ABOUT Prof. D.V.R.Seshadri
Prof. D.V.R.Seshadri is a well-respected and one of the most popular professors at IIMB. His teaching and research areas are Business Marketing; Value-Based Marketing; Intrapreneurship and Strategy.
He completed his FPM (Fellow Programme in Management) from IIM Ahmedabad; M.S. (Engineering Sciences), University of California, San Diego, California, USA and B. Tech. (Mechanical Engineering), IIT Madras in Chennai, India. For a detailed profile, please refer here
Personally, I was thrilled that Prof. D. V. R. Seshadri (popularly known as DVRS) agreed to do this rendezvous. Going down memory lane, I’ve been a student of DVRS at IIMB and had the good fortune of studying a new course he introduced at the institute in 2006 – VEIL (Venturing through Entrepreneurial and Intrapraneurial Leadership). I distinctly remember the course for 2 reasons – One was due to the fact that the course was designed to enable you to introspect, discover and develop your own personal leadership qualities and abilities. And hence it was really an eye-opener for many of us. Two was the fact that I scored one of the highest grades in the class
The course was immensely popular back then and in 2012 (6 years later) – I am told that it still is one of the most sought after courses by students of the MBA program for software professionals (PGSEM) and executive MBA students (EPGP) at the institute under the name of REIL (Reinvention through Entrepreneurial and Intrapraneurial Leadership)
If I had to describe DVRS in a few words, I would say that is he one of the most passionate teachers I have ever met or known, is immensely knowledgeable in his areas of expertise and most importantly is an honest, humble, kind and INSPIRING teacher that many of us will ALWAYS REMEMBER. And if you’ve ever been his student, you will probably echo this sentiment.
And the reason why most students will always remember DVRS is this – He made a “REAL DIFFERENCE” in the lives of his students. Anyone who attended his classes will vouch that they learnt tremendously if they signed-up for his courses – Simply because his courses are structured and designed to ensure that you read (probably more than you’ll probably ever read in any 10 weeks of your life ),introspect, question, reason, think and learn.
And what is noteworthy is this – I personally know of individuals who made very important life choices and decisions after attending his courses and interacting closely with him – For e.g.: Quitting a flourishing IT career and pursuing a PhD, taking up teaching as a career, serving the under-previleged full-time or starting their own venture, etc. In my view, the real TESTIMONIAL of a great teacher is one who can enable you to find your TRUE CALLING in LIFE, INSPIRE you and TRANSFORM your LIFE!
Nischala : Hi Prof. It’s so wonderful to talk to you after so long. Hope all is well. Firstly, Thank you for agreeing to be part of this Rendezvous Series…
DVRS: Hey Nischala. It’s great to speak to you after all these years!
Nischala: My first question to you really is what does it mean to be a teacher?
DVRS: Fundamentally for me being a teacher is an opportunity to enable students to think in a broader perspective – about the subjects being taught and of course, about life. So for the course I run on B2B (Business2 Business) Marketing, my role as a teacher is to introduce basic B2B Marketing concepts and open the world of B2B Marketing so that students are excited about the subject itself. When you generate interest and excitement on a subject, the students usually tend to be life-long learners. So I teach them a couple of courses while they are at IIMB, and then on completion of their program at IIMB, the students carve out and pursue their own career paths. And hopefully, years from now they can teach me, several things, based on their experiences and learnings in the real world. So the focus is really to get them excited about the subject itself.
On the other hand, the REIL course which I run at the institute is really a course on life. The focus is really to get students to introspect on the larger and more profound questions relating to LIFE itself – In terms of what you really want to do in life? And to get you to ponder and honestly answer to yourself. The fact is that many students have taken career decisions / choices in their past (for whatever reasons) – But don’t necessarily enjoy what they’re doing today. They feel trapped with their many EMI’s (for their cars, homes, etc.), lifestyles, societal pressures, etc. Some of the students say to me at the end of the course: “You know what! I value this lifestyle too much to give it all up and follow my dreams, so I will let status-quo continue. But at least I am aware of it and it’s a conscious decision”. And then there are those who are willing to give it all up and tread on unchartered waters, to where their heart takes them!
Of course I am teaching because I am passionate about teaching the subjects and more importantly because of the opportunity to possibly make a difference in the lives’ of my students.
Nischala: You’ve been in the teaching profession for so long. And you still teach with passion even though you probably have to speak about topics that you may have already spoken about several hundreds of times before. What really keeps you going?
DVRS: I think what really keeps me going is that I ask myself every day “Am I making a difference in the lives of these students?” And again, I am not being idealistic, but realistic here – I know full well that in every institute there are all kinds of students – So if I can make a positive difference to at least 20% of the class – I think I am moving towards achieving my life’s purpose!
