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The allure of an MBA
November 01, 2006
If you are not an MBA, but an ambitious aspirant and have been lured into this column hoping to get a tip or two on how to take the first steps to get those privileged suffixes after your name, like say, Mr Anil Agarwal, MBA -- let me warn you, you may spend the next five minutes more profitably solving a few more CAT or GMAT questions.
But if you are a poor innocent, thinking of management as magical, but contemplating it from the margins, read on.
But how did I, a sedate and settled bureaucrat, get ensnared by this process at this stage in my life? Serendipity is the short answer.
A close relative of mine -- reasons of privacy preclude me from being more specific -- like every graduate today had dreams about an MBA. It is the standard mantra for a career path, progression and prosperity, she had heard. So she was keen to know what it entailed and we took the decision to visit what was billed as a Global MBA Fair, GMF for short.
An MBA mela or super bazaar, conducted all over the world to enlighten and embroil the innocent, and all right, the not so innocent, into becoming a management student. The event and the experience I narrate are nearly universal but details may vary from country to country and locale to locale.
As we approached the foyer of the hotel something seemed strange. I have alluded before in these columns to the sartorial style in San Francisco. I believe it is called casual chic or understated elegance. The presidents of banks and CEOs of Silicon Valley are dressed in pastel coloured shirts, khakis and loafers.
If you are below thirty and are not wearing jeans and T shirt, people will look you up and down and this is true for both genders. But something was happening here as I approached the hotel. I found scores of young men scrubbed, shaved and suited, and young girls in pant-suits like they showed in advertisements when a sultry Bipasha Basu was taking over a whole business empire in Corporate.
As we neared the venue with tentative and nervous steps, people all around us were progressing with purposive strides. Eyes gleaming, jaws squarely set, elbows shoving, minds focused. Strive and succeed, the posters outside announced and it was as if they had all been hypnotised with ambition oozing from every pore. Never mind, we had entered.
What happens at an MBA fair?
Several parallel processes are in play. Management institutes -- known only as 'schools' in the US lingo -- try to lure potential MBA students to join them at astronomical sums -- a good school like Wharton or Kellogg can cost $80,000 for two years.
Believe it or not; students try to shop around for the best deal -- the best school in terms of rankings but at the most affordable price; training establishments for the examinations target the trainees; banks are on hand to lend money. In other words, planning, programming, deal making, networking -- a lot of management already on the path to managerhood.
I know that the scene in India is different or should I say was different? I speak of a period when there were only the super elite IIMs in cities A, B, and C. As with all things Indian, you took mind bending examinations, and unless a genius, were eliminated at some stage. The whole game plan was to reject as many as possible, so that those finally selected went in with a halo and came out two years later wearing the crown of MBA.
But I speak of my time from the misty past. Inevitably the institutes of management have proliferated and now we have one from Bhagalpur to Bilaspur, apart from Bangalore. The science of management being so precious, it is also being taught ever so early and now is imparted in the kindergarten itself.
But notwithstanding all this, the situation in India is that there are always more people than slots for anything, however expensive, and therefore colleges don't have to woo students normally.
In the US, it is a different business model for business management, as I was learning. Here I was, shyly escorting my young relative, secure in the knowledge that no one can mistake me as an aspirant for anything. And yet lo and behold! Just because I was in the hall, they kept coming at me, handing over brochures and applications, thrusting prospectuses, asking if I was looking for night classes for mid-level professionals.
At one level I was flattered to be thought of as a potential student in this ageless society; at another embarrassed to be the only one seemingly without a direction and unable to answer the basic question as to what kind of MBA I was looking for.
We wanted an escape and went into another room. As soon as I had entered I realised my mistake. 'Aptitude for quantitative analysis' said the screen and a free demonstration lesson was being given. A large graph filled the screen and the line ascending optimistically upwards said 'sales'. A pie chart next in a lurid orange colour proclaimed 'market share'.
'If the sales grow at 23%, in how many years would the market share rise to 56% in a recessionary cycle, if the sales force is cut by half...' or some such question was being asked as a demo problem for the entrance exams. Some of the Americans were tapping the answers on their cellphones. But some others in the room who looked Indian or Chinese were looking disdainful of the whole exercise or had already raised their hand.
For me, it was all my worst nightmares from my school and college years coming to haunt me once again after all these years. I never had any quality to my quantitative skills and something told me the same could be true of my companion. We beat a hasty retreat into another hall.
This seemed better as a free lecture was being given on how to organise your application-package so as to 'ace' the process. This has been made into an exact science and was being taught to all the attendees by a charming girl with practiced smoothness.
For those of you management types who have stayed with me so far, I offer below the wisdom from this learning for free. It will cost you a hundred dollars in a coaching class, I was told. So here goes:
The fact that I have noted all this down demonstrates on how compelling the message was and how effective the sale. The fact that I have now given away all this for free shows that I could have never learnt the business of management.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
B S Prakash is India's Consul General in San Francisco and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
B S Prakash