I did not know Dr. Manesh Shrikant personally. However, there is a sense in which I can say with some confidence that I knew him quite well. During my first two months at the Institute, I had over 41 one-on-one meetings with my faculty team, where I listened, asked questions and got to know my team. Each faculty member had a story to tell - of how they were first attracted to SPJIMR, the impact that their first meeting with Dr. Shrikant had on them, the way in which he touched their careers and enabled them to grow. There was admiration, awe, respect and some fear. Academics tend to be easily critical, and the fact that the word ‘great’ came up time and again suggested that this was no ordinary leader.
In the period immediately post his demise, emotions ran high, and I had many a cathartic meeting with members of the SPJIMR family.
In sum, the picture that emerged was that of a man who supported his people through tough times, visited a senior faculty member in hospital and sat by his bedside for two hours, spent an hour explaining a concept on the phone to a new faculty member till he was confident that the faculty member was comfortable, shared books with faculty and discussed ideas with them, sat with students and pushed them to higher standards, spotted talent early and gave it the freedom to express itself.
Professionally, the picture that emerged was that of a visionary, somebody who had seen the best that Western education had to offer, and knew that India (and SPJIMR) could do better. A man who saw that management was a practice-oriented field, and hence realised the importance of recruiting for attitude and enhancing it, pioneered the creation of innovative non-classroom initiatives to strengthen attitudes and build skills, realised that wisdom came through reflecting on deep experiences, and then designed those experiences into the curriculum, who saw emerging market segments like the family business segment before anybody else did, who practised design thinking in his own Institute, well before the term became the flavour of the month elsewhere. He created an Indian model of management education, a model based on authenticity, local relevance and balance between cooperation and competition, between profit and purpose, between East and West. In short, he was a thinker who was at least a decade ahead of anyone else.
I did take the initiative to meet Dr. Shrikant a couple of months after I joined. We spent an hour together and it was a real pleasure. It affirmed many of the thoughts outlined in previous paragraphs. While some parts of that conversation will forever remain private, what was very clear was that SPJIMR was an integral part of his life. He came across as a fervent nationalist, decrying the lack of imagination in some of our top business schools.
He told me quietly, "The West does not understand the ‘being’ aspect of education. This is the opportunity. India (and SPJIMR) should own the ‘being’ part of ‘knowing, doing, being’." I believe the meeting reassured him. This was confirmed by others whom he met subsequently. We closed with a joint commitment to drive to Khandala together, so that we should share a longer, more exploratory conversation. It is my misfortune that that trip never happened.
There have been many tributes to Dr. Shrikant in recent days. Each tribute reveals a different facet of the man. In the ultimate analysis, I, and the rest of the SPJIMR family of faculty, staff, students and alumni are charged with the responsibility of the ultimate tribute - to take his dream of a world class, yet uniquely Indian institute to its logical conclusion. Anything less will not do justice to his memory.
Note: Dr. Shrikant passed away on October 16, 2015
Date: November 5, 2015