Six years ago, when Eureka Forbes was launched as a case study at Harvard Business School (HBS), Professor Das Narayandas got the class into the spirit of things by having them sing along as the Eureka Forbes salesman's catchy theme song, We are the Eurochamps, played on a video screen overhead.
Suresh Golkaney, Managing Director of Eureka Forbes, who flew into Boston especially for the event, recalls what followed: "The students were intrigued by our whole system of door-to-door selling, something that is virtually dead in America. They asked me about a line in the case which says our salesmen come in as boys and turn into men. I tried to explain what it's like for an average college student in India."
The Eureka Forbes case study by Das Narayandas is pegged on what was then a new compensation system introduced by the company, which evaluated salesmen not just on number of units sold, but on a range of factors that included the number of cold calls, the number of demos and even the number of friends they got to join the company's sales team. But to the Harvard students, it was much more: the Eureka Forbes salesman became a window to the Indian ethos.
Eureka Forbes was by no means the first Indian case study by Harvard ( TCS and other IT companies went before), but it was one of the first cases on a company focused on the domestic market.
Harvard professors are mining India for mgmt lessons
Since there's been a rapid rise in the number of Indian case studies from Harvard, on companies large and small. Zensar Technlogies has been the subject of a case study by Harvard professor David Garvin and is now set to be in another one by Professor Mike Krishnan.
Zensar CEO Ganesh Natarajan feels the HBS Research Center in India has played a big role in the boom. "Besides, CEOs and senior managers have been attending the management development programmes (MDPs) at HBS, as well as those conducted by HBS in India, so the interaction and exposure has gone up," he says.
The genesis of both the Eureka Forbes and Zensar goes back to when their CEOs were at HBS for MDPs, when they became acquainted with the professors who ultimately went to on to write the cases. "You need to strike a unique chord with them," says Natarajan. "It is a very collaborative process and a lot of research goes into it. They constantly revalidate all the information and data. The quality of their case writing and research is unparalleled."
The spurt in Indian case studies also has a lot to do with the presence of a large number of faculty of Indian origin at HBS. The HBS case on TeamLease, for example, is authored by Tarun Khanna, a senior HBS faculty member who is also a frequent visitor to India. TeamLease CEO Manish Sabhrawal recalls being introduced to the professor through a private equity investor.
"It took six months of meetings with our co-founders, team members and clients to prepare the final case study, which I think is a wonderful chronicle of the genesis and dilemmas we faced. It really made it sound like we knew what we were doing," he says.
The rise of the Indian-born academician in the global firmament has coincided happily with increased interest in the country. A decade ago, HBS would probably have been less encouraging of Indian case studies. Today, the school is going all out to promote them. "Emerging Markets have certain unique challenges, especially when it comes to regulatory issues. There is also a long overdue realisation that we don't have to be western to be modern. The increase in the number of case studies is a reflection," says Sabharwal.
HBS professor Dan Eisenberg was inspired to write a case on Tejas Networks after a meeting with tech entrepreneur Gururaj Desh Deshpande in the USA. Eisenberg, who teaches entrepreneurship courses on at HBS, thought the process of how Deshpande put together a hi-tech company is India would make for a case study on the power of the Diaspora.
After writing the case in 2007, Eisenberg has been in regular touch with Tejas, bringing groups of HBS students to the company's facilities in Bangalore as part of their global study trips. Sanjay Nayak, CEO and managing director of Tejas, attended the launch of the case at HBS and says, "The case has given us visibility. It his now being used at several other institutes like the Asian School Of Business in Manila and the University of Taiwan."
The reach of an HBS case is global and there's no telling how far it might go once it's out there. The Eureka Forbes case is also taught at several other institutes and Goklaney was recently invited to University of California Berkeley to talk about his company
"Outsiders are sometimes better equipped to see the jewels you take for granted. Since the case was written , we've hosted several batches of HBS students in India. Some of them have come up with business plans where they want to partner with Eureka Forbes in the USA. It has been an enriching experience for all of us."
Indeed, Goklaney credits the interaction with HBS students with inspiring some of the company's recent social initiatives, like the call centre it has set up in Chembur, which employs the physically challenged. "When you interact with people of intellectual caliber, these things happen," he says.
Along with business cases, HBS itself has produced several studies on the Indian social sector. Professor Srikant Datar's research on Pratham, an NGO delivering primary education to rural and urban students, began in early 2009. Co-authored by Stacey M Childress, Rachna Tahilyani and Anjali Raina, the case explores Pratham's changing role and relevance in the face of various sociopolitical and economic challenges and opportunities.
"The fact that we were working in an unstructured environment and developing our own methods to bridge educational gaps and change mindsets, that too in the face of declining funding following the global slowdown, interested the Harvard team," says Madhav Chavan, co-founder and president of Pratham.
Chavan has personally participated in a few of the classroom discussions about the Pratham case and says he's seen some astute observations from students.
He remembers one student who suggested that since a large part of the NGO's funding to date has come from outside India, it should scale down and wait for better times instead of worrying about revenue generation. This is what Pratham has actually done in real life. In addition, it has started vocational skills training for raising funds for future growth.
If the Pratham case study evaluated the problems faced by a non-profit organisation, Professor John Macomber's research on the Sarvajalbrand from Piramal Water focuses on how the company is using a for-profit, micro-franchise model to meet the challenge of delivering clean drinking water off the grid to rural consumers.
Anand Shah, CEO of Sarvajal says the team has faced numerous problems like lowering the cost of water filters and getting reliable entrepreneurs to take up the Sarvajal franchise. These were all issues raised during the HBS case research.
Being the subject of an HBS case study arguably has a greater impact on NGO than it does on corporates. Pratham has won a flurry of awards in recent times, which Chavan calls an interesting coincidence, while Sarvajal's Shah says he's seen an increase in the number of job-related enquires following the publishing of the study earlier this year. "I don't know if there's a direct impact, but things do add up," Chavan says.