Stanford innovation: GSB links faculty, students and alumni to companies in developing countries

Sep 05, 2017 10:10 AM IST

Leaders of 45 Indian companies are now being trained to develop their businesses as part of Stanford GSB’s Seed Transformation Programme

Seed Transformation Programme (or Seed) by Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) has lofty aims – to handhold small and medium enterprises in emerging economies to develop their businesses . The Ivy League institute has faculty, students and alumni associated with the programme – and India is big on its radar.

Stanford GSB dean Jonathan Levin sees the Seed Programme as a great chance for his institute to be more engaged with India. “This is something which we are really committed to,” he says.(Sourced)
Stanford GSB dean Jonathan Levin sees the Seed Programme as a great chance for his institute to be more engaged with India. “This is something which we are really committed to,” he says.(Sourced)

In the last week of August, intensive training sessions as part of the Seed programme were held for CEOs and leaders of 45 Indian companies Chennai’s Infosys campus. On the agenda, lessons in management and business, finance strategies, accounting, operations and leadership development.

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The companies were selected specially for their potential to grow, create jobs and help the country’s economy in their own way, through Seed. It’s an on-the-ground leadership programme for the founders and leaders of the SMEs.

This cohort of 45 seed companies was selected from 230 applicants out of India , IT making up the largest chunk. Others were from the fields of education, health, heavy manufacturing, among others. The criteria for selection was potential to grow, annual revenues of $150,000 to $15 million and 100 to 200 employees on the roster.

“We are also looking at who’s leading the company – very strong leadership,” says Jonathan Levin, dean, Stanford GSB.

This is also Seed’s first foray into India after running the programme for over five to six years in Africa. It is partnering with Infosys, which is providing the Chennai facilities.

About 565 business leaders have been mentored so far through the programme; $11 million have been raised by participating companies and 79% companies say they have grown their customer base.

The week-long CEOs training, which ended on September 1, is the first part of the year-long programme which will run up to August 2018. Company leaders in these seven days worked together in groups, focusing on management and leadership skills and developing communications.

The programme combines immersive class sessions taught by Stanford GSB faculty. Support is provided by Seed teams that work with the companies, helping leaders develop a broader perspective on financial, strategic, operational and leadership problems that companies face.

Participants will engage in four intensive, week-long sessions over the course of nine months. In the intervening weeks, facilitators will help them apply insights from the classroom, developing their leadership teams and formulating a detailed plan for organisational transformation and growth.

Through leadership peer groups facilitators will also offer participants networking opportunities, resources and ideas to help implement company transformation plans.

The faculty for the Seed programme have to travel to sites and teach via videos. “Many of them say it’s one of the most satisfying types of teaching they have done. Because you learn a lot teaching in a different business environment. It really broadens the perspective of the faculty to see what the problems are. We’ve seen it in Africa and now in Chennai we’ll see what problems India faces on the ground, how these are different from the problems that US business leaders or those in other parts of the world face,” says Levin.

Someone who is “super excited about the programme probably because it has been hugely rewarding for our faculty and students,” Levin sees this as a great chance for Stanford and GSB to be more engaged with India. “This is something which we are really committed to,” he says.

Announced in 2011, the Seed Transformation Programme was launched first Accra, Ghana, West Africa. The idea was that “Stanford could be doing more to work with companies around the world, particularly emerging economies, in helping companies grow their businesses so they could add more jobs and help take their vision to greater prosperity,” says Levin.

“Broadly with respect to India,” he continues “if you look around the world to see which countries are in the next 20 years creating the world’s great companies, India is going to be in the list of places where that’s going to happen.”

Seed also has two associated programmes - for students and research. As global education is actually a big part of GSB every student is required to have some sort of global experience. “A global study trip, an internship or a project with an international company has been a central piece of business education at Stanford. As we build a network of Seed companies one of the opportunities that we give our students is the opportunity to come work for (Seed linked) companies around the world,” says Levin.

This also keeps companies involved with Stanford, enabling the building of a peer network in future for business leaders.

As of now more than 20 students from the institute are currently working in Seed companies with most of them in West Africa this year. Next year students will go to India and east Africa as well.

On measuring the impact of the programme, Levin says companies would be given the option of joining the network of seed companies on the condition that if they have to continue training at Stanford they have to provide data on their progress and development.

Companies can also apply for additional coaching once the programme ends through coaches, Stanford GSB alumni in most cases, who tend to have wider business experience and are at a stage in their careers where they have enough time to do something useful.

“They will work with the companies on a regular basis, go on their boards or work with the CEO of the company,” Levin adds.

Summing up, he says Seed is a very aspirational programme as “one of the goals for Stanford as a university is to help contribute to economic growth around the world and we can do that through education and through educating business leaders. In the few years we’ll hopefully have a thousand companies who have gone through the programme. Most of them will be doing great and a few more would be doing something really extraordinary.”


    Ayesha Banerjee is responsible for Hindustan Times’ weekly supplements, including HT Estates, HT Education and HT ShineJobs.

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