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Kelley School of Business

Last modified: Thursday, June 23, 2005

New Kelley undergraduate program chair is naturally fluent in India's emerging markets

JUNE 23, 2005

Photo by: Tyagan Miller

M.A. Venkataramanan

Print-Quality Photo

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In 1981, shortly after beginning his career as an engineer for an Indian company that made boilers and molding machines, M.A. Venkataramanan was asked by his employer to travel to Mumbai, India, for some computer training.

"Our company was thinking of using computerized records," recalled Venkataramanan, today a professor in Indiana University's Kelley School of Business in Bloomington. "Their idea was maybe they should buy a PC and put all of their production plans in a computer, rather than have sheets and sheets of paper to work through.

"I saw what technology can do in making a factory run smoothly," he added. "That's why I got interested in going into the management of information systems, or a business computing science kind of degree, because there was tremendous potential."

Venkataramanan -- known to many around the Kelley School as "Venkat" -- has gone from learning about programming without having a computer in his first Indian college course to becoming the first person from that nation to lead a 3,000-student undergraduate program at the major U.S. business school.

Starting July 1, Venkataramanan, 47, will be directing the school's Bloomington undergraduate program, which has long been one of the largest and most recognized programs in the world. It placed 11th in the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings, which also recognized the school's leadership in 11 different categories including management, marketing, accounting, entrepreneurship and supply chain management.

"Venkat will be an exceptional leader of our undergraduate program," said Dan Smith, interim dean of the Kelley School. "He recently did a stellar job as chair of a task force that reviewed all aspects of the program. Professor Venkat is a visionary and innovative leader with an incredible work ethic and a contagious 'can do' attitude. He is also well respected by the faculty, has excellent relationships with many of our corporate supporters and, above all, is committed to the best interests of our students. The Kelley undergraduate program has long been among the nation's elite, and I am highly confident that under Venkat's leadership our best days are yet to come."

Venkataramanan said he's seen his homeland make a tremendous amount of progress in the last 25 years. Outsourcing, a topic that has generated much debate here, is only a part of the Indian success story.

"The opening of the Indian markets made a big difference. Now, when I go there, the difference is almost non-existent," said the native of Chennai (formerly Madras). "Even the U.S. companies are spending almost an equal amount in R&D in India compared to what they're investing here in office automation initiatives.

"When we take our students on trips to Bangalore to show what is going on with all of the business process outsourcing and technology outsourcing, it opens their eyes," Venkataramanan said.

The son of an engineer for the Indian Telephone and Telegraph Co., Venkataramanan initially followed his father's vocation and earned a bachelor's degree in the Guindy Engineering School at the University of Madras. He came to the United States in the early 1980s and earned a master's degree in business computing science at Texas A&M University in 1984. He earned a doctorate in managment from the Texas school three years later. He joined the Kelley School faculty in 1987 and previously was chair of its Department of Operations and Decision Technologies.

Venkataramanan said undergraduate business education remains an area where U.S. programs vastly exceed what is available in India. While more than 300 MBA programs and numerous other management institutes exist there, there is not a dedicated undergraduate business school in India, he said.

He believes there are opportunities for more future Indian business leaders to learn about U.S. best practices.

"Just like with technology in the 1980s, right now Indian business craves for people with business skills, but there is still a gap between the employer's expectation of the business knowledge of someone coming into a company and what most employees there know," said Venkataramanan, also a professor of decision sciences. "There is really a quantum difference in how we approach it at the Kelley School of Business, and I think such a gap will naturally narrow in the future."

"With the revolution going on, the growth rate being so high in India, they are going to need all of these business professionals in a big way," he added. "I have a feeling that they will ingeniously develop some of it, but it is much easier to collaborate by sending students here to learn how this is done in America."

He thinks this kind of training is vital for Indian companies to mature as well as for American firms that will do business with them. It is also critical for Indian institutions to learn how to train the next generation of business leaders there.

"The more and more students come here and go back to run their own companies or move up the corporate ladder … then I think we'll see the gap narrow," he said.