SEASON 1: RESEARCH YEARS (Part 1)

Research is seeing what everybody else has seen and

thinking what nobody else has thought.

                                                                 Albert Szent-Györgyi, Hungarian Noble Laureate, (1893-1986)

Raghuraman (1953-99), my only brother who was working for the government of Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), a tiny country made up of 607 islands in the North Western Pacific, had registered in 1997 for his PhD with University of Florida, USA as an external candidate. He had earlier done M.Sc (Physics) from Bangalore University and M.S (Oceanography) from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) where he was working during 1977-83.  Unfortunately Raghu was diagnosed with Stage 4 Oesophagus and Stomach Cancer in July 1999 and hence, returned to Bangalore for treatment. Subsequently he passed away on 1st November 1999. Having decided to exit business in 2001, I formally registered for a PhD programme during January 2002 as a way of fulfilling the aspiration of my departed brother.

Sometime during 1995 my MBA classmate and good friend Dr. Prasanna Bhat (1951-2020) had suggested during one of our conversations that I am very much capable of doing PhD in the area of Management studies as he himself had done immediately after MBA. I used to meet him at his office[1] in Chennai whenever I was going to Colombo as part of my job when I was with Clixport India Private Limited. During the same year the idea of doing PhD got further entrenched in my mind when I interacted with Dr. Abhijit Bhattacharya, then a senior consultant with Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII), Ahmadabad. Abhijit had visited Bangalore to conduct a seminar for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) of Karnataka for promoting exports to East European countries and I happened to attend that seminar as a representative of Clixport.

Abhijit Bhatacharya (b.1957) was born and brought up in Sibsagar, Assam and after his Higher Secondary schooling was successful in getting selected as one of the thirty students from India for University education in Moscow under Soviet Government scholarship programme. It was a six year programme, with one year of Russian language (preparatory). At the end of five years Abhijit got his M.Sc in Physics and Mathematics. Though he was further offered PhD programme in Plasma Physics because of his M.Sc thesis, he decided to do research in the area of Economics considering wide application of mathematics in economics. His proposal was accepted and his PhD supervisor was a member of Economic advisory committee to Michail Gorbachev[2].

After completing his PhD, Abhijit had one year stint at Harvard University, USA, and returned to India to take up faculty position at Bombay University in 1991. He later joined EDII in 1994 and having lived in the then United Soviet Socialistic Republic (USSR) for a long time, he initiated a programme to promote exports from India to some of the East European countries which were earlier part of USSR. It was during such a seminar at Bangalore, while interacting with Abhijit I got impressed with his passion for research.

Abhijit was indeed impressed with the consortium approach to promote exports from SMEs through an independent company like Clixport. He invited me to EDII to conduct a workshop for Ahmadabad entrepreneurs to enlighten them on consortium approach. I stayed at EDII campus for a couple of days and conducted the workshop. My stay in EDII enabled me to know more about Abhijit and his research work. Sometime during 1997 Abhijit informed me that he had joined Nirma Institute of Management (NIM), Ahmadabad as Professor of Entrepreneurship and invited me to the institute as a guest speaker from industry.

When I decided to do PhD in the area of entrepreneurship, I visited libraries of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B), and National Institute for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Hyderabad.  I also wrote to Abhijit informing him that I’d like to use his institute’s library and stay over in the guest house for a few days to identify a specific area of research that I intend to do.  By this time Abhijit had become the director of NIM. He was happy to welcome me and it was during my stay there I prepared the first draft of my research proposal in discussion with Abhijit.  Back in Bangalore, I visited IIM-B a few more times to fine tune the synopsis of my proposed research in the area of Business Incubation.

Though Abhijit joined University of Natal (later renamed as The University of KwaZulu-Natal), Durban, South Africa, as International Chair Professor and Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship in 2001, he was in constant touch with me inquiring about progress of my research. He returned to India in 2005 to join again NIM as he had promised them. As Abhijit did not relish administrative position, on return he assumed the office of Chairman of doctoral program because of his passion for research. He invited me again in 2007 for an International Conference hosted by NIM to be a panellist to talk on University based Business Incubators.

Because of his strong interest in the areas of entrepreneurship and strategy formulation in a disruptive environment,  Abhijit took up a couple of more international assignments – director, Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, University of West-Indies (2010-13) and later Professor of Entrepreneurship at University of Trinidad and Tobago (2013-16) where he established a Business Incubator – uSTRAT.  Abhijit accompanied then Prime-minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Ms Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Education minister to attend Parvasi Bharathiya Sammelan, held at Jaipur during 2012 with the objective of identifying academic collaborators from India.  Collaborations with IIT-Kanpur, IIM-Ahmadabad and Petroleum University were signed.

Presently Abhijit is working on a book to capture evolution of Indian economy, critically viewing the development strategy that India has followed since its independence.  As Marcus Aurelius[3] had said a long time back, ‘Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life’.

[1] Dr. Prasanna Bhat was the Managing Director, Industrial & Technical Consultancy of Tamilnadu (1994-98)

[2] Michail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1931-2022) was general secretary of Soviet Union during 1985-9 and President of Soviet Union during 1990-1.

[3] Marcus Aurelius (121-180) was a Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher.

July 11 , 2024 | Ravi 81