Shaping Product Managers into Business Leaders: An interview with Sujit Kumar, Director HSB

Sujit Kumar, Director of Hari Shankar Singhania School of Business
Sujit Kumar, Director of Hari Shankar Singhania School of Business
In an interview with Education Post, Sujit Kumar, Director of Hari Shankar Singhania School of Business (HSB) shares insights into India’s sole 2-year fully residential MBA program specializing in Product Management. Discussing into his distinguished tenure at institutions, his role in shaping India’s Broadband Policy, and strategies to inspire students towards public policy engagement. The conversation concludes with a focus on the program’s commitment to instilling adaptability and resilience in students and ensuring its curriculum remains at the forefront of industry trends.

Question Q

As the Director of India’s first and only 2-year fully residential MBA program with a specialization in Product Management at Hari Shankar Singhania School of Business, what unique features and opportunities does this program offer to aspiring product managers, and how does it align with the evolving demands of the industry?

As the Director of India’s first and only 2-year fully residential MBA program with a specialization in Product Management at Hari Shankar Singhania School of Business (HSB), I’m proud to share the unique features and opportunities our program offers to aspiring product managers, as well as how it aligns with the evolving demands of the industry:

  • Specialised Curriculum: Our program is tailor-made for students aspiring to become exceptional product managers. It offers a specialized curriculum that covers the core aspects of product management, including market research, design thinking, data analytics, and agile methodologies.
  • Industry Integration: We understand the importance of real-world experience. Our program integrates industry experiences with opportunities for internships, live projects, and interactions with seasoned professionals. This hands-on exposure is invaluable for students.
  • Immersive Learning: Being a fully residential program, students immerse themselves in a dynamic and collaborative learning environment. They live, breathe, and work on product management, fostering a deep understanding of the subject.
  • STEM-Focused: Our program caters to individuals with a STEM background, making it a perfect fit for those with technical and design knowledge. This aligns with the industry’s growing demand for product managers who can bridge the gap between technology and business.
  • Leadership Track: In addition to core product management skills, we emphasize the development of well-rounded leadership skills, including critical thinking, communication, and strategic decision-making. This aligns with industry expectations of product managers taking on leadership roles.

In summary, our program at HSB offers a comprehensive and specialized education that equips aspiring product managers with the skills, knowledge, and experiences needed to excel in a rapidly evolving industry. We are dedicated to preparing our students to meet the industry’s current and future demands and contribute effectively to the field of product management.

Question Q

Your tenure as a professor at prestigious institutions like IIMA and IIMB is noteworthy. What are some key aspects of your forward-looking strategy courses that resonate with students, and how do you prepare them for the challenges of the rapidly changing business environment?

My tenure as a professor at prestigious institutions like IIMA and IIMB has provided valuable insights into developing forward-looking strategy courses that resonate with students and prepare them for the challenges of a rapidly changing business environment. Here are some critical aspects of these courses:

  • Future-Oriented Focus: The courses prioritize a future-oriented perspective, emphasizing the importance of anticipating and adapting to industry trends, emerging technologies, and market shifts. Students learn to think strategically and position their organizations for long-term success.
  • Industry-Relevant Content: The curriculum is regularly updated to reflect industry developments and case studies. This ensures that students are exposed to real-world challenges and solutions.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: With the increasing availability of data, the courses emphasize data analytics and the use of quantitative methods for strategic decision-making. Students learn to make informed choices based on data-driven insights.
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: Collaboration across various functions within an organization is emphasized. Students learn to work effectively with diverse teams, as cross-functional teamwork is essential in addressing complex business challenges.
  • Critical Thinking: Critical thinking is a cornerstone of the courses. Students are encouraged to analyze situations from multiple angles and develop innovative solutions to complex problems.

In summary, my strategy courses at prestigious institutions focus on preparing students for the challenges of the rapidly changing business environment by providing them with a forward-looking, data-driven, and ethical approach to strategic decision-making. These courses equip students with the skills and knowledge to lead and excel in the ever-evolving business world.

