Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Quest For Excellence

Prof. J. Philip runs the reputed Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship at Bangalore and Kochi. He talks about the qualities needed to be a good leader and the students of today

Photos: Prof. J. Philip; the Kochi campus of the Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship

By Shevlin Sebastian

On the evening of September 30, 1986, Maria Philip was hurrying back after a day’s work on the summer project she was doing at the Indian Airlines office in Meenambakkam airport, Chennai. She reached the railway station, and, like most commuters, she jumped onto the tracks to get to another platform.

As she did so, a shunting engine came into view. Maria almost climbed up to the platform. However, the engine gave a glancing blow and she was thrown over to the platform. Death was instantaneous. Maria was only 22. She was doing her final year Master’s in Personnel Management at the Madras School of Social Work.

One week earlier, her father, Prof. J. Philip, had gone from Bangalore to attend a function at the British Council at Chennai. Maria was also present. When Philip was dropping Maria to the hostel after the event, she said, “Dad, you should start a business school.” At that time, Philip was the Director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, which was affected by labour strife.

Philip replied, “Will do it when the time comes.”

And the next time Philip saw Maria was to identify her dead body. "Maria's death was a turning point in my life," he says. "I decided to implement her wish."

On July 3, 1991, inside a shed at the St. Martha’s hospital compound, at Bangalore, he started the Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship (XIME). It was a slow beginning and took 11 years before a full-fledged campus was set up at Electronics City, with the help of corporates, like the Oberoi Group, the Tata Trust and Biocon. All the classrooms have been donated by corporates or families. Today, there are 180 students.

In 2012, Philip turned his gaze homewards and opened a branch of XIME at the KINFRA Hi-Tech Park at Kalamassery, Kochi. There are 120 students, a mix of boys and girls. Today, Philip is the president of XIME. And, on September 30, Philip had come to Kochi to conduct an All Kerala Debate Competition in honour of Maria.

A professor, who teaches time management and public speaking, Philip has a keen idea of the present-day students. “They are laptop and Internet-driven,” he says. “They are ambitious to succeed, and well-informed. They know what happens all over the world.”

Like any generation, they have a few drawbacks. “They are reluctant to read newspapers, books or journals,” says Philip. “The utilisation of library facilities is somewhat low. Anytime they want something they go to Google. They want instant success and big salaries. They become impatient and tend to leave companies quickly.”

In contrast, Philip has had a slow and steady climb to the top. After graduation from St. Berchman’s College, Changanacherry, he did his law from Maharaja’s Law College in Kochi. Then he went to do a management course in the Xavier Labour Research Institute (XLRI) at Jamshedpur. Later, he became a faculty member and one of the founders of the MBA (PGDM) programme. In 1970 he became the dean.

His later career included being the principal of the management college of the Steel Authority of India Limited at Ranchi, Vice President (HR) of Oberoi Group, as well as the director of the government-run IIM (Bangalore).

When he went to the IIM, he got a shock. There were far too many employees. For 240 students, apart from faculty, there were 450 employees, including 63 peons. “All our governmental institutions are over-staffed,” says Philip. “This places an enormous burden on the institution. You have to worry about food, housing and roads.”

But Philip turned it around. “Today, things are much better at all the IIMs,” he says.

Incidentally, apart from Maria, Philip has a daughter, Sheeba, who is a paediatrician, and lives in Atlanta, USA. His son, Anil, an engineer and MBA, is a vice-president in IBM, Bangalore.

Like his son, Philip has been holding senior leaderships positions for a long time now. When asked for tips on leadership, he says, “I always wanted the institutions I headed to be places of excellence. So there is a quest to set a high standard.”

Other tips: you have to be conscientious in your work, and maintain ethical values. “You should have a vision which you can articulate to the team and work to make it a reality,” he says.

Philip quotes the management guru Peter Drucker (1909-2005) who said that leaders need to have a helicopter view. “If you don’t know what is happening in your industry and the world, you are missing out,” he says. “When I go to America, I visit the Harvard Business School to see how things are. In France, I go to the top three best B-schools and soon, I will be travelling to Singapore to see the performance of business schools there.”

Even though he is in his seventies, Prof. Philip’s quest for excellence continues...

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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