Seven years ago, had an astrologer predicted to Mr. R. T. R. Varma that there would soon be a ‘Professor’ prefixed to his name, the fore teller would have had to go back empty-handed. An on-ground marketer for the better part of his life, Mr. Varma was sitting pretty high up the corporate ladder at that point in time, designing marketing communication strategies, as part of the senior management of a prominent business house with a global footprint. An MBA from the University of Oklahoma, USA, Mr. Varma had marketed everything from gold and diamond jewelry, to contraceptives, automobile tires, confectionary and liquor, during his 25 years in the corporate world. In all that time, he never worked for competitors in the same industry, and always hopped from one industry to a new one. Academia was hardly the place for a hard-core professional… or so he thought.
“After quitting my last corporate position, I was headed towards a consultancy practice. At that time, an acquaintance of mine – an ex-Director of one of the IIMs – pointed out that B-schools in India were looking at experienced professionals as teachers. I began exploring the avenues and very quickly, advisory services and part-time teaching assignments began emerging as firm options. The realisation dawned upon me that for a person with a long innings in the industry, academics present a wonderful opportunity to revisit the bygone era and find more meaning to what one had experienced.”
The fact that today Professor R. T. R. Varma is the HoD of the Marketing Department at SCMS-Cochin speaks volume about his contributions. Interestingly, the Marketing department at SCMS-Cochin has the unique distinction of not having a single career academician; all have come from different business backgrounds.
“Subjects like Marketing Strategy, Communication, Corporate Governance and Entrepreneurship are difficult if you simply teach them out of a textbook. For a good Marketer, the focus is always on customers and products, and on building relationships. Win or lose, you have to remain rooted to the market place. This is where a marketer-turned-academician is of sterling value. He or she understands the value of direct instruction and mentoring, but lays stress on the importance of research-oriented, co-operative learning.”
Students of SCMS-Cochin vouchsafe for the fact that there is never a dull moment in Prof. R. T. R. Varma’s class. Understandably so, since Prof. Varma has spent a lifetime actively gauging what appeals to the person in front and changing his marketing style accordingly.
“I’m incapable of sitting down in my classrooms at SCMS-Cochin,” confesses Prof. Varma. “It is as if in the class, my physical movement is an extension of my mind. I just have to move constantly.”
Not surprisingly therefore, his days at SCMS-Cochin are crammed with classes and encounters with students and faculty alike. “Trying hard to appear important and knowledgeable!” he offers, making light of it. Described as “friendly, forthright and chivalrous” by his fellow faculty members at SCMS-Cochin, Prof. Varma finds great satisfaction in imparting the “art of providing and communicating values” – as he describes Marketing – to the budding managers at SCMS-Cochin.