Visiting Indian scholar Kanika Bhal is spending the semester at SFU as the first to be invited through the Varshney Visiting Scholars program in Indian Studies.


Visiting Indian scholar shares passion for human behavior and workplace management

November 21, 2017

SFU visiting scholar Kanika Tandon Bhal took her passion for behavioral psychology into the workplace and has been making her mark on the study of business management ever since. Currently a professor in the Department of Management Studies at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, and chair of the Modi Foundation, she is at SFU this semester as the first visiting scholar participating in the Varshney Visiting Scholars program in Indian Studies.

On November 27, she will give a talk in Vancouver at the Segal Graduate School of Business (5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.) on India’s key cultural values and how they translate into the work environment.

SFU News spoke with Prof. Bhal about her transition from human behavioral studies to business management amid the growth and development of business practices in India.

What is your role in India and how are you sharing your expertise at SFU?

Most recently I served as head of IIT’s Department of Management Studies (DMS), from 2012-2016, and my academic interest is strategic leadership, environmental responsibility and business ethics. Given those interests, I am leading a centre of excellence on business ethics, corporate governance and corporate social responsibility at IIT Delhi.

At SFU I have been based since September at the Venture Labs space in Vancouver, and from this vantage point, have been meeting with many students, faculty and industry leaders. This gives me a great opportunity to not only share my own expertise but also to learn how business management practices here compare with those in India.

What prompted you to focus your career on business?

I am a psychologist by training, and moved from a humanities background to business over 25 years ago. This move to business management was greatly facilitated by my experience as a visiting scholar at the Sloan Institute of Management at MIT. The experience influenced my thinking and I knew what I wanted to do. My interest in understanding human behavior and workplace management was set. When I returned to India, I stayed in the field.

When I returned from MIT I took the job at the IIT Delhi. We had been a closed economy, and when we began to open the economy to the private sector, it was a new phase and businesses were getting into India. As the economy opened up and businesses began flourishing, there were opportunities to both apply and test my expertise.

What changes were taking place in the field then?

At the time, much needed to be done to advance understanding, as businesses were traditionally run differently in India. It was a fascinating time to turn my focus to organizational behavior.

As businesses grew, the MBA became one of the most popular professional degrees in India. There was a huge demand, and those studying in other programs, like engineering, often ended up doing an MBA. It became highly valued by business organizations across the board, which resulted in a whole range of new programs.

The concept of management that originated in North America became India’s adopted model of business education. It remains about 80 per cent that way, though we have developed our niches and continue to incorporate Indian concepts, value and culture.

How is the teaching of business in India adapting to growing globalization?

One of the latest IIT initiatives has students taking global field studies, which involves spending 10-12 days in another country, learning about its business culture and government. Students who are preparing to be managers today need to think globally, and to do that, they must experience it.

At the same time, we apprise them of the Indian realities through a social sector engagement process, where students understand and work for more inclusive growth. So, they see both the global as well as the local realities.

What issues will involve you going forward?

My latest research focus is related to the environmental responsibilities of different sectors. Our plans for a collaborative study with SFU researchers will compare regulations of environmentally responsible practices here and in India.

In India, there is also a debate between development and the environment. We are a developing economy, and for development to happen, you will have some trade-off with the environment. We must have strong regulations and policies concerning environmental responsibility. We don’t want to make mistakes as we leapfrog and learn from others’ experiences. As a member of several company boards and government committees, I’m hopeful that I will have opportunities for input.

Prof. Bhal will deliver her public lecture, Belief Systems and Business: Indian Cultural Values and Their Interpretation in the Contemporary Business Context, at the Segal Graduate School of Business Nov. 27 at 5:30 p.m. She returns to India in mid-December.

• The Visiting Scholars Program in Indian Studies was first established by SFU and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and was named the Hari and Madhu Varshney Visiting Scholars Program in Indian Studies in recognition of the Varshneys’ generous investment.

The program will foster and strengthen cultural relations by hosting world-class Indian scholars from a wide range of disciplines such as international studies, contemporary arts, business and world literature. SFU is the first western Canadian university to receive support from the ICCR to create such a program.