Interview with Mr. Aakash Chaudhry, Director,
Aakash Educational Services Limited
Interviewed By: Sandeep Kshatriya, Facilitator, The CEO Insights
The CEO Insights: What is the thought process behind Aakash Educational Services Limited(AESL) focus on education sector?
Aakash Chaudhry: AESL started as a coaching institute for students aspiring for medicine as a career. The sole objective was to provide deserving candidates a platform to perform. Mr. J C Chaudhry, being a Botany professor started Aakash Institute as an education outfit. Since then the organization has come a long way in establishing benchmarks in the competitive education sector.
The CEO Insights: Your background was in the IT sector, what prompted you to get into education sector?
Aakash Chaudhry: I joined AESL in 2006, post my brief stint with Infosys and Cognizant. I enjoyed my work as an IT professional, but internally I was not satisfied with the depth and width of role that IT industry had to offer. Without wasting much time, I joined AESL after two years being in IT services. My belief in the vision of AESL and its focus on quality & commitment attracted me the most. Moreover, sine it was a family business, it offered me ample opportunity to freely experiment and innovate within the education arena.
The CEO Insights: How did your education at Indian School of Business & Harvard Business School helped in business and networking?
Aakash Chaudhry: Business school education provided me with necessary frameworks and knowledge to test my theories and hypothesis. Over & above the books, I found great learning & lessons in the conversations with my peers. My daily business decisions and planning carry a flavor of the experiences shared or knowledge planted in the business school ecosystem. I would say that a successful businessman does not require a business degree to make it big. However, a good business education makes the journey more exciting and worthwhile for a successful businessman. That’s exactly the role which ISB and HBS has played in shaping me into a thorough leader.
The CEO Insights: What are the key challenges you anticipate in education sector??
- Regulatory constraints
- Lack of quality teachers & instructors
- Lack of accountability & inefficient processes
- High Student-Teacher ratio
- Increasing cost of delivering quality education
- Irrelevant curriculum
- Big & diverse population, expecting different services
- Cost of reality & infrastructure setup
- Red tape & corruption
The CEO Insights: Any suggestion for change to the government regulation in education sector?
- Allow greater participation from private sector
- Increase Public-Private partnerships
- Increase focus on primary education
- Initiate special education funds with accountability
The CEO Insights: Can you cite an instance how your ideas helped to overcome business challenges?
Aakash Chaudhry: A lot of things have been changed since the time I have joined. However, one of the key challenges we faced for a long time was a steady flow of teachers for maintaining quality to help us grow further. Mostly teachers were hired directly at Delhi, which lead to paucity in quality & quantity of talent. Firstly, I established dedicated Recruitment and Training department, which would travel all across and source suitable faculty. Once inducted, we train them in our culture so that they work for the betterment of students as per vision. Additionally, I started campus recruitment to inject fresh talent in the industry and further add to the faculty pool. In last 6 years, we have grown from 8 own centres to 44 own centres in 2013, apart from addition of 32 franchise centres, taking our centre strength to 76 centres.
The CEO Insights: Please tell us about your service offerings?
Aakash Chaudhry: AESL offers coaching and training for competitive entrance exams like IIT-JEE (Engineering), Medical and foundation level entrance exams. We provide these services though our network of classroom centres, distance learning programs and technology programs across India and abroad.
The CEO Insights: How do you target different segments and what opportunities do you see?
- Our target audience includes science stream students of classes XI, XII & XII passed as well as students from class VIII to class X for preparation of school and junior competitive exams.
- We reach out to our TG through various means of marketing and promotions, suitable to the culture & liking of the cities, where we operate.
- It is our mission to provide quality education to deserving candidates. No is no dearth of talent in this country. For us the opportunities to help student excel in their careers exit across geographies and demographics of the country .
The CEO Insights: Your vision for Aakash iTutor Labs initiative? How did you create it?
Aakash Chaudhry: We wanted to provide an all-time-round teaching assistant for students, which would help them re-visit their doubtful topics and/or reinforce their concepts with repeated clarifications. To achieve this feat, first of all we recorded video lectures of all our top faculty members in different subjects.