Again, part of the challenge is to continuously revamp the course content so that it is updated to today’s context, is exciting for students and is a constant learning experience for me. And I do this in many different ways. One, I do a lot of research and reading myself. However, my research is very practice-oriented and in that sense has a strong overlap with the problems managers face in the real world. I also write a lot of practice-oriented articles, case studies, etc. myself and create the course content in tune with the needs and demands of the day. Another input which I value is participant feedback for the courses, which helps to to continually fine-tune my courses from one batch to the next. Two is that I try to customize the course content to the Indian context. Three, I keep introducing new case studies – Like now I am simultaneously working on 8 case studies – two on Mumbai International Airport, one on Tanishq, one on a great company called Polyhydron in Belagaum, etc. And working on these case studies is a massive learning experience for me. Usually, most institutes / courses use a very large percentage of Harvard case studies. But I restrict it to 40% at most.
So coming back to your question, teaching is really a two way street. I teach students and I learn along the way. Also, as you know I really teach across 3 programs (PGP, PGSEM and EPGP) at IIMB. The average work experience for each of these programs is 3 years for PGP (for the courses I teach to them), 5 years for PGSEM and 10 years for PGPX. So engaging with such a diverse student base on a continuous basis is really 50% teaching and 50% learning.
Another aspect is that most teachers tend to take themselves way too seriously. Looking back at my own career, I think for the first 2 – 3 years , I used to go to the classroom taking my degrees and all my experience in my head– and let me tell you that this is a REAL BAGGAGE which any teacher takes to the class!
What I’ve realized is that for any teacher to deliver the best education, you should go to your class with a light and empty mind. So I do prepare extensively for every class of mine, do yoga and meditation every morning. But when I enter the class, I get into what may be called “free-flow” – And that creates a positive environment to learn and engage with the class. And I’ve found this style to be personally very powerful! Getting FREE FLOW is very important for effective learning in the classroom for both the students and for me. Also, you need to throw in a few elements of spontaneous humor to keep the atmosphere light and easy. And then the focus is on engaging with the class and also to moderate the sessions, which is the role I play.
Again, as a teacher, my mantra is really this – Walk, Chalk and Talk.. Of course, no one uses chalks anymore. Also, I am probably the only professor who uses ZERO power point presentations for any of my classes in IIMB or I think probably in any B-school in India. Not one in any of my classes. Also as you know, I schedule a fair number of guest lectures so that students get insights from industry practitioners – So that’s also a tremendous learning experience for me.
The real challenge is to get people to think and to treat all students as responsible adults and most importantly, to trust them. This creates a congenial atmosphere and puts the onus of learning on the students as well.
Lastly, for the past few years the ONE WORD I have always emphasized as a teacher has been on “Customer VALUE” in my teaching of the course on B2B Marketing… And so I really ask myself one question everyday – “Am I bringing value to the student?” – I mean for starters, let’s look at value in the purely monetary sense. So the students pay a huge fee to study at the institute, and when I look at that number – I ask myself “Am I delivering value in accordance with this?”.. And then of course, the value that I bring to someone’s life! My view is if I take 1 hour of a student’s time, I should bring value to his / her life – That’s the primary orientation and driver for me. The value framework is strongly embedded in my psyche. So I try to keep promise of delivering VALUE to my students!
Also, I now think LESS is MORE. So even if I cover fewer topics, if it has a huge impact on the student’s thinking and learning – That is more valuable than covering 100’s of topics with no real take-away for the students. What I’ve recognized is that a lot of the knowledge and specialization is very industry-specific. The conceptual frameworks and foundation is laid at the institute in my courses (as well as other courses). Students can marry this conceptual knowledge with the knowledge specific to the specific industry in which they are working. My belief is that once you are interested in a subject, you will automatically be a life-long learner and then you will necessarily invest the time, resources and energy to continuously tap into the explosive ocean of knowledge that keeps changing at a frantic pace.
Nischala: Wow! Thanks Prof for your interesting insights! Honestly, it’s been a revelation for me because I don’t think I’ve ever met any teacher who speaks about teaching like this. I think all your students are lucky… So, moving on – What is the most satisfying moment for you as a teacher?
DVRS: The best gratification for me as a teacher is when my students write back and keep in touch with me long after they have left the institute – Which I don’t think they do with all the professors they’ve studied with. People write back saying that they are applying the concepts I taught. Some even write back that my courses were among the best at the institute and that motivated by my courses, they made deliberate career shifts. And then of course, there are so many who write back saying that I made a REAL DIFFERENCE in their life.