Question Q

The MBA program you lead is based on ISPMA’s global curriculum and has recently launched. Can you tell us more about the specific skills and knowledge areas students can expect to gain from this program and how it prepares them for a successful career in product management?

The MBA program I lead, based on ISPMA’s global curriculum, offers students a comprehensive education that equips them with the specific skills and knowledge areas essential for a successful career in the field of product management. Here’s an overview of what students can expect to gain from this program:

  • Product Management Framework: Students will learn the foundational principles and frameworks that underpin product management. This includes understanding the product life cycle, strategic planning, and the product manager’s role in various stages.
  • Market Research and Analysis: The program covers in-depth market research and analysis techniques. Students learn to identify market opportunities, conduct competitive analyses, and make informed decisions based on market data.
  • User-Centric Design: User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design are critical aspects of modern product management. Students gain knowledge in designing products that are user-friendly and meet customer needs.
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: Effective collaboration with various teams, including design, engineering, marketing, and sales, is vital for product managers. The program fosters the ability to work across functions to achieve common goals.
  • Product Development and Launch: Students gain insights into the product development process, from ideation to launch. They learn to create and execute product strategies that lead to successful product launches.

This program’s alignment with ISPMA’s global curriculum ensures that students receive a well-rounded education in product management, covering both fundamental and advanced concepts. Graduates of our program are exceptionally well-prepared to excel in their careers as product managers, equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the rapidly evolving and highly competitive field of product management successfully.

Question Q

You are referred to as “Professor” by your students. What is it about your teaching approach that has garnered this endearing title, and how do you make complex subjects like strategy engaging for your students?

Business Strategy becomes fun when theoretical concepts are seen playing out in  contemporary contexts. For example, in 2019, discussing the possible playout of 5G and the entry of JIO in Healthcare as a new adjacency. Tata Motor’s pioneering and successful strategising amidst uncertainty while launching Nexon EV. Through classroom discussions in 2020 & 2021, helping students visualise the potential meltdown of Netflix, which actually happened in 2022. And so on. The immense effort which went into developing such teaching material and helping students discover their innate ability to think critically, research extensively, connect the dots, apply frameworks, visualise possibilities and actually see them playing enhances engagement.

The ‘Professor’ in me is that ‘demanding, yet empathetic, Alum’ whose unique pedagogy goes beyond ‘case data’. Who is accessible outside class and beyond his own course. Who becomes a friend, guide and well-wisher long after students have graduated.

Being referred to as “Professor” by my students is indeed endearing, and it speaks to the teaching approach I have developed over the years. What sets my teaching approach apart and garners this title are a few key elements:

  • Student-Centric Learning: The core of my teaching approach is recognising that students are at the heart of the learning process. I take the time to understand their unique needs, learning preferences, and individual aspirations. This student-centric approach allows me to tailor my teaching methods to match the specific requirements of each student, fostering a more profound and more personalised learning experience. By acknowledging and accommodating their diversity, I create an inclusive and engaging learning environment.
  • Engaging Teaching Methods: Making complex subjects such as strategy engaging for my students is a top priority. To achieve this, I employ a diverse array of teaching methods that extend beyond traditional lectures. Interactive discussions, real-world case studies, role-playing exercises, simulations, and practical examples are all part of my pedagogical toolkit. These methods not only demystify complex concepts but also encourage active participation and in-depth exploration. By bringing the subject matter to life through these engaging techniques, I aim to ignite curiosity and enthusiasm among my students.
  • Practical Relevance: The bridge between theory and practice is crucial in education. To make complex subjects relevant and engaging, I regularly weave real-world examples and practical applications into the curriculum. This demonstrates to students how the principles and theories they learn are actively employed in the business world. By showing the tangible and immediate relevance of the subject matter to their career goals, I inspire a sense of purpose and motivation in my students. This connection to their professional aspirations fosters a deeper engagement with the subject matter, making it not just academically fulfilling but also practically rewarding.

