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'I've Wanted To Shape The MBA Around Consultancy'

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Over the last few years there has been a decline in the number of Indian students opting to study in business schools located in the US and UK . Dr. John Kawalek, Director of the MBA, (as well as a lecturer in management systems) Sheffield University Management School (UK) was recently in India to talk to potential students about the prospects of pursuing management education in the UK and hoping to see a change in the ongoing trend. In an interview with Alokita Datta, Kawalek talks about the need for a consultancy approach to develop good managers and leaders, the ways in which Sheffield's MBA programme distinguishes itself from others and the need to develop ties with Indian B-schools.

What are the unique aspects of the MBA programme offered at the University of Sheffield?
There are loads of different MBAs and to me they all look the same -to some extent the programme Sheffield offers is a bit different. I first started working as a technical consultant (in IT) and I've wanted to shape the MBA around consultancy.  I don't necessarily mean that our MBA graduates become consultants, but they should act like consultants: they should analyse the businesses, slice them open, start changing them by identifying weaknesses and improve the whole business. That is true in the public as well because in the public sector we need improvement in performance. In the Sheffield MBA therefore, we have a very strong emphasis on consultancy type methods. We also have entrepreneurship as an important offer on our programme; people who think about new business opportunities and services and products and how to get them to the market. Finally we have leadership, leading people and organisations through change.

One of the reasons why I do this job is because I think we need people who are wealth generators. If you look at Sheffield (city) for example, there are 45,000 small businesses. It also has 45,000 young people who are unemployed. If we could grow these businesses just a little bit, we could solve all the youth unemployment in the region. Thus, business is highly altruistic, it is actually meant to generate wealth for jobs. That is what I want our young MBA graduates to think about.  One the Sheffield MBA we have three components and it is a one year programme starting in September. The first chunk encompasses the core, base knowledge you require as a business person such as marketing, operations, finance and accounting. The reason behind that is that a lot of people enrolling in the course come from different disciplines and I try to convert them with a very hard 'bang' (laughs).  But we loosen up a bit in the second component which I call the client semester. That is unique of Sheffield as well because we have a system where students get a client; they work in a business…

How is this different from summer internship programs in most B-schools where students work in different companies?

It is different because they work with a company while studying other subjects within the course; it is part of the semester. The university finds the clients, defines projects for students to do because it is my belief that you can't do an MBA without experience. It would be like learning to play the violin, without a violin! So, in the second semester all our students go and work in a business (big or small, public or private) in England. I want graduates of the Sheffield MBA to be able to do consultancy type work for any type of business, in any context, in any part of the world. The third semester is what we call the project semester; this is where students get to specialise in a particular area. We don't specify what the area is, it is up to the student but we guide them. I had one student from India, two years ago who went on to do a project with Royal Mail and they were outsourcing their IT operations. What our student did was analyse what the business is doing, what it should be doing according to the theory, judge the theory against the framework and then develop a governance framework.  He finally ended up working for CSC in London and started applying the same framework to more clients.

How do you position yourself as a business school in the global context?
I would say that Sheffield is like a sleeping giant, we're not branded like the big business schools (London Business School) but it is a top business school. We also have the Chartered Management Institute where after the students have completed their MBA they can become chartered. That is a big deal in the UK. We have a relationship with the institute of Consulting as well.  Sheffield University Management School, holds triple accreditation from AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB, a status that has been achieved by only 58 Schools worldwide.

We also have a summer school in Austria, Germany and Sweden and we have a tentative relationship with S.P. Jain (Mumbai and Dubai) which we are starting to develop.  We haven't sent any students on exchange programs yet but we are developing that relationship. Sheffield as a city is a cheap city to live in, the quality of life is good, with a beautiful countryside

In order to equip students with the consulting skills , how differently is your pedagogy designed?
The pedagogy is built out of, what we call Systems Theory, where people have to analyse processes and structures, for instance control structures. Very often we measure the wrong things and that brings out behavioural findings that were incorrect. Therefore, analysing in those ways is very typical of what a consultant does.

At what stage can a student choose to specialise in any particular subject area?
I love and hate specialists; I love them because of their specialised knowledge and hate them because they tend to have a very narrow view of problems. Thus I'm trying to avoid that in our MBA by giving students overall specialisations.  Specialisation comes in at the project stage where the student will focus in, on a given area; outsourcing may not be a subject but it is a specialised are of work from a consultancy point of view.

On an average how many students from India come to the University Of Sheffield? Could you talk about the scholarship programs you offer as well?
We have had a lot of students coming from India in the past but not many now because of personal support workers (PSW) issues.  Currently about 20 per cent of our students are from India.

We offer two scholarships of £ 5000 and we also have a system where every Indian student will get a scholarship of £ 3000 because we are interested in promoting our relationship with India.

In what ways do you plan to develop ties with Indian B-schools?
First of all, Indian and the UK have had a very close relationship, academically and historically. My view is that the world needs consultants, entrepreneurs and leaders in both India and the UK. Our relationship with S.P. Jain is only at the beginning 9it started 18 months ago) but I would like it to develop for a number of reasons: partly because I think India could benefit from that relationship but partly also because S.P. Jain follows my own philosophy of knowing the 'self' before you get to know the problem and how to solve it.

What are the admission criteria you follow for international students?
If the student has a three year bachelor's degree, normally a 60 per cent or more, in the case of a four year degree we will consider 55 per cent. For the MBA program students must have a minimum of 3 years work experience and an English language qualification such as AILS 7 or TOEFL 95. We don't have an entrance test but conduct personal interviews.