“I want to make every class a cherished memory” An interview with Prof. Sharad Sarin

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“I want to make every class a cherished memory” An interview with Prof. Sharad Sarin

With nearly 30 years as a professor at XLRI, Jamshedpur, Professor Sarin is one of the most experienced faculty at XLRI. We meet him to talk about his XL experience and his love for marketing.

 

Sir, you have been with XLRI for many years now. How do you think XL as an institute has evolved administratively and academically?

When I joined in 1976, XL was a very small institute, highly informal, with a lot of freedom. Over the years it has grown, we have institutionalized many processes, have become more formal, and the institute has also matured a lot. In terms of student faculty interaction, the same kind of informality and cordiality is still maintained. The Institute has really grown very well. I am happy I stayed here. This is my 39th year.

Academics have become more serious affair. Previously it was more fun, now it is balanced. Many courses are taught now. Opportunities are discussed in the board and then approval comes. XLRI has been a pioneer in seeing and following such opportunities more than its contemporaries. IIMs have followed our model, be it virtual learning, general management program 1 yr or global MBA, we have pioneered these, definitely.

 

How do you think the aspirations and attitudes of students have changed over the years?

Students are now more informed, more focused than the earlier batches. Earlier they were not worried so much about placements etc. Earlier they would not make serious attempts to know companies and join whatever they get. Now students apply their mind and try to make an informed choice.

In the classroom, for me, it is similar. I cannot figure out whether it is batch of 76, or 2014. Students have not changed as far as I am concerned. We had the 30th year reunion last week of 84 batch, and I could see a lot of them sitting in front of me like you people sit.

 

How do you feel when Alums come to visit you after all these years? Would you like to share some fond memories?

My biggest equity for joining teaching and being in XLRI are my students past and present. I really enjoy when they come to meet. Whenever I see old students, I really want to hug them. I go gaga, sometimes, I become extra emotional, but I really like it.

There are several moments when students come and touch my feet, but I feel really embarrassed. I tell them not to do it but they do not listen to me. I have some really cherished memories of my students.

I was in USA, and there was this student of mine. From the moment I meet him, he would not let me do anything, which means you cannot lift the suitcase, you cannot load it into the car and as long as I am in US, he takes care of me. I am very fortunate to have many such caring students. Recently, he had an acute backache, yet he would still lift my suitcase, etc. Even when students recognize me at airports etc, and come to talk to me, I feel touched.

 

 

Could you kindly share with us some of your most cherished classroom memories of students or of events?

I want to make every class a cherished memory. I want to create a different memory everytime I enter the class, I make a genuine attempt to do so every time. One such memory is when I was visiting IIM A for 3 months and I was taking the course of executive MBA, and was staying in the same guest house as the students. I was to return the next day after taking my class, and I had gone out to take dinner. It was the batch of 1986. When I came back at around 11-12, I found the entire class was waiting for me. I wondered what had happened. When asked, they told me that “Sir we were waiting for you because we knew you were leaving tomorrow, and we were waiting here to gift this Ganeshji to you”. And I still have that idol with me in my home.

Then, in 1998, I was teaching in Denver. Suddenly I found a group of Malaysian and Indonesian students. After my class on international management and international marketing, they told me “sir, we want to host a dinner for you”, and said that “we have never met a teacher like you.” I was extremely humbled.

There are plenty of such memories with XLRI students as well. So I feel that I am in the right profession that I really enjoy.

 

 

You have been credited with the pioneering of the concept of disguised market research in India, and conceptualizing MAXI Fair. How do you think the concept has evolved over time?

When I joined XL in 1976, we had MAXI, which was a body of students. I had 4 colleagues in marketing area, and there was the general secretary. I heard that the maxi activities were journal and guest lectures etc. Somehow these did not appeal me much as such activities have limited impact. I started telling them let us do something “hatke”. They couldn’t get my point and I was too new to be accepted. Then I suggested having something like a Marketing fair to the 77 batch students.  I borrowed this idea from schools, where we have activities like shooting darts etc, and I was fascinated by the idea of blind taste tests. Also I was working on the idea of consumer education, and I realized that a lot needs to be told to the general public as to how marketers take decisions. Taking decisions required information and that comes from research. So I thought of a marketing fair where we can give an opportunity to students, industry, townspeople and faculty simultaneously. Finally, this idea aroused interest in the students of the 78 batch and we took the plunge. It was supported by organizations like ITC, Dettol, Bata, etc. Over the years, we have struggled a lot. In those days we didn’t have computer facilities. In 86-88, we thought of doing research on children, it became a big hit, then we did research on low income groups, which is now termed as BOP. Then, after some experimentation, I realized that I should withdraw and let my colleagues take up the responsibility. I was fortunate that the marketing area coordinators kept the fair going. Now of course IT and infrastructure are available. So it has evolved and matured a lot. And also I would like to add that I don’t like the word MAXI Fair, I would like to revisit and rename it as marketing fair, as the whole idea is not MAXI fair, it is marketing. Rightfully, it must be marketing.

 

 

With the advent of online and social media, digital marketing is fast becoming a preferred platform as it allows for individually targeted marketing. Do you think it can have the impact and returns of the scale of Print and TV in a country like India?

There would definitely be a shift, but not a very radical shift, from what we call the traditional marketing communications platforms like TV. TV would still continue to play a role, print, I think would decline and radio would become more popular, and social media would grow, getting some share of the budgets.

 

What is your view on the evolution of concepts like neuromarketing for market research?

Fad fashion and tradition would continue and keep on coming in a variety of forms. As a marketer, it is important to make everything customer centric. See everything through the lens of the customer. So if there is a need, concepts like neuromarketing etc. must surely be applied, otherwise it would be a waste of time. At the end it is important to be a prudent marketer, by prudent I mean, at the end it must deliver in terms of sales, profits and share. Today, of course, rapid developments are happening in technology and it is important to be aware of it, but do not use it just because it is there.

 

 

Sales is also now fast adapting itself to the online format. Over the next 5-7 years, how do you see the retail industry being structured?

If I take a clue from emerging economies like China, Thailand etc, there will be an increasing penetration. But given issues in India like connectivity, network availability, 600mn people who cannot be considered as well informed customers, the dominant formats of Indian retail to my mind is not going to change. Taking the example of Delhi, CP and other major shopping areas would still be popular. Just that the same customers would also be shopping online. Similarly the popularity of malls in Hazratganj in Lucknow will remain the same. However, for some categories like apparels, shoes, etc, a greater shift would take place.

 

 

In the B2B scenario, do you believe India would ever switch to an online format given the issues of credit, credibility & touch and feel?

B2B will become more and more internet driven for the likes of Alibaba etc. Doing business through internet and computers would continue to grow. Starting from registration of supplier, issuance of enquiry, collection of quotations, etc would be more computer driven.

 

 

Is there any message you would like to give to your students over the years?

Be good and do good. I would like to hear more and more stories of our students making an impact on the social front than on the corporate front. We need action beyond words. The real difference would come when they get on the road and get involved in some direct action.

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