Tampering with IIM-A’s identity

Truth be told, increasingly, the actual contributions of IIM Boards to the excellence of IIMs is very little
Last Updated 29 November 2022, 13:25 IST

Earlier this month, the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) unveiled a new logo, forsaking its six-decade-old iconic logo that had the ready recall and recognition of millions in the country. Only a few months ago, in March 2022, when the move to change the logo was first announced, there was a vivid uproar on the part of many existing and former faculty, deans and directors, not to mention a large cross-section of the institute’s alumni, against the change.

At the time, the IIM-A faculty had also sought a meeting with the then Chairman and the Board “to understand the rationale for this change in logo and the process adopted by the board.” And to know why the time-honoured processes of faculty-governance were being bypassed. The faculty also wrote to the Chairman, placing on record not only the faculty’s reservations about this ill-conceived move, but also the manner in which the proposal had been cleared by the Board without the faculty, or for that matter any of the other key constituents, including the vast and distinguished alumni, being taken into confidence, or their opinions sought on the proposal.

Following the tumult, the Board held the decision in abeyance, promising to hold wider consultations.

And now, with no known wider consultations having taken place, either with the faculty or with any of the other constituents (according to the Dean, who resigned last fortnight, in protest), the Board has reiterated its decision to change the logo, albeit with some minor tweak.

Interestingly, as recently as 2019-20, IIM-A had built a copyright wall around its distinctive logo. Logos and brands, like antiques, only grow more precious with age. So, exactly what precipitated this initiative to change the famous IIM-A logo?

The reason for the change doesn’t beg too much speculation. Even an ‘outsider’ to the IIM system, like Rajmohan Gandhi, has been able to link this move to the origins of this 60-year-old logo – namely, the famous Jaali motif, taken from the Sidi Saiyyed mosque of Ahmedabad. A delicately sculpted window of the 16th century masjid, the motif presents a great work of fusion between Kalpataru in the Hindu traditions and the incredible delicacy of Islamic art, appropriately sourced locally for visual depiction of the Sanskrit tagline “Vidya viniyogadwikasaha”. In Rajmohan Gandhi’s words, this Jaali, or the lattice-work window, is a stunning portrait of unity in diversity.

What is more, while the original logo contains an authentic rendition of the original Jaali motif, with the Sanskrit tagline underneath, with IIM-Ahmedabad scripted at the bottom, the new logo provides a crude caricature of the original Jaali with the IIM-Ahmedabad replaced merely by IIMA, which could well be IIM, Aurangabad.

Earlier this month, a silent protest-cum-meditation session was organised by several current and former faculty and students at the well-known Luis Kahn Plaza on November 14 against the administration’s arbitrary ways of working. Also, significantly, the Dean of Alumni and External Relations, Prof Saral Mukherjee, resigned in protest for being kept entirely out of the loop in this key decision. According to him, “In April, IIM-A BoG Chairman told everyone that the decision has been kept in abeyance and the director will consult people before making a decision. There was no consultation with faculty members. Just an hour before the decision was shared with the media in a press briefing, we got an email from the BoG informing us about the decision to change the logo.”

That’s not all, either. Around March 2022, the faculty at IIM-A, in an earlier communication to the Board, had articulated several well-argued reasons, shared by many former faculty, alumni and other stakeholders, why a logo change was neither necessary nor advisable. Some of these were:

1. The change of logo will have far-reaching implications and long-term consequences on the institute’s brand and its stakeholders.

2. As this was a branding exercise, it should always be preceded by a visioning exercise done in consultation with the stakeholders, which did not happen in this case.

3. As per our legacy of faculty governance, the same should have been brought to the notice of the faculty before it was tabled for the Board decision.

4. The Board should have done due-diligence to check if inputs of various stakeholders such as the faculty, the alumni, the students and the staff have been sought and taken into account before the proposal was tabled for it to take a decision.

Incidentally, the IIM-A logo was designed after a long process of diligence and deliberation, under the guidance of the venerable Prakash Tandon, the then Chairman of IIM-A, who was also the Chairman of Hindustan Lever. It took three years of brainstorming for the logo to take shape under Hasan Taj, the then chief art director of Lintas.

One may also add that the original logo also embodies the fusion of Hindu-Islamic common heritage of several centuries. In the atmosphere of religious divisiveness that we have been witnessing in recent years, a symbol like the IIM-A logo is probably the need of the hour, rather than the Board raking up needless controversies and sending wrong signals, when there are a billion important issues awaiting their attention.

Truth be told, increasingly, the actual contributions of IIM Boards to the excellence of IIMs is very little, and they probably justify their existence by such unwarranted tinkering. Rather than asking the institute to prepare itself to compete against world-class business schools and improve their falling rankings, they seem to find relevance in indulging in entirely avoidable initiatives that add little to the purpose or prominence of the institute.

IIM-Ahmedabad has an illustrious history and legacy. Sadly, the Chairman, the Director and the Board of IIM-A have collectively let all its constituencies down.

(The writer is a former Professor & Chairman, PGP Programme of IIM-Ahmedabad)

(Published 29 November 2022, 10:25 IST)

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