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Middling Brand Value

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Expectations of bigger salary packets and increased number of job offers should have set an optimistic tone for B-school students appearing for campus job interviews this year. However, students in several mid-tier B-schools say top recruiters have given them a miss. Further, the jobs on offer are not a patch on those that tier-1 B-school students are getting.


Kaushal Dave's experience is a case in point. A final year student of a Mumbai-based B-school that figures in the top 20 rankings of business schools, Dave says none of the prominent consulting, broking or FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) firms visited his institute. "We got placed, yes, but we missed good offers," he says.


This might be contested, but it is well known that students from the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and a few other top institutes have an edge over those from mid-tier B-schools, both in terms of jobs and salaries. The gaps are becoming pronounced as more global firms have begun visiting B-schools for placements, forcing mid-tier B-schools to get their act together on several aspects, including delivering quality education and job opportunities.



Yet, several recruiters were shocked when students refused their offers. The reason: uninteresting job profiles and not-so-good pay. Students of Mumbai-based KJ Somaiya Institute of Management Studies & Research, for instance, rejected offers from about 35 firms this year. Offers from at least seven companies were refused by students from Sydenham Institute of Management Studies and Research, reflecting the simmering dissatisfaction.

But none of that can ignore ground reality: these students have a hard time proving their academic credentials and intellectual calibre. For the institutes themselves, the ability to attract student talent and faculty depends on their ability to move up the rankings. It is true even for those mid-rung institutes that have been around for 15 years. Compare that to the new IIMs that have starting advantage from their older siblings' established brand value. "The prefix, IIM, plays a big role for students, faculty and recruiters," says Saveeta Mohanty, placement coordinator, Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar (XIMB). "We have to deal with it."



Some argue, perhaps with some justification, that the rankings themselves may have some tenure bias — the longer a school stays at the top, the slower it comes down even if other institutes have passed it. It's all about perception, it seems. "The biggest challenge is to deal with the rankings that do not reflect the true picture," says Chowdari Prasad, dean, planning and development, TA Pai Management Institute in Manipal (TAPMI). "Most of them are done without even visiting the institute." 



Compared to 2010, offered median salaries across mid-rung B-schools have gone up by 15-30 per cent. But jobs in product development and specialised financial market roles typically go to top schools, while tier-2 students end up with sales and back-end research jobs. "I would like to see such roles coming to us too," says Mukesh Mehra, a second-year student in a prominent Mumbai-based institute. "The gap in salary offered for a similar job profile could be 50-60 per cent," admits a spokesperson of a large IT firm, which is in the process of hiring at least 1,000 graduates from various B-schools.

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Further growth in the organisation is also a function of the institute one graduates from. "For an IIM graduate, companies have to create a structure amenable to their aspirations," says Sangeeta Singh, executive director of HR at KPMG India. "A tier-2 B-school student would give himself 2-3 years before he heads divisions, which might not be the case with the IIM grad."



Faculty from mid-rung B-schools also point to the bias of geography in rankings and perception. Not being in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore has negated efforts to attract good faculty (and recruiters). "Mumbai- or Delhi-based students can participate in on-going projects in those cities," says a student of a B-school in Goa. "Our contacts get exhausted quickly as there aren't too many firms in our vicinity."



Hetal Dalal, head, Crisil Ratings, feels several good mid-rung B-schools have not been able to showcase the excellence they have. "Such B-schools have to reach out," she says. Some institutes are trying different modes of engagement to get recruiters to come to campus and see for themselves. "We invite companies that we would like to see among recruiters to deliver talks," says Prasad of TAPMI. And sometimes, it works: Coca-Cola and PricewaterhouseCoopers India came for the 2011 summer placement. 



"We send students to visit companies in other parts of the country," says Jayaram Iyer, professor of marketing at Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA), Chennai. Those efforts, too, have paid off: Berger Paints, Asian Paints and Religare came for placements this year. KJ Somaiya's placement coordinator N.D. Sharma believes a personal visit to companies is a must. "It helps improve the positioning and visibility of the institute," he says. This year, the institute has seen 20 new recruiters for placements.



Other institutes are tapping into their alumni; for one, XIMB is trying to break into a niche section of employers in finance and consulting. The target: Boston Consulting Global and Bain and Co., to name two. Chennai-based LIBA hopes to see FMCG majors such as Pepsico and HUL on campus through similar ways. There are several new recruiters, including multinationals, and a few international placements too. "There has been a good response from dotcom companies for marketing jobs," says Iyer.



To attract better student talent, and to manage their aspirations, some B-schools have faculty and student exchanges and collaborative ‘twinning' programmes with foreign institutes. But ARKS Srinivas, director at Vanguard School of Business in Bangalore, says mid-rung B-schools should differentiate their course offerings rather than churn out the same curriculum. But even that may not be enough: in some things, reality is nothing, and perception, everything. That's what these schools have to change.



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(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 21-03-2011)