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In Hindsight

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What Stanford Didn’t Teach Me
- Mohit Gundecha

Contrary to popular perception, the biggest value one imbibes at a place like Stanford University is humility (not arrogance). Everyone around you is as smart as or smarter than you, keeping you firmly rooted. But, I have seen some of the students imbibe a different value set, which could defeat the whole essence of studying at a place like Stanford. Let me highlight a few:

They live by brands
They might start making judgments based on the brands people carry. One of my friends who went to MIT values my opinion more than my co-founder’s only because I went to Stanford. They tend to ignore that ‘Often, ordinary people build extraordinary things; extraordinary people land in labs’.

They often fail to connect with end users 
When in constant company of the world’s smartest people, it’s natural to start visualising the world in a similar light. Hence, they might not be able to connect with the average guy on the street; something essential to bring out game-changing outcomes. So I might come up with brilliant ideas, but often, my team members at Jombay suggest product ideas that relate to the end-customer far more than mine.

They could be impatient
They could sometimes be in an unreasonable hurry to win. It takes time to climb the corporate ladder, unless you start something on your own and give yourself the CEO tag, just the way I did. No doubt, the talent from Stanford or any of the top schools is one of the best in the world. But one needs to be mindful that “All people who go to Stanford are ‘good’ but not all ‘good’ people go to Stanford”.
Gundecha is CEO of Jombay, a talent analytics company

What I Unlearnt At My First Job
- Shashank Prabhu

The one thing that I would like to stress is to avoid an over-emphasis on technical skills compared to market experience and logic. Marketing concepts you learnt during your course will not be useful to you unless you find a way to apply them. I could go as far as to say that it could be the difference between intelligence acquired from sitting through countless lectures and workshops and the smartness that comes from interacting with wholesalers and consumers through working in the market.

As much as competitions and case studies try simulating the on-ground environment, the situation at a workplace is quite different. In a B-school, you are trying to convince a group of peers and faculty who have an open mind with a focus on both long-term and short-term goals, while during our meetings, I have to convince my team against the existing prejudices regarding the market and make them believe in the market’s potential.

Also, while B-schools do claim to uncover leaders, the real test comes once one is actually handling a team outside one’s comfort zone. In my case, I had never travelled to the coastal belts of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa earlier, so the experience was an eye-opener. That bit could never be replicated in a B-school environment.

Also, knowledge regarding the behaviour of various channels is something I had to learn from scratch; I had no idea about the behaviour of the convenience channel during my MBA.

Finally, as much as diversity is emphasised in a B-school, it can never get close to the kind one experiences on the job with regard to the backgrounds of people (in my team, I interact with someone who has joined just three months ago as well as with someone who has been in sales for more than 30 years), geography and situations.

Prabhu is assistant manager, Marketing (Personal & Home  Care), ITC,  and an alumnus of the Faculty of  Management Studies, Delhi

Do You Need A Finishing School After B-School?
- Varun Saxena

While b-schools are much talked about, finishing schools too are rising trend — promoted to a large extent by B-schools themselves. The point to ponder over here, from the perspective of a student, is: Is it really beneficial to enrol in a finishing school after completing an MBA? Also, does a finishing school make a value addition to my career?

Before we get into a debate over whether a finishing school is needed or not, let us understand its purpose. Traditionally, it imparts cultural norms, social and professional skills to students and makes them ready to enter the professional arena.

For B-school graduates, finishing schools can help develop their communication and soft skills, their presentation skills, their body language as well as their entrepreneurial attitude and analytical skills.

One might argue that if a finishing school is needed to hone the aforementioned skills of a student after an MBA, what kind of nurturing does a B-school offer them, apart from teaching management theories? There is not much to counter this, especially when you realise that Ivy League institutes and other top B-schools across the US, Europe and the United Kingdom have the above-mentioned deliverables of a finishing school in their curricula, in some way or the other.

Anyone who has been watching the B-school space closely over the years will agree that the value addition offered by finishing schools should be part of the B-school curriculum in India. These trends have started picking up in some of the top Indian B-schools.

However, private, lower-rung institutes face a challenge in accommodating these value additions in their curricula, largely due to the lack of appropriate faculty, inadequate collaborations with third parties or guest faculty and the lack of motivation and intensity among students themselves to develop these skills. In other words, the need for a finishing school depends on the type of B-school — that is the tier it belongs to — one attends and the quality of students there.

Certainly, the training provided by finishing schools would help prospective managers build a better foundation for their career, but it is something that should be inculcated in the B-school curriculum itself through its own faculty or tie-ups with similar agencies.

Indian B-schools should learn from their counterparts in developed countries about how to achieve the goals of finishing schools without imposing them as a burden on students. This could emerge as an initiative that instils greater confidence about the value addition of B-schools among Indian students.

Saxena is an alumnus of  the National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai

What I Wish My B-School Had Taught Me
- Vidyadhar Mylabathula

When my microeconomics professor asked the class for illustrations of Giffen goods (goods whose demand is proportional to their price), most of us, out of our wits, presented PGDM as a strong case for the classic violation of the standard demand curve — our underlying premise being, stronger demand implies better product satisfaction. I, now, understand that based on various micro and macroeconomic scenarios, this product finds itself on the board of normal, inferior, Giffen, Veblen or whatever other name economists fancy to trouble young B-school minds with, but it definitely ranks among the top Rs 10 lakh investments that do not warrant gratification.

While there are many life skills — money does not guarantee happiness, coping with failure, being socially responsible — that a B-school can teach, I will dwell upon some business-specific lessons one should get at such places, but don’t.

Being SMAC-literate: A few semesters after market utility peaks are reached, courses related to contemporary technology skills (big data, cloud, data science, Internet of things, etc.) shove themselves into the curriculum after rounds of rejections and approvals. But before the course ends and the participants are ready to hit the market, the technology begins its journey into oblivion. I would have really liked my B-school to tie up with corporates and industries on a consistent basis for syllabus preparation to help upgrade our skills, be placement-ready and help serve the dynamic landscape well.

We are not superheroes: We may consider ourselves to be the cream, the top 1 per cent of the two lakh-odd CAT-takers. However, remember there are 200 million other eligible participants in the country (by age group), apart from those who are into various other/better occupations, the rural folks who grow and supply our food, the border forces securing our country from external hostilities and the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who do not care to go through a formal course to start their business. So calling ourselves the intellectual residue of the nation makes no sense.

Real-world business is not a Harvard case study simulation: Apart from the necessary skills of operations/marketing/finance management, there are real-world workplace skills such as dressing right for the job (business formals versus casuals, etc.), understanding meeting psychology (agenda, common jargon, key roles, MoM, etc.) and preparing short and crisp PowerPoint presentations, etc.

What goes around comes around. Students need to be alert about learning opportunities to become employable and industry needs to support schools to yield market-ready participants. 

Vidyadhar is manager, Presales, Mortgages A&I, Tata Consultancy Services and an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Indore

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 01-12-2014)