So there are all kinds of situations which give meaning to my role as a teacher – Cases of people in bad relationships, children abusing parents (and the parent was my student ), people in really BAD jobs, people stuck in a bad work environment, or people completely dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in their life – And their interactions with me through the courses I teach, helped them make peace with their past and move on in life.
What I realized is that people in corporate world are under extreme pressure – Some of this is self- created and some are definite professional pressures. So living every day in a state of STRESS is really NO FUN in the long term. And if I can help them in the larger journey of life, then that gives me immense internal satisfaction!
Nischala: That’s great to hear.. So moving on, you’ve been associated with premier B-schools in India for a very long time. In your view, what are the key significant differences in students from the past (say 10 to 20 years) to now? And differences could mean anything – from self-confidence, to optimism in life and the future, to priorities, to hunger for success, to ambition, to creativity, to innovation, to understanding of basics, to REAL interest in learning… etc. etc. etc.
DVRS: All my courses are elective courses. Earlier, the class strength was 20 -30. I knew each student by his/her name. I could give individual attention to each student and understood him/her from different facets of his life (in the class, family, work, etc.) But now with the increasing demand for management education, the class size has increased significantly. So, interactions are not one-to-one on an individual basis and it’s tough to keep track of every single student.
From student’s perspective, with ever-increasing fees in business schools these days, it puts an immense pressure on the students due to the financial pressures, since many of them would have taken loans to study here. The pressure is not just in terms of amount of money they invest in the program course, but also in the case of the executive MBA program participants, we must also include their opportunity cost because they don’t earn when they are students here. These pressures are increasing year on year.
Hence I feel that the attitude towards education is changing – It really is a ”utilitarian” mind-set for many students: ‘Here is what I invest, and now I need to get my return on investment after the program.’ Only 20 – 25% student truly learn – and I think that’s what counts for me as a teacher and that is what keeps me going in this profession. These are the students who will stand out in the long term! Hence, my view is that the onus of learning is largely on them. I do not take a school teacher approach of goading people to learn in my courses. In fact, I have a very elaborate course outline that spells out my philosophy very clearly, so that hopefully only those students who really want to learn should ideally be taking my courses. However with the growth in student numbers, that is not strictly possible.
As a teacher, I can enable them discover what they are passionate about – And I think the fortunate few who figure out what their TRUE PASSION in LIFE is will EMERGE as the REAL WINNERS!
How can I not make my point without a 2 X 2 – typical of B-schools? We all have lots of noise in the mind. And we need to recognize the noise as the underlying “drama of our life”. It can be sickeningly de-energizing to have this constant background music if the drama is dysfunctional. The drama could be things such as: ‘I am a failure’ or ‘I am useless’ or ‘I need to constantly prove myself to others’, or having a mega ego, etc. If you remove this dysfunctional baggage, it can be wonderfully liberating. I am not saying every one has a dysfunctional baggage, but whoever has it must pay heed to recognizing it and then make efforts to jettison it. The really successful ones are those who have an ‘enabling’ baggage and a clear purpose of life. In my course on Reinventing through Entrepreneurial / Intrapreneurial Leadership’, during part of the course I focus the lens on helping participants understand these aspects, help them to get a clear purpose of life, and to jettison dysfunctional baggage if any that they may be carrying.
Nischala: Thanks for sharing your 2 X 2. That was really insightful.. So moving on, you’ve seen individuals transition from B-school graduates to very many different roles – super successful corporate executives, to business tycoons, to entrepreneurs, to academicians, to social workers, etc. etc. – And each with a different degree of success. Looking back, what are the top 3 life lessons you believe that every student must take-away as a part of their B-school education?
1) To make continuous learning a part of your life. If you go away as a lifelong learner, you will do well for yourself
2) Recognise your core values and never ever compromise on them (these include a strong foundation of ethics, among others)
3) To focus on ROLE clarity in your personal and professional life
4) Alliance Building is KEY in the journey of life – Again both in personal and professional life. And soft skills play a very important role here!
5) Recognize passion and purpose of your life – If you discover your passion, you don’t have to work for even 1 day in life, because it will no longer seem like work
Nischala: Any other message you’d like to share as a part of this rendezvous?
DVRS: As a teacher, I am also evolving and constantly learning. I would like to stress that all that I have told you so far is my learning till date, and hence tentative. I would like to wish all readers of this piece peace and happiness always. Go, discover your passion, jettison your baggage and be happy every second of your life on earth!
Nischala: Thank you for your time. It was an absolute pleasure!
DVRS: You know what? Some of your questions were really tough and made me think too.. So I must commend you for this… Thanks again!
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