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Business Or Management

Flexibility in pedagogy, admissions, academic and financial matters have been important in creating world-class institutions

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Massive Benefits Assured may well be the expansion of MBA, especially for graduates from premier institutes. For those who deal with them, though, it translates as Most Bossy Attitude, as they experience daily the superior, chip-on-the shoulder attitude. After all, the MBA’s self-perception – conveyed loudly and explicitly – is that s/he will be the CEO in just a few years!

On the one hand, this attitude does reflect strong self-confidence, a competitive spirit, and ambition: characteristics which might be considered positive. It is in contrast to the diffidence or nervousness typical of other newcomers, and enables them to interact with superiors on equal terms, challenge long-standing policies, and bring in new ideas. On the other hand, the attitude of superiority treats peers and those lower in the organisational hierarchy with disdain. There is a tendency to consider work as a rat race and even pull-down peers to raise oneself. This negates good teamwork.

The imbibing of this attitude comes, in part, from the fact that they are from a top institution and are thecrème-de-la-crèmeof their generation. However, a greater part probably comes from the numerous case studies where the students are to put themselves in the role of a CXO – often, the CEO – of an organisation. This is amplified in schools like IIM Ahmedabad, where the pedagogy is primarily based on the “case method”. Undoubtedly, this leads to internalisation of thinking and acting like the big boss, resulting in an attitude and brashness antagonises many. Yet, it also leads to a more holistic and strategic perspective. Importantly, unlike most of the educational system, it also encourages thinking as opposed to rote learning.

The first of our definitions of MBA is borne out by the starting salaries of graduates from the top business schools. To them – sadly, but realistically – compensation levels have long been the main benchmark indicating the desirability of a job. The challenge, learning, and satisfaction levels between different job opportunities are, at best, a minor consideration.  There has always been a trade-off between these and the lure of compensation. Yet, to old-timers, it seems that idealism has decreased, if not disappeared. In the early days of the IIMs, students were weaned on the premise of being change agents. Their mission was to introduce modern management practices, replacing the (then mainly) archaic business practices and to increase the efficiency of under-managed sectors. Since the latter included state enterprises, government and the rural sector, MBAs would play an important role in nation-building and development. With this in mind, IIM-B had a special focus on the public sector and IIM-A had a specialisation in agriculture.

As a result, a small – but not insignificant – number of MBAs joined the government sector or non-profit organisations, attracted by the challenges and opportunities, and driven by idealism. Over the years, this small proportion has dwindled, even as the number of graduates has multiplied. Yet, it is here that MBAs can contribute the most. One example is ISRO, where Vikram Sarabhai first inducted professional managers (and Satish Dhawan institutionalised this through systems and processes). Clearly, the government, with its deep involvement in massive projects, can hugely benefit. It must, though, do far more to increase their attractiveness.

Another change has been the decreasing attraction of an academic career. Initially, a fair number of IIM graduates joined doctoral programmes (mostly in the US), going on to become professors; now that seems to be a rarity. Clearly, though many of those who chose these non-mainstream paths have done very well, making an outstanding mark even globally, they are not role models for a new generation.  Of course, this is equally true for those who joined corporates, with a few becoming global CEOs. Undoubtedly – despite barbs in the early years about MBAs doing such “useful” things like marketing underarm deodorants – they too have contributed to economic growth.

Another stream of opportunity for MBAs – hardly considered earlier – is entrepreneurship. Now, with all the publicity about unicorns, and strong support for startups, this should have become an increasingly exciting prospect; more so, given that some of the iconic new-age entrepreneurs are MBAs. That few take this route on graduation is probably explained by two factors. The first is that many of those inclined to tech-entrepreneurship get into it immediately after their engineering degree. The second is that many feel, possibly correctly, that it is better to get a few years of real-world job-experience before jumping into entrepreneurship.

Why, one may ask, are so few MBAs from the best schools not going into the under-managed sectors, where the need is great and the scope to add value is huge? One reason, as noted, is the pull factor of lucrative salaries in the corporate world. There is, though, a push factor too: the high fees (mainly a post-liberalisation factor). These are justifiable in terms of cost, as also potential “returns” (RoI); however, those who must repay loans taken for their fees (some, even for their undergraduate education) cannot afford to join organisations which offer comparatively lower salaries. One solution to this conundrum could be for some sort of percentage-of-salary repayment. This would require support from financing institutions or government. Another solution is for an endowment fund or special donations to take care of such cases.

One criticism of the IIMs has been that the positive feedback loop between student quality and market demand for them results in their getting the brightest entrants. Does the MBA programme itself really add value or are the IIMs merely serving as a screening process that short-lists prospective employees for corporates? This is a question worth debating. Also, are they schools of business or management, and do they produce merely good managers, or true leaders?

Despite these and other issues, related to research, consulting and executive programmes, there is little doubt that the better business schools turn out graduates who are world-beaters. Flexibility in pedagogy, admissions, academic and financial matters have been important in creating world-class institutions. However, centralisation, curbing of autonomy, and governmental interference now pose a threat. The real issue is: do we want standardised, average and mediocre institutions, or diverse and excellent ones? The pathways are very different.  

The author loves to think in tongue-in-cheek ways, with no maliciousness or offence intended. At other times, he is a public policy analyst and author. His latest book is Decisive Decade: India 2030 Gazelle or Hippo (Rupa, 2021)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Kiran Karnik

The author is an independent policy and strategy analyst, and alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad

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