A long way from the frenzied offices of the marketing industry, within the hallowed classrooms of SCMS-COCHIN, Prof. R.T.R Varma found his second calling as a teacher and mentor to a new era of marketing professionals. As HoD of Marketing at SCMS-COCHIN, Prof. Varma cuts an interesting figure.
Those engaged in advertising or promotional careers may tell you how exciting their jobs are and how the work they accomplish leaves them with a genuine sense of fulfilment, but this veteran of more than 25 years in the trade now finds nirvana in passing his knowledge on to the next generation.
A n M.B.A. in Marketing from the University of Oklahoma, Norman Oklahoma, U.S.A., Prof. Varma decries the concept of ‘textbook teaching’ and prefers to take a more hands-on, experience-driven approach when handling his classes. In an interview, he said “I teach marketing strategy, communication, corporate governance and entrepreneurship. These are difficult subjects, you know – one cannot simply teach them out of a textbook. That said, I don’t have a boring moment in my classroom, it is a highly relaxed environment. But one of the most difficult things that I face is that I have to move around the classroom constantly – I cannot sit down!”
Although the marketer-turned-academic understands the value of direct instruction and mentoring, he stresses the importance of research-oriented, co-operative learning. “Basically the students are like this – they learn a few theories but they have no idea what the marketplace is like. One should always have the big picture in mind. I always tell my students ‘Listen fellows, you will not get anything out of me!’ I tell them that I am only a facilitator for them to gain knowledge.”
Six years ago, Varma hadn’t even considered taking up a teaching career. “My coming into academics was purely by accident. After my last job in the industry I decided to take up consulting and marketing,” said the professor, speaking from his office on the SCMS-COCHIN campus. “(At the time) one person I knew – an ex director of IIM – said that they wanted experienced people in teaching. So this is how it started. I began teaching part-time and it grew into a full-time vocation.”
Despite having worked with hundreds of brands and products, the professor was initially unsure about his flair for teaching. “I asked them at SCMS-COCHIN. ‘How did I fare?’ I wanted to know if I was a good teacher and ‘You’re doing all right!’ came the response.”
From these humble beginnings in academia, Prof. Varma has gone on to become HOD of the entire marketing department at SCMS-COCHIN. Over the years, he’s developed a great fondness for teaching with a strong slant toward real-world marketing scenarios. “One of the things about this job is that we have done all these things that we are talking about in the classroom and conceptualized all these things in the marketplace itself. That made things interesting for me. I have never written in business journals, not because I had no interest, but because I had no time even thinking about it! Working in the market place and now teaching engrossed me!”