In essence, my teaching approach revolves around the philosophy that effective teaching goes beyond delivering content; it is about inspiring and empowering students to become critical thinkers, problem solvers, and lifelong learners. By placing students at the forefront of the learning journey, employing engaging teaching methods, and ensuring practical relevance, I strive to make exploring complex subjects, such as strategy, an engaging, meaningful, and valuable experience for my students.

Question Q

Your honorary Chairperson role in CII’s National Broadband Committee played a pivotal role in shaping India’s Broadband Policy. How can students be motivated to engage in public policy and contribute to shaping the nation’s future?

The motivation comes from a strong desire to make a visible impact on a national platform, and in the demonstrated leadership traits. Impactful policies give shape to the future, requiring an imagination of what could be possible. Dots need to be connected across systems, with stepping stones leading back from the possible future to the present. Stakeholders across systems have to be made to see the larger picture through a win win lens. Establishing an early connect between the processes followed in policy formulation within an organisation and that at a national can be helpful. It should be flagged as a key Business skill and leadership opportunity, not as a ‘public affairs’ function at play.

Engaging in public policy and shaping the nation’s future is a significant endeavour, and motivating students to participate is essential. Here are some strategies to inspire and encourage students to participate in public policy:

  • Education and Awareness:
    One of the foundational steps in motivating students to engage in public policy is to provide them with a solid educational foundation. Offer courses, seminars, and workshops on public policy and governance, both as part of the formal curriculum and as extracurricular activities. These learning opportunities should cover not only the theoretical aspects of policy but also the practical aspects of its implementation and impact on society. By fostering a comprehensive understanding of how public policy shapes the nation, students can develop a deep appreciation for its significance.Moreover, creating awareness about the importance of public policy and its real-world implications is essential. Showcase case studies and success stories illustrating how policy changes have driven social and economic progress, highlighting the tangible outcomes of effective policy-making. Guest lectures from experts and policymakers can provide valuable insights and offer a glimpse into the practical application of policy.
  • Mentorship and Role Models:
    Mentorship plays a pivotal role in motivating students to engage in public policy. Connect students with mentors who are actively involved in policy work or who have experience in related fields. Mentors can offer guidance, share their experiences, and provide a support system for students looking to make a difference through policy engagement. The opportunity to learn from someone successful in the field can be incredibly inspiring and reassuring.In addition to mentorship, the presence of role models within the academic institution or through guest speaker sessions can be influential. Students are more likely to be motivated when they see individuals like themselves who have made a meaningful impact on public policy. Role models demonstrate that anyone, regardless of background, can contribute to shaping the nation’s future through policy work.
  • Practical Experience and Action:
    To motivate students, we need to provide them with opportunities to take action and gain practical experience in public policy. Internship programs, community engagement initiatives, and experiential learning opportunities with government agencies, non-profits, think tanks, or advocacy groups can be transformative. These experiences allow students to witness the direct impact of policy decisions and develop a real-world understanding of how policy is formulated and implemented.Encourage research and the development of policy proposals. Support students in researching policy topics that interest them, and guide them in formulating practical and effective policy recommendations. Practical projects that address societal challenges through policy advocacy can be incredibly motivating as students see the direct positive consequences of their work.

By providing the tools, mentorship, and practical experiences needed for policy engagement, we can inspire and equip students to actively participate in shaping the nation’s future. These strategies not only kindle students’ interest but also empower them to make a tangible impact on public policy decisions and, in turn, the broader society.

Question Q

In today’s ever-changing business landscape, adaptability is crucial. How does your program at Hari Shankar Singhania School of Business instil adaptability and resilience in students to navigate the challenges they might face in their careers?

In the ever-changing business landscape, adaptability and resilience are integral qualities for students to navigate the challenges they will inevitably encounter in their careers. The MBA program with a specialisation in Product Management at Hari Shankar Singhania School of Business (HSB) is uniquely designed to instil these qualities in our students.

