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Professor Bala Balachandran
Professor Bala Balachandran  Photo © Nathan Mandell

'Keep reinventing yourself'

Accounting professor Bala Balachandran takes his own advice and begins a new journey after a distinguished, decades-long Kellogg tenure

By Matt Golosinski

"I'm not re-tiring. I'm not even tired," quips 71-year-old Bala Balachandran, and he says it with such good humor that you laugh along with him, enveloped by his warmth and cheer.

It's this spirit, coupled with his insights into managerial accounting and forecasting, that have made Balachandran an influential member of the Kellogg faculty since 1973, when he arrived with formal training in mathematics, engineering and industrial administration. (Among his academic credentials is a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon). This year, the J.L. Kellogg Professor of Accounting Information and Management is stepping away from full-time teaching to spend more time with family, but he intends to remain engaged, in Evanston and elsewhere, as he continues what has been a lifelong dedication to education.

"All people are equal, regardless of color, religion, whatever," Balachandran says. "We are all seeking knowledge."

In addition to producing more than 75 articles and serving in editorial capacities for peer-reviewed journals, Balachandran has been broadly active in the Kellogg culture. His efforts over the last 35 years include chairing the Accounting Department (1979-1983), directing the Accounting Research Center (1985-2006), promoting experiential learning initiatives like Global Initiatives in Management (GIM), and helping start the India Business Club and India Business Conference.

On the global stage, Balachandran helped create Hyderabad's Indian School of Business (ISB) — an initiative launched in 2001 that drew on resources from Kellogg and the Wharton School. He is also founder and honorary dean of the Great Lakes Institute of Management in his hometown of Chennai, India. That school, whose motto is "Global mindset, Indian roots," opened in 2004.

"Education everywhere is my theme," Balachandran says. "Kellogg is the seed, but the seed should not be eaten. It should be cultivated and shared worldwide."

His efforts have earned him distinction, as well as admirers from among leaders in government, business and academia, such as India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Tata Group Chairman Ratan N. Tata. For his contributions to education, in 2001 India honored Balachandran with its highest civilian award, the Padma sri. In 2007, India Abroad named the Kellogg professor to its list of "50 Most Influential Indian Americans."

Said longtime colleague Professor Robert Magee: "Bala has provided excellent service to the academic accounting profession ... and has been a true Kellogg patriot." Dean Dipak C. Jain, whom Balachandran "warmly respects and admires," pointed out the importance of the accounting professor's role in chairing a strategic committee in 1985-1987 that influenced the school's direction at a key time.

Several colleagues, including Donald P. Jacobs, Kellogg dean emeritus, have led a campaign to raise $1 million for an endowed professorship at Kellogg in Balachandran's name.

For his part, Balachandran considers the emeritus dean an inspiration. "If I succeeded, it's because of Jacobs. He was the force behind me, supporting those efforts."

Balachandran's efforts have been informed by a desire to make "nonlinear jumps." Getting things done collaboratively is something he relishes. In fact, he views networking as a critical leadership skill but defines it in terms of nishkamya karma, or action done for its intrinsic value.

"I don't try to get something for me," he says. "If you network with a selfish agenda, the outcome won't be good."

It's that perspective that Balachandran is taking with respect to the GIM trip — his last — that he plans to lead in India next spring. He wants his students to meet Ratan Tata, among others, and gain an appreciation for what it takes to be a global leader.

"If you are at the top, everyone wants to take you down, so you've got to keep inventing and reinventing yourself," he says.

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