M.S. Pillai – Founder Director, SCMLD & Founder President, SEEF
Formerly, Faculty & Acting Director, SIBM and Founder Director, SCMHRD.
Prof. MS Pillai started his mission of imparting transformational education when he began the Symbiosis Centre for Management & Human Resource Development (SCMHRD), a pioneering institution, in 1993 with 32 students. By the time he stepped down in 2004, applicants to the two year programme at SCMHRD numbered more than 20,000. Like Sadhana, SCMHRD too functioned in the non-formal sector, without AICTE, UGC, or government approvals or affiliations during this period. Its growth and successes were a result of Prof. Pillai’s partnership with and through the involvement of students and the patronage of recruiting organisations and companies that appreciated and demanded the exemplary quality, leadership habits and capacities of SCMHRD students and the value system ingrained in them, as also their ability to work stress free. It was also the faith reposed in, and the unstinting support and free hand accorded to Prof. Pillai by Dr. S.B. Mujumdar, the visionary behind Symbiosis, in his unique and unconventional approach to learning facilitation and inculcation of values, ethics and leadership, that enabled him to practicalise his vision and ideas of holistic education.
Prof. Pillai was born in a village in Kerala into a family of farmers, and went to a primary school that was essentially a thatched shed with a handful of teachers. He walked 10 miles daily to go to high school and completed his basic education in the vernacular medium. At seventeen, owing to financial difficulties he left his home village and moved to Bangalore, working for nine months almost as a domestic hand in a distant relative’s house before joining the Indian Air Force. During school years, kerosene wick lamp and cow dung plastered bare floor was his study space at home shared by 6 siblings as well. While in Bangalore, the margins of newspaper litters picked up form the streets and garbage dumps served as his notepads. Also, in the year after that, street lamps and roadsides served as his study tables. After fifteen years of service, during which time he simultaneously obtained his BA, MA, LLB, and MBA degrees, proceeded to a stint in private industry before accepting a faculty position at the Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) in 1985. As stated above, in 1993 he conceptualised and established for the Symbiosis family the Symbiosis Centre for Management & Human Resource Development (SCMHRD), staying at its helm till his departure in 2004. For a brief period Prof. Pillai was also acting as director for SIBM alongside heading SCMHRD.
Having built a world-class institution at Symbiosis, in 2004 Prof. Pillai conceptualised Sadhana as a unique institution that would set new standards in employability and nation building education, while the world at large grew more and more bent on an imitative race for MBAs and paper degrees. His former students at SCMHRD came together to help him establish Sadhana, where Prof. Pillai’s mission is to offer an opportunity to those among the youth who are not in the 99-percentile category, who have the passion and fire to prove themselves in the business world in effect students like him all those decades ago.
Prof. Pillai has been a pioneer in introducing a spiritual and empathetic dimension into management education, which has today been emulated by organizations and institutions all around. He facilitated programmes of the Sidhha Samadhi Yoga (SSY), the Art of Living Foundation, Vipassana meditation, and other similar processes and outbounds for students to take them beyond hackneyed textbook learning. Emphasizing on a holistic concept of education, Prof. Pillai insists on his students learning not merely in classrooms as per antiquated tradition, but also by tapping into their own inborn curiosity, their ability to observe and assimilate, their research potential, with critical emphasis on learning through experience. Education, to Prof. Pillai, must be a rounded and lifelong process that integrates theoretic knowledge with practical skills, emotional and intellectual depth, spiritual and social solicitude, responsibility, and dedication to causes superior to individualistic need alone.
Prof. Pillai’s philosophy is that there are today too many leaders of pretension. Their leadership is superficial, and the need of the hour is authentic leadership, which in a country like India at this juncture in its national evolution, is the kind of leadership that can inspire and break out of our collective mediocrity and fatal sense of complacence. Prof. Pillai’s desire is not to partake in an education system that teaches students to masquerade as good leaders, but to construct one that emphasizes being and doing good. It is his belief that intellectual acumen must be accompanied by spiritual insight in a world confronting diverse social, political, environmental and other issues. In essence, ethical, broad-minded leadership in a sustainable education model that creates a more just world is what Prof. Pillai considers the ideal of Indian higher education in the twenty first century.
In grooming his students, today numbering more than 6,000, thus, Prof. Pillai has focused not only on providing preeminent international inputs to them, but also introducing the reality of their nation as it is. Very often elite education divorces students from the contemporary conditions of the world outside their air-conditioned classrooms and theoretical deliberations. Prof. Pillai’s quest is to bridge that gap. To him, the classroom must be accompanied by exercises in our villages, farms, factories, mandis and bazaars. Students must know what it is to toil, to sweep, to work at municipal hospitals, to earn money on the streets, and, in essence, to live the lives of those less privileged than them. Alumni of SCMLD will tell of their packed schedules from 7 am till 8 pm, filled with academic input, outbound nature trips, theatre and debate, as well as experiential learning in unorthodox but very instructive settings.
For his efforts in Indian management education, Prof. Pillai has received a number of honours and awards ranging from several Rotary commendations to the Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teaching, the Qimpro Gold Standard Award of the Qimpro Foundation, the Karmaveer Puraskar of the International Confederation of NGOs, and, most recently, the Bharat Asmita Acharya Shreshta Award by MIT Group of Institutions, Pune.