Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Looking back on a Scion

Brick by Red Brick /Ravi Mathai and making of IIM Ahmedabad: T. T. Rammohan
Rupa Publication, 2011, Price- Rs 495
Mammoth task of institution building which was regarded by Nehru as “Making of India’s Modern Temple”, can be cited a superb maneuvering with the confluence of aspiration and caliber. Institutional development and heavy industrialization were the main planks of Nehruvian vision for the newly independent Indian…fortunately these ideas remained as much sacrosanct under the democratic India as would be the spread of theocracy in a theocratic state. Nehru and him men of Cabinet were quite aware about the potential change in labour pattern following the mushrooming of new industries, for coping those challenges, they started churning out home grown model of management education that finally shaped in the form of IIM Ahmedabad and later many more.

This book presents the lucid overview on the shaping and development of IIM Ahmedabad- T.T.Rammohan, Professor at IIMA and a long time columnist for Economic Times ushered the institutional corporate history writing to a new height. If he is indebted to Dwijendra Tripathi for his early remarkable works in Indian management and source of rich experiences, we should also express similar feelings to TTR for giving the management history a new lease in India. Otherwise, we have very few such works that could justify its utility-most of them afflicts with reprising exercise and ends in stark oblivion.

Our forefathers were visionary and Vikram Sarabhai was one among them with proven integrity…starting of book beautifully narrates his contribution as founding Director, IIMA from 1961-1964 and later his historic decision to replace his position by young Ravi Mathai. Ravi then, only 38 with merely a qualification of BA{Hons}from Oxford was a surprising choice…prior to new assignment of Director, IIMA; he had a decade of industry experience but little academic exposure at IIM Calcutta. But if experience was a handicap for Ravi Mathai, his articulate persona and elitist background were positive factors with him. He was son of John Mathai {Finance Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet} with a sophisticated schooling in elite-centric sprawling Doon School and later University education in Oxford. TTR gives ample chance for readers to make their own judgement on this point without making things perplexed.

Chapter-I {The Grand Design}of the book represents the very important issue of history, it thoroughly deals with the genesis and consolidation of India’s premier management institute. Management maven, TTR delved with the early crucial development s with a rationalist stand-either adverseness of Robbins Report or obstinate stand of Herbert Simon on IIMA, all covered with high resoluteness. Ravi Mathai was a maverick epochmaker with full commitment for nation making and enterprising creativity…his sublime quote, “The building of an educational institute is often an act of faith” proves his ethical stand on education and academic administration. Rich account of life and work of Kamla Chowdhry, Kasturbhai Lalbhai and Prakash Tandon are pleasantly rewarding for readers, so are the detailed delineation of UCLA recommendation and Humayun Kabir’s scintillating view on nationalistic mode of education.

Chapter-II {Laying the Foundation} literally justifies the title of this book by dwelling with the history of designs at IIMA-it gives account how the renowned French Architect Kahn had designed the IIMA with high passion and deep commitment. Chapter-III {The Master Builder Arrives} and chapter-IV {Erecting the Edifice} covers in length about his vision and its formulation for IIMA. He was a firm believer in teaching excellence and spotting the right talent-C.K.Prahlad was one of his finding. Ravi Mathai was the emblem of leadership qualities which he kept demonstrating throughout his life…accustomed to a Spartan life and also very kind hearted in core, proven he was a true scion for his mother nation.

Chapter-V {Towering over the Rest} and chapter-VI {Getting the Software Right} inquisite how Mathai led IIMA to the crest in his stint as Director and later as its very distinguished faculty. He was the propunder of Sustainable Business Model within the Indian management, on which many Indian companies later pitched for their business innovation. Chapter-VII {Light and Shadow} has too much contemporary relevance today under the canopy of autonomy debate on IIM. TTR has carefully revitalizes this debate with nailing the contentiousness of Bhargava-I&II Committee report on change of governance in IIMA. He sensed the back door privatization of IIMA board in the intent and uprightly denounces here with his pragmatic views on the essential role of government in the functioning of IIMs. Like his newspaper column, TTR is overtly against the blind privatization of educational institutions in this book…indeed that itself marks the tradition of integrity established by Ravi Mathai who never fallen to heed for unethical demand irrespective of its tantamount.

Chapter-VIII {At the Grassroots}, post retirement, like a true academician, Mathai opted teaching at IIMA and also involved himself with many grassroot educational/social initiatives in Gujrat, Rajastahn and even outside. He was one of the distinguished brains behind the formation of Indian Council of Social Science Research {ICSSR}. He had displayed excellence in the field of management…interestingly he was equally an accomplished handyman with avid pastime for gardening, driving and playing with pets. He had deep sense of urgency for nation’s socio-economic development that always engaged his for better contribution from his side. It was not without reason why he spent time in rural areas to know the India better…he entwined with the existing plights and succeeded to form new vision for management.

Lastly, chapter-ix {Style and Substance}, presents some of the personal details about him which hitherto been out of public glare…in the later part of life, he substantially focused on the rural projects-Jwaja project remained foremost among them. Sentimental writing of TTR gives true tribute to Ravi Mathai who outgrew personal aspiration for institution building and finally nation making at large. Hectic lifestyle and heavy smoking cut short his life and he passed away after a brave fight with malady on February 13, 1984 in London…it was a blow to the nation that remained hard to fill even after decades. As the final words of book says, Ravi Mathai shines brightly in the constellation of institution builders, likes of Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, JRD Tata, VKRV Rao and R.K.Talwar.

This book is essential for management aspirants with high goal in life and career and also for those who loves to read history in alternative narration. I am being categorical only because Ravi Mathai chased the excellence, so is doing T.T. Rammohan…this work strictly revolves around the story of excellence.
Atul Kumar Thakur
June 28, 2011, Tuesday, New Delhi


  1. Excellent review on T.T.Rammohan's book-an insightful account of IIMA and the life/work of great visionary,Ravi Mathai-Ashutosh Thakur

  2. A nice book review,along with the finest analysis of past.I read this piece with high interest and benefited immensely..reach past of IIM Ahmedabad and Ravi Mathai have lucidly covered here..Sumit Ganguly

  3. Dear Mr. Thakur,
    I am happy that you liked my blog.
    I have just opened the link to your blog. It seems you write on diverse issues. It will be nice reading it.

    Best regards,


  4. Thanks.

    Pl keep growing...!!!

    Best Wishes.

  5. IIM will highly recommend this book to those who care for or are curious about the making of an iconic institution. Very timely also as next 50 years are being planned .. Atul Kumar ‎

  6. A thorough insight on a favored institutes and a life of educator I must say and distilled review, with details which will help the readers and the potential buyers to grab a copy of their own.


  7. I thought you did a pretty comprehensive job! Only, reviews sent to papers have to be shorter for reasons of space.



  8. thanks atul for sharing this info, look fwd to see it more in coming weeks, all the best and keep up your good work-Anil Gupta,IIMA