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MBA after work experience: A better deal?
Onkar Tiwari
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November 07, 2006

2 years of MBA lectures + 0 work experience = A great job and package.

That has been the equation for management education in India, so far. The result for the corporate sector has been a steady stream of intelligent but theoretical managers. Luckily, this is changing.

In the recent past, India's leading B-schools have introduced a series of programmes aimed at experienced professionals. Consequently, the plain vanilla MBA has given way to the broader field of management education. The content now offered ranges from general management programmes for senior managers to specialised courses like hospital administration. One product of this metamorphosis is N Sunil Kumar. Appointed CEO of the ABN AMRO foundation, straight out of B-school, his case is a pointer of two interesting trends.

Sunil's decision to get a management degree after he had worked for 19 years at National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development reflects the increasing number of people doing so after considerable work experience. After completing the course, his desire to continue in the non-profit sector also reflects the growing number of management professionals attracted to this sector, vis-a-vis the corporate world.

Both these trends have created new opportunities for experienced professionals and we spoke to Sunil to bring you a ringside view of the process, through his personal experience.

Could you tell us a little about your earlier work at NABARD?

I was at NABARD for 19 years, especially those areas where priority sector lending occurs (Note: Priority sector lending was a Reserve Bank of India policy for financing under banked economic sectors such as farming and small-scale industries). My work there exposed me considerably to the field of agricultural and rural financing. It helped me understand the complexities of the work and many risks involved.

How difficult was it to leave? What prompted you to get a management degree?

I had spent a long time there. I was contemplating leaving for some time and getting myself some general management experience. There was a desire to update my skill sets with the latest management tools and I also felt that, as one moves up the ladder, soft skills such as negotiation matter. More so, with diverse groups of people, which is where I thought this course would help.

A large number of experienced people oscillate between continuing with an existing job and getting a management degree. How did you decide?

Yes, it can be difficult. Besides, the lost earnings and fees make you sometimes wonder if it will add value. Going back to college after so many years is another thing a person considers. The recent growth in one-year courses has helped make the decision easier and, in retrospect, my decision has definitely proved worthwhile.

Is family support a critical factor?

Definitely. After working the whole day, you need to come back and study for your entrance tests. Once I got into B-school, the schedule was 24x7, with classes, presentations and projects. In a sense, then, my family time was minimal. However, my wife and mother were extremely supportive. Anyone who is going to do this will need all the backing they can get.

Why Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI)? Tell us something about your course.

There were several reasons. At the outset, compared to an Indian School of Business (ISB), it is cost effective. Even though it may not have as global an outlook, it more than makes up with the small batch size of around 55 and its alumni network. The small size really helped me interact with my classmates. In addition, the proximity to Tatas in Jamshedpur, and the people skills learnt by observing their industrial relations, was new.

The course I attended is called the GMP, the General Management Program. It started out at Kellog in the US and spread to India, with an increasing number of institutes offering it now. It gives experienced professionals an overview of how an organisation functions. What I liked about it -- and what any aspiring student should look for -- is the range in the choice of elective subjects offered.

As a professional, what was your most important takeaway from the course?

Undoubtedly, the exchange of experiences with others. Getting to know how people in other industries dealt with similar and very real issues was the Number One benefit. In addition, literally going back to class, taking notes and making presentations helped in getting back into a professional hard driving work ethic. The academic content also improved my quantitative and financial skills.

Most people look at a management degree as an investment and thus go for high paying business jobs. If they have spent Rs Y, they want at least Rs Y as a salary in return. Given this view, why have you taken a job in the social sector?

Organisations that support grassroot development have undergone a dramatic change in mindset. They have realised that the way to make any development sustainable is to inject a strong commercial component into it. Which is why you see many programmes, such as promotion of microfinance and other social initiatives, now being mixed with those like sustaining small businesses.

They have also understood that, to attract talented professionals, they need to create an environment where they can work in a satisfying manner. So, the packages are accordingly structured and the compensation is attractive. Personally, of course, I have strong expertise in this area and the offer to lead something new was interesting. So, it was not that difficult a decision

Tell us about the selection process for the ABN Amro Foundation?

It was quite straightforward. It was unlike the regular MBA pattern written test and group discussion method, as the job profile itself was different. There were two rounds of interviews by telephone, followed by two rounds of an actual interview. Discussions were very amicable and focused primarily on my past work and my B-school experience.

Now, the most obvious question. Do you think Mohammad Yunus getting a Nobel will help ABN- AMRO and other similar foundations? Where do you see this entire sector going in the next five years?

I think the award will definitely give a fillip to the entire microcredit movement. However, a lot of good work is already being done. Several people are trying innovative things at the rural level in simple areas, ranging from making documentation easier, to helping self-help groups do even better. With respect to the future, in the next five years, CMIE (Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy) and many others have forecast very rapid growth in these areas. However, a key area I think the entire sector needs to focus on is better coordination between agencies. If this happens, I think we will see even more dramatic and positive results.

Tell us something about the foundation and your responsibilities.

The foundation is set up by ABN Amro Bank less than a year ago. Our aim is to stimulate enterprise amongst those below the poverty line by partnership with reputed NGOs. We plan to fund projects in this area that use tools such as microfinance to create sustainable development. Regarding my role, I am just getting started, so I am still in an exploratory phase and it is too early to comment.

Would you take up a job in the social sector after completing your MBA? Post your feedback

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Number of User Comments: 24

Sub: MBA can give bright future

I have done my MBA from Osmania University can i expect bright future.

Posted by saleem

Sub: MBA after work experience?

Hi It was interesting read , especially since I am myself doing an MBA degree course after spending 17 years in the corporate world. It ...

Posted by Stanny J D

Sub: everone should think about society

when you do MBA course you are exposed to lot of processes which make you mature enough to take right decision at right point of ...

Posted by shankar

Sub: MBA for medical grads

dear friends.....some of the busines schools in india are now launching MBA in health care management. do any of you think its a better option ...

Posted by deepu surendran

Sub: MBA After work

This was a courageous act on Sunil part and it has paid also. I believe the Job monotony would had not yield him any thing ...

Posted by rohit


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