Once recorded, we packaged all the lectures in SD Cards and installed terminals in a room (attached to a tablets for reading SD Cards). Now the Aakash classroom students visit these iTutor labs as per their convenience and strengthen their weak areas from video lectures on topic of their choice.
This new system has revolutionized the way we deliver education to our students. It has become a USP for us and has helped us gain confidence of the students that Aakash is always there in their time of academic needs.
Not only this, we have started retailing this product, where in a student can buy the entire content for the duration of the course and view lectures and do assignments from home. The pricing has been kept nominal to help students from all sections take benefit of this innovative education solution. This product helps take high quality education to the doorstep of the students in a very effective way .
The CEO Insights: How do you manage operations effectively even with offices across nation?
Aakash Chaudhry: Entire operations are managed centrally from Head Office in Delhi. However, we have divided a set of centres/branches in clusters and they managed by cluster heads. There are separate cluster heads for academics, marketing and operations, to ensure smooth operations throughout the year.
The CEO Insights: How do you foresee E-learning program, especially Airtel DTH iExam?
Aakash Chaudhry: E-learning programs are definitely on the rise. As we go forward, we see ourselves offering good number of programs on e-learning platform. The Quality Teacher to Student ratio is highly skewed. As we go along, this ratio will further deteriorate. Technology is bound to play a pivotal role in becoming an enabler for systematic education. E-learning, essentially is one of the ways to leverage the advantages of technology and AESL is poised to play a leading role in it. – Airtel DTH is another technology platform, which uses the power of TV broadcasting for the purpose of education. TV Tutoring is a cheap and accepted method of information dissemination. In times to come, AESL hopes to reap benefit of this medium by making quality learning and assessment available in remote locations at a very affordable cost .
The CEO Insights: What’s your take on the rise of social media?
Aakash Chaudhry: Social media has its own benefits and in today’s world the exponential growth cannot be achieved without going viral on social networks. AESL has a dedicated team, which pushes content and blogs to the right audience, making us visible in the eyes of our customers and their communities at a very affordable cost.
The CEO Insights: What qualities you’re looking for when you interview people?
- Adaptability to entrepreneurial culture
- Sincerity & Commitment value
- Knowledge & Skill required for the job
- Accountability in all situations
- Hunger for growth
The CEO Insights: How has your leadership style evolved as the company has grown?
Aakash Chaudhry: My leadership has evolved from task-oriented leader to a transformational leader. As I joined the business, it was imperative for me to understand how the business runs and what is the typical day break-up of jobs. Initially, I focused on leading the array of jobs at a branch or centre or department. Once, I completed couple of full-term business cycles, I moved on to transformational role, where I have become the change agent. The times are changing and I realized that the company needed a high order of shift to maintain its growth trajectory. Many changes have been brought in last 5 years in AESL.
The CEO Insights: How do you plan to create a niche for your company by using IT?
Aakash Chaudhry: – AESL is poised to reach leadership position in IT enabled services within the coaching and training arena. – Our objective is to develop content and services around popular delivery mediums, like Mobile Apps, Tablet based education, e-Learning Softwares/LMS, TV Tutoring applications, etc and seamlessly integrate all the platforms for an unparallel user learning experience. – Moreover, on the internal affairs front, AESL is the only coaching institute to go ahead with Oracle PeopleSoft ERP implementation to take a lead in strengthening its IT systems for exceptional service delivery.
The CEO Insights: What advice do you have for today’s entrepreneurs and managers?
Know what you are best at and give your best shot to it
Keep all hesitations out and be ready for taking calculated risks
Develop a habit of revisiting what you do, everyday should be an improvement, else you will be left behind
Never loose sight of cash, don’t let hunger to do different exhaust your resources
Own what you start and remain accountable till it culminates to its destined end.
The CEO Insights: What are your Hobbies?
Aakash Chaudhry: Meeting interesting people; playing chess, tennis, squash; watching thrillers.
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