The doyen of management study and research
Krishna Kant Das
The happening on a particular afternoon in summer of 1947 is still vivid in the mind of this octogenarian and he loves to cherish it. It was on that afternoon that this young tourist from Dacca while strolling on the golden beaches of Vizag, trespassed into the campus of Andhra University and suddenly found himself standing before the then principal of the campus college, Suri Bhagwantam, and that was the beginning of his long journey of academic pursuit that later credited him with being the father figure in the faculty of management studies in the country.
Meet Krishna Kanta Das, born in 1916 in the sylvan setting of Dacca, then part of undivided India, in an affluent industrial family. He graduated in commerce from Dacca University and then moved to London where he acquired his Bachelor's degree in Banking and Finance from the London School of Economics.
During his initial stay in London he was put up in a hotel that was owned and managed by V.K. Krishna Menon (Nehru's close associate) and had the opportunity to meet Jawaharlal Nehru a couple of times in the post-Independence era.
Having completed his education, Prof. Das returned to his native soil but could not go back to complete his Master's degree as World War II was on. During those days he started his own wholesale business that flourished in no time, but academic up-gradation was always in his mind. To satisfy that urge he joined Dacca University as part-time lecturer for a monthly payment of Rs.100.
While the entire country celebrated the dawn of freedom, it was a bane for the Indians on the other side of the border. The very thought of being alienated from his own soil moved him and he migrated to Calcutta in the early part of 1947 with his wife, and set up his business once again.
It was during that year, to overcome the grief of being displaced from his cherished land he came on a personal visit to Visakhapatnam and was instantly in love with its serene coastline, lush green hills and friendly people.
"One afternoon while walking along the beach I just walked into the campus to see the place as I had heard about this institution while I was teaching at Dacca. My academic interests prompted me to meet the principal and I approached him. Prof. Bhagwantam, spoke to me for a while and suddenly asked me if I was interested in working here. Unassumingly, I said yes, and was told to meet the then Vice - Chancellor the next day. On the dot, I was ushered into the Vice-Chancellor's office, and to my astonishment I found myself standing before a man, clad in a simple dhoti and a shawl draped over his person. Bewildered by his intellect, I realized that I could not rise to his intellectual plane. That was C. R. Reddy. What was even more surprising was that the next day I was handed over my appointment letter and posted directly as Head of the Commerce Department. I wound up my Calcutta business and joined AU. At that time, I was barely in my thirties and suddenly found myself surrounded by stalwarts like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Humayun Kabir, Mahadevan and V.S Krishna, and Dr. Reddy's presence itself was a towering influence on me. I shared a very close bond with Dr. Reddy. Whenever we used to meet, out of courtesy I would ask him, how are you sir? And every time he used to give a light punch in my abdomen and say wearing a smile on his lips never ask an old man how he is," fondly remembers Prof. Das.
Being a youngster and armed with only a bachelor's degree amidst stalwarts used to bother him and he once expressed this feeling to Sarvepalli. "They say that all intellectual greats are blessed with a good memory. One fine day in 1952, I received a letter from Oxford University, inviting me to do a doctoral programme, under the recommendations of Dr. Radhakrishnan, who was at that time teaching in Oxford and tipped for the post of Vice - President of India," he recalls. But at the same time Das had also applied for a research programme at Harvard, and finally opted for it.
Prof. Das was the first Indian to be admitted at the Harvard Business School to do a doctoral programme, even without post-graduation. In 1956, he had created history by becoming the first Indian to be honoured with a doctoral degree from that school.
During his doctoral programme he underwent internship in top companies like Xerox and IBM and submitted a thesis on the prospects of oil industry in a developing country like India. It was highly acclaimed by the dean and professors of Harvard. His thesis was primarily based on Caltex that was setting up a refinery in Vizag at that time. Caltex appreciated his work and also awarded a scholarship for his effort. In the mean time, he used his summer vacations to continue the doctoral programme at Oxford and it was during this period he had come in contact with Nobel laureate Hicks and Harold Lasky, with both playing an influencing role in his life.
After completion he returned to AU in 1957. Though his absence extended the stipulated leave period, V.S Krishna, the then Vice - Chancellor, appreciated his academic quest and allowed him to continue as the Head of the Commerce Department.
Having learnt the nuances of management education at the Mecca of business education itself, Prof. Das had the desire of setting up a management programme in the university. He put up a proposal before the Vice-Chancellor and it was immediately approved and that was how the first MBA programme was incepted in the country with the unstinted support of Krishna and the AU managing committee. The Commerce Department came to be known as Department of Commerce and Management Studies.
AU can boast of being the first university in the country to start the management studies department with Prof. Das as its chief initiator and architect. It was subsequent to that Ford Foundation had started the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad and later at Kolkata and others followed later. Today management colleges mushroom all over the country churning out thousands of graduates every year. But how good are they is again a debatable question.
"Another interesting incident in my career was when I had gone to Calcutta for a holiday. The director of IIM approached me to take up his post in his absence for a brief period. On agreement he took me to Bidhan Chandra Roy, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal. Roy asked my consent on the issue, and before I could reply he retorted in his resonant voice `I see Krishna (AU Vice-Chancellor) is your problem'. He instantly picked up the phone and spoke to Krishna. It was later in the night Krishna spoke to me and instructed me to follow Roy's instructions as long as he wants me to and not to worry about my AU posting. My posting lasted about six months. Those were the days and those were the people. I can confidently say that I have never stayed in any hostel all my studying days, be it in London or in the US. I always stayed with some family who made me feel a part of them. In the present situation people seem to have forgotten the basic human values," says Prof. Das.
From 1964 to 1984, he worked in different universities of the US as professor of management, Graduate School of Business Administration, Clark- Atlanta University; professor of management, Graduate school of Business, University of Georgia; and f
finally as the professor and chairman, department of management and marketing, Howard University.
The urge to do something for the country impelled him to come home and he took up various assignments thereafter. After a brief stint as visiting professor of management in Punjab University, he concentrated in institution building and played a key role in setting up the International Management Institute, New Delhi, the Indian Institute of Advanced Management, Visakhapatnam, and was made the honorary director of a project on professional studies by the then Chief Minister, N.T. Rama Rao.
Prof. Das has received many awards all through his distinguished career at home and abroad.
The Harvardian feels that the sprouting of management institutes in every nook and corner has diluted its standards and has derailed the concept.
The products that come out of these institutes are not sharp and neither their attitudes match the requirement of the business world. That is why the best still continues to be the best.
In spite of his ripe age he hasn't lost the touch of his subjects or his teaching skills and still longs to go up to the podium and interact with his students, whom he so dearly adores. He still believes that the classroom is the best learning centre for a teacher.
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