Interview with Dr. Arun K. Jain, Professor of Marketing

RBS is pleased to invite you to a Guest Lecture by Arun K. Jain, Professor of Marketing at University at Buffalo School of Management.

Dr. Jain has played a key role in helping the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries move towards privatization and market-based economies. He has traveled, given lectures or taught executive education programs in Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, England, Scotland, Hungary, the former Soviet Union, Latvia and Mexico. He serves as a consultant to major international corporations.

Dr. Jain is also one of a very few who was not only been a part of RBS 22 years ago, but also is coming back this year to teach a summer course for our MBA students. What has changed both at RBS, and in Riga during these 25 years? We asked Dr. Jain.


Where did you go to school?
I graduated from the Oxford of the East, Allahabad University, with a degree in Economics and Commerce in 1966. From there, I went to Stanford to study Marketing at the Graduate School of Business on a Ford Fellowship in 1967. From Stanford I went to the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley for advanced education in Marketing and MIS. I obtained my Ph.D. in Marketing from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. I had the privilege of working with the best minds in Marketing doing cutting edge research on marketing strategy.


How did you get interested in marketing?
Well, it was very interesting. Before going to Stanford, I was a finance-accounting major in India and I was determined to go to England for my CPA degree. A professor of mine at my University in India had recently returned from Stanford and he started talking about this wonderful field of marketing. And he wondered whether I would really want to be a finance major sitting in the back room and working with numbers rather than being a more creative person. So that turned me around completely because he said 

“You are a creative person. You do not want to simply follow the rules. You want to create the world, make a difference.”

And I never looked back after that. That is what happened – the teacher just simply turned me around.

In the 60’s few body knew about the field of marketing in India. Demand was bigger than the supply in the market; few cared about customers in the market. Businesses could manufacture whatever they wanted and still find a ready market. It was more like a soviet economy – a controlled system that India borrowed from the Soviet Union. After studying Marketing I realized that by changing the rituals of the companies – everyone could benefit from that – the companies, the customers, and society. It was a revelation to me. It never dawned on me that if I simply learn about the customers, I could design a better product and services, which I would be able to sell in the market and build customer loyalty. It is a very simple notion, but sadly – often is not practiced. 


Do you think this is a world problem?
I think it is true all over the world, although since the collapse of the Soviet Union the companies are realizing that they will be better off by paying attention to the needs of customers in the market place. Internet has made it possible for the information about products and services in the market place to be easily available to everyone. Customers have become more demanding. Businesses that are hanging on to old Soviet style thinking are failing. Many dominant brands in the world have disappeared from the market because they refused to change and adapt to the new conditions in the market.

You have to realize that the road to success is paying attention to the customers. And that is the message from marketing.


You have seen Latvia 25 years ago and now. Do you see any changes?
I think Latvia has changed dramatically since I first came here. I vividly remember my first visit during January of 1991. I came to teach in a short program on management. Riga was cold and it was dark during the daytime. I stayed in a big hotel in the old section of Riga. Quality of services was poor. Nobody really cared about the guests. As I recall, Businesses did not care about the needs of customers. Most of the stores were empty and to my surprise, prices were quoted in US dollars or German Marks. It improved a little when I returned in 1993. However, the service personnel did not care about the customers. I remember we were frequently cheated by restaurants who refused to tell us prices and charged whatever they wanted. The choice of restaurants was limited, few stores offered products one would want to take home as souvenir, and to my disappointment the Opera House was closed for repairs.

Riga has changed dramatically since I first came here. You have excellent restaurants all over the city serving high quality food. There are so many choices. To my surprise, one can even eat very good Indian food! Stores are full of high quality merchandise. The Central market, my favorite place in Riga, is full of fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world. We are happy to see cherries from Hungary, Poland, and Spain. There are watermelons from Italy, and the most delicious melons from Spain and Uzbekistan. Local farmers are bringing fresh lettuce, arugula, radishes, carrots, and tomatoes. Stores are full of products, local as well as those manufactured elsewhere. There are hairdresser all over the town and stores are carrying beautiful clothes. You will notice women fashionably dressed all over the city. The look will match any European and American City.

