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News & Events

Dean Dipak C. Jain

"The guru who learnt things from the tsunami"

Dean Jain featured in article

By C Chitti Pantulu (

7/12/2007 -

HYDERABAD: It is Jack Welch’s favourite story and receives the loudest claps whenever he recounts it. Interestingly, it is not even his own. The oft-quoted tsunami experience of Dr Dipak Jain, Dean Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Chicago holds several lessons for managers.

Recollecting the events of the fateful morning in December of 2004 at Phuket, Thailand, the well known management expert elaborated on the business lessons he drew from the experience. He was speaking at the Indian School of Business where he held forth on Global Macro Trends and issues like branding nations and reservations in India.

“Listen to your inner voice,” Jain said, adding had it not been for some subconscious force that made him walk away from the beach on that fateful December morning, he would not have been alive.

The same holds true for managing businesses too, said the dean of one of the world’s most popular B-schools regaling students with his one-liners and rapid-fire gyan for over an hour on Thursday evening. “Often it is instinct that bails out managers from difficult situations”, he said.

The second lesson from the tsunami is that those who make the right decisions in times of crises are the one with their feet on the ground. It was elephants and other animals in Thailand that sensed the tsunami first and made their way to safety, while less sensitive human beings bore the brunt. Recent happenings in the US confirm this.

Most of the recently fired CEOs did not have their feet on the ground and spent more time in front of video cameras, pointed out the statistician turned marketing guru. This also proves there are no shortcuts to success.

“Just consider the elevator of success to be out of order. Instead just take the steps one by one”, Jain said exhorting that life is not about short cuts. “In fact people who take them also cut short their life”.

Jain, who took over as the Dean at Kellogg in 2001, also sits on the boards of several companies like UAL Corp, Northern Trust Corp, Deere & Co, and Peoples Energy Corp, apart from being a branding advisor to Thailand, El Salvador and Chicago. He is also associated with India’s Knowledge Commission headed by another Chicagoan Sam Pitroda.

Jain, who hails from Tezpur in Assam, listed out three major things for managers and companies to watch out for. The first is that companies should be prepared for hyper-competition and should look out for rivals from beyond their own boundaries of business.

For instance, airlines should be prepared for competition from unlikely quarters like video conference which is gaining popularity among executives, he explained. The second is the rapidly changing customer demographics.
The world is increasingly becoming bi-polar with populations in the US, EU and Japan becoming older, while the under 35 year-olds dominate in India and China.

An immediate repercussion of this is the changing face of the global workforce, which in turn will determine consumer preferences and trends. India is better placed than China where young talent and workforce are concerned.

“In fact China will be old before it becomes rich, while India will be rich before it is old.”

“Actually I am writing a book on this and was tempted to call it the Browning of the Global Workforce but desisted from it,” he said in a lighter vein.

The third and the most important global trend is the emergence of the demanding customer. This will force companies to innovate not just products and processes, but also the very business models they have believed in till now.

For instance, Google’s success derives from the fact that it redefined its customer from the searcher to the searched, innovating a new revenue model, he elaborated. Similarly airlines too will have to rethink their business.
“I have been asking airlines to stop selling tickets and start selling air miles,” he said. The new paradigm should be to engage the customer in the business process.

“It is less costly but more creative”. Reflecting on India, Jain felt the biggest weakness was not hard infrastructure but soft infrastructure.

We should first be thinking of social equality and not necessarily ports, airports and other such infrastructure which has started expanding without the necessary resources, he contended.

“The rich are becoming richer and the poor, poorer”, he observed. The second worrying aspect is that the social fabric is breaking up in India.

“We are moving too fast on the economic dimension and forgetting the yarana and dostana aspect,” he said. This has been the bane of the American society which is perhaps the loneliest. There are more shrinks in America than friends and we should not go the same way, he warned.

On reservations, Jain felt it was necessary the beneficiaries should be made to earn the admissions to higher education. “They should not be offered the same on a platter,” he added.

For this to happen, the solution is not to offer a piece of the pie, but increase the size of the pie itself, he said, adding there was a case for more IIT and IIMs in the country.

At the same time what is also needed is the Wal-Marts of education in India. In this context Jain has mooted the Kto12 concept for promoting school education across sections in India. Still at a nascent stage, the proposal has been broached with several CEOs, he added.