the infrastructure, the experiences beyond the classroom, participation in different clubs and committees, projects etc. These elements supplement oral education.

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What does Great Lakes look for in a potential student?

We have multiple programmes — for students who are just completing their graduation too, for senior executives etc. The average experience in the class is about 15 years.

The requirements vary based on the segment. But right now, the focus is on the full-time programme. This involves the younger audience, so we look at academic consistency.

Second, you have the test scores in management exams. Then, we look at achievements, both curricular and extra-curricular activities. We check if they’ve taken any initiatives, demonstrated any leadership or team skills, or have excelled in any specific area.
If someone is into music or sports or dancing, it shows they are passionate about something.

Besides, for people who have work experience, we look for capabilities they have demonstrated as a professional.

The last and most important is — what are their objectives in actually doing an MBA?

Only when people have some clarity can the programme help them achieve those goals.

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What infrastructure and resources does Great Lakes provide for its students?

Some lessons can be taught in the classroom, and some cannot.

We follow a case study-based approach, which allows people to put themselves in the real-world situation. Then, we discuss the possibilities to analyse the situation based on the circumstances.

Next is working in groups and teams. Case studies involve multiple participants and you need to get everyone together to a conclusion.

Then, each course has projects. So again, people are watching and learning.

Beyond that, you have opportunities where students can demonstrate their leadership skills. One is by organising different events.

We have a flashing event called Latitude.

There are different clubs and committees. We have a food committee, which takes care of the food services, ensuring a certain quality of services, and menu and catering to the student requirements.

We also have a Student Leadership Council, which looks at larger issues related to the school and student objectives. Public Relations and Branding is another space for students on the programme.

So, students, practice what they learn.

Besides this, our students participate in different competitions conducted by different businesses across India. There’s also a summer internship program where students can apply what they have learned in an 8 to 10-week kind of project at organisations.

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What kind of ecosystem does the institute provide for students to also think of entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is driven by future choices. If you look at a typical business school, only 2-3% start as an entrepreneur.

Eventually, many professionals get into senior roles and set up their own companies.

When students are equipped with all the management skills, it gives them the confidence to start a business.

At Great Lakes, we have an incubator called Atal Great Lakes Balachandra Incubator, which is under the Atal Innovation Mission. We are one of the few schools to be selected by the Atal Innovation Mission to host a public-private incubator.

The incubator is located within the campus. Students have the opportunity to work in the incubator. They have access to labs which could be in the areas of AI, machine learning, 3D printing, robotics etc.

They also have access to a network of start-up founders and investors.

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What are the essential tools to transition from campus to placement?

Business schools prepare the students well to take on responsibilities from day one. Especially in good schools which have a rigorous programme.

Not just in terms of academics, but the intensity of the work itself.

Students don’t get to sleep much in business school. And that’s because there are just so many activities happening all the time.

Classes, projects, and extracurricular activities. Students are constantly practising, whether it’s case studies where they are evaluating decisions, leadership skills, analytical skills etc.

When students graduate, after going through all of this, they’re actually ready to take on responsibilities within the companies.

We have a fairly rigorous program for helping students prepare well for placement interviews and the shortlisting process.

Students get some practice sessions. A lot of alumni conduct these sessions.

There’s a significant amount of training that companies about what they’re looking for, and the process, and alumni help students prepare for that.

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