Like Paris, the city is full of small cafes and Bistros. One can relax in a small, intimate coffee shop and enjoy delicious espressos and cappuccinos, tea, pastries, and cupcakes. Almost all have free access to internet, something missing at many restaurants in the West. So what has changed? The variety, the selection – it is a different world.  

Latvia has dramatically changed during these 25 years.

I have to be very honest – I did not expect this. This has been an eye opener. Latvia is a good example of how a country can come out of the dust given freedom and opportunity to grow. 


But is there still a way to grow?
Oh, of course! It is difficult to simply turn off the switch, the destruction done by foreign ruler will disappear, and we will see sun light. Soviet Union never invested in the economic growth of Latvia. They were busy exploiting the resources and the people. They destroyed the infrastructure of the country, the educational institutions, and the mindset of the citizens. It will require huge investment and patience. I am very happy to see how things are changing in Latvia. Give the country time and Latvia will acquire her true status among the advanced nations in Europe and the world. 


Tell us about your involvement with RBS – where did it all start and what is your relationship now?
I came to Riga in 1991 because of my good friend Mr. Voldemars Innus, who is the Chairman of the Advisory Board at RBS. He had graduated from my University. Voldemars asked me to offer a short program in marketing along with other colleagues for executives in Latvia to which I agreed. It followed with an extended visit in 1993 when we jointly launched the first American MBA program in Latvia and this part of the world. I had very enthusiastic students who were paying close attention to every word we were saying. They liked to hear about the cases of successful and unsuccessful US companies, where marketing had made a difference. They were surprised when I would talk about the mistakes of the US companies, and that such companies were willing to share their internal data for writing cases discussed in classes at business schools. 

Everyone makes mistakes – and it is important to learn from them.

I was among the first American faculty members who came to teach in Latvia.
Later several faculty members from RBS went to UB, and that is when I met Jānis Grēviņš, the current director of RBS. He was also a student of mine while in Buffalo. He was a very good student, and extremely bright. I was secretly hoping that Janis would return to Latvia because this country needs leaders of his caliber. When Jānis would visit Buffalo, he would often ask me to return to Riga for teaching in the MBA program. Last year when he visited Buffalo, he again requested me to return to RBS. I agreed and here I am back in Riga after more than two decades. I thought that I could help Latvia better train their future business leaders. It would help Latvia achieve growth in the marketplace. 

Latvia should have its own brand that would succeed in the world. Latvia needs strong local companies, strong brands. Brands that will not be scared when similar foreign brands will want to penetrate Latvian markets. And that requires better-trained managers.


How would you describe your course?
This is a very applied, hands-on course on marketing strategy. Students learn by practicing what is being taught in the classroom. I put the students in the driver’s seat and encourage them to act as marketing executives in a very competitive market place. I created a simulated market place where student teams must compete for eight years. They have access to information about the customers, competition, and market place. I form teams of students who work together to design products sought by the customers in the market place. The conduct R&D projects to meet the needs of customers. They decide the price of their products and make advertising decisions to reach out to the customers in the market. They can hire/train and fire sales people and direct them to reach out various types of outlets to sell their products in the market. They can even borrow money to finance their activities in the market. I refer to this as experiential learning. It is like the medical school model of learning where students actually visit patients, diagnose their illness, recommend treatment and make life and death decisions while in school. Except, in my case, there are no risks of financial loss. Students do not have to wait for their first job to get hands-on training in making complex marketing decisions. Students must plan for not only short-term profit but for their long-term success. This is increasingly being emphasized in the West to better prepare students to succeed in their jobs upon graduation. I am there to help them, guide them but they must make decisions on their own. I use a software developed in France. I have taught this course for over 30 years and students love it. I often hear from my students after 10-20 years how they benefited from the course and how they wish their colleagues at the work place were exposed to a similar learning opportunity. In fact, companies like General Electric all over the world are paying lots of money to have their executives take this type of course and become better managers. 

