IIM Lucknow was established in 1984 and is currently a centrally funded institution. It is the fourth Indian Institute of Management to be established in India after IIM Calcutta, IIM Ahmedabad, and IIM Bangalore. Noted Academician Ishwar Dayal played a significant role in setting up the institution, who also served as the founding director of IIM Lucknow for a period of four years. Industrialist Hari Shankar Singhania, took over as the chairman of Board of Governors in 1992, served for a period of 15 years till 2007.
The Post Graduate Programme (PGP) was started in 1985–86 with a strength of 30 students.When the institute was established, classes were held in rented rooms at Butler Palace and subsequently moved to Giri Institute of Developmental Studies. The current campus was built in 1992 in the outskirts of Lucknow. During the initial days, due to its remoteness, students used to walk to the Highway-bypass Junction, which had a milestone saying "IIM Lucknow 3.4 km", to buy amenities and hang out. Some students used to play guitar to entertain others on their walk of 3.4 km. It was in honour of this fact, that the college's official rock band is called as "3.4".
Tie ups were made with three foreign universities in 2001 to start the student exchange program. The Agribusiness Course was started in 2004 with a strength of 13 students. In 2005, IIM Lucknow established a second campus at Noida leveraging its locational advantage of nearness to Delhi. The Noida campus was established exclusively for executive education. IIM Lucknow is the first IIM in the country to start an additional campus.