  • Two-Year Fully Residential Program: Our program immerses students in a dynamic and residential learning environment for two years. This structure fosters adaptability by requiring students to engage with diverse experiences and ideas continuously. Living and learning on campus, students are constantly exposed to new perspectives and are encouraged to adapt to various situations, mirroring the adaptability needed in the business world.
  • STEM-Focused Curriculum: HSB’s STEM-focused curriculum equips students with the technical and design knowledge required to excel in the business world. This focus on multidisciplinary learning instils adaptability as students learn to bridge the gap between technology and business. They gain the ability to pivot between these domains as needed, a crucial skill in the modern business landscape.
  • Industry Experience: The program recognises the value of industry experience. Students with 2 to 4 years of industry expertise are encouraged to build upon this foundation. This practical experience not only enhances their understanding of real-world challenges but also fosters adaptability. They learn to navigate industry-specific challenges, making them more resilient and adaptable professionals.
  • Leadership Track: HSB’s program emphasises the development of a well-rounded skill set, which includes critical abilities in thinking, communicating, and leadership. These skills are vital for adaptability and resilience in leadership roles. Students learn to navigate challenges, communicate effectively, and make informed decisions in the face of uncertainty.
  • Product Management Track: The Product Management track, a distinctive feature of our program, prepares students for the fast-paced and ever-changing world of product management. Learning from distinguished international faculty and seasoned domestic practitioners, students gain a unique blend of skills and experiences. The Capstone course, combining Technology, Design, and Business, offers a true-to-life Product Management experience. This practical exposure instils adaptability as students learn to respond to the evolving demands of the product management field.

In essence, HSB’s MBA program instils adaptability and resilience in students by providing them with a diverse and immersive learning experience. Through a STEM-focused curriculum, practical industry exposure, and the development of critical skills, our students are equipped to face the ever-changing business landscape with confidence and adaptability. This comprehensive preparation ensures they can navigate challenges and thrive in their careers, no matter how dynamic the business environment becomes.

Question QHow do you ensure that the curriculum remains up-to-date with the latest industry trends and global best practices in product management, and how does this keep your students at the forefront of their field?

As the Director of Hari Shankar Singhania School of Business (HSB), I recognise the critical importance of ensuring that our curriculum remains up-to-date with industry trends and global best practices in product management. This commitment is rooted in our dedication to providing our students with a cutting-edge education that keeps them at the forefront of their field. Here are the first three points that outline our approach:

  • Ongoing Industry Collaboration: At HSB, we place a strong emphasis on maintaining close and ongoing collaboration with the industry. This collaboration involves partnerships, regular interactions, and knowledge-sharing with industry professionals, practitioners, and organisations in product management. These connections serve as valuable channels for staying informed about the latest trends, emerging best practices, and the evolving landscape of product management. By remaining closely connected to the industry, we ensure our curriculum is continually enriched with practical insights and real-world perspectives, allowing our students to learn from the latest industry experiences.
  • Advisory Boards: To further enhance our understanding of the skills and knowledge areas that are most relevant in the current business landscape, HSB has established advisory boards comprising industry leaders and experts. These boards serve as strategic partners in shaping our curriculum. They provide invaluable insights and recommendations based on their extensive industry experience, helping us to identify and prioritise the most pertinent topics and practices in the world of product management. The guidance of these advisory boards informs curriculum updates and refinements, ensuring that our students are exposed to the very best practices that the industry has to offer.
  • Faculty Expertise: Our faculty members are not only esteemed academicians but also actively engaged in industry research and consulting. Their dual role as educators and practitioners equips them with a deep understanding of the practical challenges and evolving dynamics of the product management field. Their real-world exposure, coupled with their academic rigour, ensures that our curriculum reflects the latest industry trends and practices. Faculty expertise plays a pivotal role in keeping our curriculum current and dynamic, as they continuously integrate contemporary industry insights into their teaching methods, allowing our students to benefit from the most up-to-date knowledge in the field.

In summary, our commitment to keeping our curriculum aligned with the latest industry trends and global best practices is a multifaceted and collaborative effort. By staying connected with the industry, leveraging advisory boards, and relying on the expertise of our faculty, we empower our students with a forward-thinking and industry-relevant education. This approach ensures that our graduates are well-prepared to be leaders, innovators, and experts in the dynamic realm of product management.

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