Dr. Kamla Chowdhry was a pioneering management educationist and institution builder.
She was born on 17 December, 1920. After early education at Tagore-inspired Shantiniketan in Bengal, she obtained her BA in Mathematics & Philosophy at Calcutta University in 1940 and MA in Philosophy at Punjab University in 1943. In 1944-45, she taught Inter & BA classes at Mahila College, Lahore and then moved to USA to obtain a MA in Social Psychology at Michigan University in 1946 and a PhD in Social Psychology at Michigan University in 1949. She returned to India and joined the newly set-up Ahmedabad Textile Industries Research Association (ATIRA) in 1949, where she headed the Human Relations Division until 1961 and was the Director of the Research Centre for Group Dynamics (1958-61). Throughout the 1950s, she was involved in the first management research projects in India at ATIRA in close collaboration with leading management academics in USA and Europe.
In 1961-62, she spent a year at Harvard Business School (HBS) as a visiting faculty member and while at Harvard, worked with Prof. Harry Hansen of HBS in May-June 1962 on preparing academic plans and faculty recruitment for IIMA. She was the first member of the IIMA faculty when she joined as Professor and Coordinator of Programmes in July 1962. She was a member of the IIMA Society and also the first faculty nominee to be appointed on the IIMA board in 1962. She effectively ran the institute from its bungalow office in Shahibaug, Ahmedabad, for three years, taking key administrative decisions, recruiting the first set of faculty and closely coordinating with the Harvard Business School and Ford Foundation. She was known as a brilliant teacher and her innovations in management education included the designing of the 3TP or 3-Tier Programme in Management Development in 1963-64, that continues to run as an executive education programme at IIMA even today. Dr. Kamla Chowdhry’s stellar contributions in the field of management education and towards the building of IIMA also need to be seen in the context of the times she lived in. When she joined IIMA in 1962 and worked with management academics from around the world, women were still not admitted into MBA programmes at Harvard.
Dr. Kamla Chowdhry was in the running to become the first full-time Director of IIMA in 1964-65, served as Director-Research and Director-External Programmes and was a Visiting Professor at Harvard Business School in 1968. She was also the Hindustan Lever Professor of Management Practices at IIMA, the first chaired position in management education in India created in 1966, and presided over the seventh convocation ceremony in 1972 in the absence of Ravi Matthai. She wrote or co-wrote several books and research papers and was a consultant to the Industrial Court, Bombay, and also to firms on reorganization of management structures and issues related with selection, training and wage evaluation.
She left IIMA in 1972 and continued to excel thereafter, first as an advisor for the Public Planning and Management Committee of the Ford Foundation India Office in the 1970s and then as head of the National Wastelands Development Board under Rajiv Gandhi’s Prime-Ministership between 1985 and 1988. She was member of the World Commission on Forestry and Sustainable Development and the World Bank’s Advisory Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. Her research interests gradually shifted over her career from organizational behaviour to environmentalism and Gandhian thought.
Dr. Kamla Chowdhry died on 4 January, 2006. She was conferred an honorary doctorate by IIMA in 1988. Dorm-1 at IIMA is named in her honour, funded by alumni who benefited from her brilliance.
On her birth centenary (December 17, 2020), IIMA Archives released a short film on her life, available on this link, and a photo album, available on this link.