To succeed students have to learn about their customers, the competition and changes, which are taking place in the market.


Are students of RBS teachable?
Of course, it is difficult for them. They are not used to such a demanding method of learning. They have to learn to work as a team and apply everything they have learned to date in the MBA program. It is more difficult than just memorizing formulas and applying them to abstract conditions. In my course, they have limited time within which they must analyze, strategize, and make decisions. They know that their competition has access to the same information and, like in the real world, their competition will take advantage if they fumble. It is difficult but students I have taught elsewhere have loved it and still write to me about the experience. I could be wrong, but my gut feeling is that a good number of your students appreciate what I am talking about. I will be happy if I am able to influence even a few and help them become better managers. No doubt, some are not involved, do not want to put in the effort required to learn and benefit from the opportunity they will otherwise never have. That will be my personal loss.


How would you characterize Latvia as a brand?
Latvia is fashionable and with beautiful women – my friends would probably be surprised to see all the fashionistas. Green and full of flowers and trees – everyone has plants in their homes, and I think it is an expression of happiness. With fast drivers – I am actually surprised why many of them have not been jailed for their driving. A gourmet heaven – if you want great food – come to Latvia! Health-conscious – I see so many cyclists around here. Very cosmopolitan in the sense that you see people from different nationalities, food from so many different countries, which is a big change compared to 25 years ago. Hi-tech – you can find a hotspot almost anywhere, and that is a major progres. Friendly people. This defines Latvia in my mind, and makes Riga so unique – you have all these great things without the crowd.

Latvia is a fun place!


Why did you become a professor?
My father as well as my maternal uncle were professor. My son is a third generation of educators in our family. He is a neuroscientist and a professor in the United States. My son-in-law is also a professor. So our daughter decided to marry an educator! I think that my family environment played a big role in me choosing this career. After I finished my education at the Haas School at the University of California, Berkeley, I realized that I wanted to do my own thing. That helped me decide to be a teacher and a researcher. I thought that if I am a teacher, I could also work with companies as a consultant if I wanted to. Besides, I could choose with whom I wanted to work with and the types of problems I wished to address. I could make sure, if my advice, my analysis would really work. And if the companies did not like what I was telling them, I could just tell them good-bye!
It was interesting, because I had studied in India, and in the best universities in the US, so I wanted to look through the eyes of my students and make a difference in their lives. Money was not that important to me, I was never driven by that, but knowledge has always been very, very important to me. Seeing others become better and succeed was always important to me. I guess that was because of my grandmother who always said, 

“Knowledge is the best gift you can give to anybody.”

And that was in the back of my mind– I was a better teacher, it could benefit to somebody, to a company. And my family would always support me even when I worked with my students until 2am and my wife would make breakfast for us.


You have received the award Most Captivating Professor. What should be done to become captivating in the eyes of students?
During my tenure as a faculty member, I have received numerous awards but this was very special. I was very honored when they considered me fit for that award. I think that it is important to walk into your students shoes. You have to remind yourself that your role is to help and nurture them. It is a great responsibility. The society is relying on you. Being a good teacher does not mean that you have to be an easy grader, or not be demanding in terms of the quantity and quality of work expected from them. It is important that they see why you are doing what you are doing. So I give examples which help them better understand what I am talking about. I provide them with detailed feedback on their work, and seek to make their entire experience in the class interesting. To help them, I share my own experiences as a consultant It takes a lot of time and effort to be a good teacher. For every day I teach here, I have spent two days preparing for it!
There will always be students who do not want to spend the time to learn and like to blame the instructors for their personal failure. You have to stay focused and offer to help them, to pull them up instead of lowering yourself down. I have had students who come back after graduation and have apologized to me for not paying attention to the subject while in school. 

You should be passionate about what you doing – and not only the part that you are doing, but also about transferring this passion to others.