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Mad pursuit of money starts to slow in India

James Fontanella-Khan in Mumbai, FT.com | February 06, 2009

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The global economic slowdown is rapidly changing the aspirations of India's most talented graduates, leading many to reassess what they want in life.

Fat pay cheques and a job with a foreign bank or multinational have ceased to be the main goals for students leaving business school.

What they seek now is the pursuit of happiness and a more active role in the social and economic development of India, according to deans of the country's top business schools.

The main lesson Indian MBA graduates have learnt from studying the failures of financial capitalism is that social responsibility is more important than the accumulation of personal wealth.

"As we have seen the subprime bubble burst, people have begun to ask more questions of themselves," says Ajit Rangnekar, dean of the Indian School of Business. "The mad pursuit of money seems to have come down a bit."

The economic hardships that have followed the financial crisis are a novelty for a generation of students raised during the years of India's economic boom, which started in 1991 when the government liberalised vast tracts of the economy.

"Many of our students - from the mid 1980s generation - have never gone through a real crisis. They didn't suffer any kind of major shortages ... What is happening now comes as a surprise to them," says Professor JK Mitra, dean of the Faculty of Management Studies at the University of Delhi.

India's economic rise is best highlighted by the 300 per cent increase the Bombay Stock Exchange's benchmark Sensex experienced between January 2000 and December 2007. In the same period, the FTSE 100 dropped 4 per cent.

However, since the global economic malaise has spread to large emerging markets, India's star has started fading.

The Sensex lost more than 50 per cent of its value in the second part of last year, as foreign investors pulled out of Indian stocks.

Most foreign analysts predict that gross domestic product growth in 2009 will fall well below 5 per cent, shattering hopes of reaching double-digit growth.

One of the sectors worst affected by the credit crisis has been investment banking, which used to be the career most desired by Indian business school graduates, as it offered the highest pay packages - up to $200,000 a year.

In the past three months, investment banks in have started revising their hiring plans and those that are still taking on people are paying about 25 per cent less than they were a year ago, according to several placement officers.

The drop in demand and lower pay offers for graduates have led several business schools to advise their students to look elsewhere for jobs and explore non-traditional sectors, such as the entertainment industry and the public sector.

"Last year, 11 of our 270 students went to Lehman, this year we won't see that, so we are telling our students to explore different sectors," says Pankaj Chandra, director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Bangalore.

Business schools are also encouraging students to become entrepreneurs, as many graduates fear that even if they do get a job with a big company, they might lose it because of the worsening conditions.

"We are strongly promoting entrepreneurship and we provide students with a lot of help if they are willing to take that route," says Mr Chandra. "In Bangalore, there are many venture capitalists open to funding good ideas."

Mr Rangnekar of ISB says that entrepreneurship is likely to grow in the coming years, as an increasing number of people are looking for jobs with start-ups or are willing to launch their own business.

For example, Dhiren Makhija, a final year student at the IIM in Ahmedabad, says he will stay away from multinationals and try his luck as an entrepreneur, as the job market is too uncertain.

Students are also actively considering smaller firms and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - seeking roles that will give them greater responsibility and a more active role in the development of India.

"I find that more of our students are developing an interest for social and NGO work, which was not the case a while back," says Prof Mitra.

"Many will still work for a corporation, but will also volunteer in a charity to help their community ... This is a growing phenomenon."

The shift away from the financial services sector and multinationals also means that students are prepared to accept lower wages, something which would have never happened even a year ago, according to several placement officers.

India's youth is gearing up for a brave new world and is opening its mind to a much wider range of possibilities.

Business school deans are confident their graduates will be quick to adapt to the changing demands of the market. Mr Chandra of the IIM Bangalore is sure about this: "We select 270 students out of 300,000 applicants every year.

"Our people are among the brightest of the nation, and whatever happens, they will continue to be the Indian leaders of the future."

Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2009


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