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The Rich IIM Ahmedabad History in a Snapshot: A Tribute to Dr. Vikram Sarabhai ~ by Anmol Sikka

Aren't you curious how the red luscious bricks of IIM Ahmedabad came into being, how the Harvard University and IIM-A association got developed and many more questions that are related to the legacy and the rich history of IIM Ahmedabad?

Well, today, a friend of mine, Anmol Sikka, has come forward to share with you how this institute took its shape. Anmol has written this piece to honour Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, whose birth anniversary is celebrated every year on 12th August. Anmol is also running a similar league of posts on his blog - AeroSpace Nerds.

IIM Ahmedabad History

History of IIM Ahmedabad

In Anmol's Words:

About Myself

I have always been passionate about Space. IIT Bombay Aerospace was the best that India had to offer, so there I was. Having joined IIT with very few expectations, getting to work on an actual satellite at the Satellite Team gave me all I could ask for.

I went on to become the Project Manager of the Satellite Team and headed the team with Aniruddha Ranade for two years. Learning the theory from courses and practicalities from the team, I now plan to build a niche by pursuing a PhD at the University of Maryland.

Currently, I am blogging on AeroSpace topics in my free time until it is possible to go to the US.

IIM Ahmedabad Origins

The Idea

Vikram Sarabhai understood the importance of Management and Operations Research for future India. Managing the family business Sarabhai Chemicals and ATIRA, he learned a lot of management and operations. Around 1956, he started the Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA) to conduct research and provide training to employees of companies. The AMA then served as the precursor to IIMA.

Ford Foundation's Plan

The Ford Foundation decided to survey Indian conditions to set up two management institutes in the country. Sarabhai realised it to be a huge opportunity. He spoke to his firm allies, Kasturbhai Lalbhai, and Jivraj Mehta, soon to be the first chief minister of independent Gujarat, for campaigning to bring one of the institutes to Ahmedabad.

But the dream of starting a world-class management institute in Ahmedabad faced a significant roadblock. The team of researchers sent from the US to survey Indian conditions reported back that poverty-ridden India was more in need of primary schools than management education. Disappointed but not disheartened, Vikram met representatives of the Ford Foundation again. He requested for another team to be sent. The second opinion proved more favourable.

Harvard University Comes In

With the approval of Ford Foundation, Vikram Sarabhai now needed a world-class university to step in and assist them. He went to Harvard University to seek their involvement in the project. Dr Kamla Choudhary, a good friend of Vikram from ATIRA, was a part of Vikram's dream, in fact, IIM-A for a joint vision for them. They contacted Prakash Tandon who had become a friend after his visit for the ATIRA conference and had Harvard experience, which added to their efforts. Finally, IIMA was registered in 1961.

Vikram Sarabhai had chosen an established partner and in Harvard Business School. Once, HBS came onboard, it brought its educational philosophy with it. Harvard 's famous 'case study method' was implemented at IIM - A, but the method was merely a vehicle. As Prof Ravi Mathai, Vikram 's successor at IIM - A, was to point out, was the idea that ‘a substantial element of reality was brought into the classroom in written form based on the actual experience of people who made and implemented decisions in the industry'. This influenced all facets of the processes followed at IIMA. Even the recruitment policy was set to hire both academicians and practitioners.

Vikram and Kamla decided to send the newly recruited faculty members to the Harvard Business School's teachers' training programme. Dwijendra Tripathi, who had been hired as an assistant professor, was among them: "Vikram, when he was in Boston, would come and have lunch with us at the faculty club. I told him I needed money to prepare a crash programme with Indian case studies. He passed the proposal immediately, and then he made some light-hearted comment about businessmen being " boors”," Tripathi recalls.

Louis Kahn's Red Bricks

Initially, till the building was ready, IIMA started operating from a rented bungalow at Shahibaug in June 1962. In the same year, the Government of Gujarat purchased and transferred 65 acres of land worth over Rs. 25 lakhs to IIMA. The Governing Body managed by Kasturbhai began searching for an architect to match the vision of the world-class institute. Vikram Sarabhai convinced Kasturbhai Lalbhai to invite the renowned international architect Louis Kahn to design the building. Sarabhai himself sat with Kahn for hours across the dining table at his residence, discussing ideas and concepts.

Early Model of IIM-A
Early Model of IIM-A: Source - IIMA Archives

Kahn, using the locally available red bricks, conceived the IIMA campus in his distinctive style of architecture comprising circles and arches. The Gannon Dunkerly & Co. Ltd won the construction contract, and the work started. Faculty House, followed by student hostels and finally the main academic complex, one-by-one IIMA came into physical existence. It was in 1966, that finally, the academic activities shifted to the famous red-brick campus.

The legacies of all the visionaries and dignitaries who helped establish IIM Ahemdabad along with Dr Vikram Sarabhai was preserved in the IIMA Archives. I hope that along with Dr Sarabhai, all others are recognized by the youth of our country on this occasion of Vikram Sarabhai Centenary Celebrations.


Thank you, Anmol for taking out your precious time to share about the origins of IIM Ahmedabad. I hope we all can take out some time to be grateful for the vision and efforts of the founding members, it's because of them that we have this premier institute of management in India.

P.S. This post took me back to my campus days :) This place never ages! Ever!

Post Category: Life at an IIM

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