Monday, March 14, 2005

The MBA - Empty Raincoat?

Ground Zero, Day Zero

It's placement season at IIMs. Tomorrow is 'day zero' at IIM Ahmedabad - a strange concept indeed. A decade ago when I was on campus we had a 'Day One' ie the day the most sought after companies (decided on the basis of votes by students) were invited.

Day Zero is the 'day before even day one', reserved for the dudes from investment banks offering dollar salaries and postings in London and New York. It's a term designed to stroke the egos of recruiters (many of whom happen to be alumni themselves).

The kick is to come and have 'first pick' off the tree laden with ripe MBA fruit. And there's a visible scramble to pick the few fruit which has clearly discernible markings of 'goodness'. In a piece titled 'MBA Caste System' which I wrote for some time ago I'd elaborated...

"Hotshot consulting firms or investment banks essentially need to pick up a dozen fresh MBAs, at max. So it makes great sense to visit only the top schools. And there too, pick up the 'top' students... Despite the fact that all the folks who made it to an IIM-A beat the same odds, some ARE more equal than others.

This is the breed known as the 'I schols' - a campus term for the top 20 students who are awarded 'industry scholarships'. The pecking order is swiftly and brutally established in the first few weeks on campus and usually holds good for the rest of the year. And whaddaya know? A large number of toppers are invariably IITians. ....

To offer a more level playing field, CVs sent to companies for summer placements at IIM-A now don't carry the student's CGPA. But the end result is still the same. Coveted recruiters look for the undergraduate background of the student and invariably shortlist those from IIT. IIM may be a brand name, but IIT-IIM is sone pe suhaga."

In effect, being one of 300 students in India selected out of 1.5 lakhs is not enough. One would presume that everyone who makes it to this stage is talented - and that now the challenge is to find a match between the individual and a company. Finding the right job for each person based on criteria like genuine interest in a field and cultural fit is far harder - but more rewarding.

Instead, both companies and students are happy to take the easy way out. Students go for the best packages and brand names. Companies in turn stick to a particular profile of students which they reason has 'worked' in the past. And thus we have large corporations full of very similar looking, similar sounding and similar thinking people.

Which, in the longer run, surely cannot be such a good thing!

Personally I think this is one of the reasons we see so little innovation and 'out of the box' thinking by corporations. And the world is definitely a poorer place for it.

Bottomline: Money is important but young people quickly realise - just a few months into a job - that it isn't everything. That's why, for example, so many are quitting well paid BPO jobs.

In the case of MBAs too, the inherent lack of fit between job and individuals creates 'rolling stones' always looking for better opportunities.

What they are really looking for is meaning. A job where they feel they are making use of their unique talents and skills - making some kind of difference.

To use a potent phrase coined by management guru Charles Handy, no human being - least of all those who are extremely capable and bright! - wish to be 'empty raincoats' or nameless numbers on a payroll.

No matter how high that pay may be.


  1. Anonymous1:49 PM

    Can totally relate to that!! I am myself at IIML, and we had the whole placemnt scene last week. Enjoyed your article in BW this week. Great stuff!!!

  2. Hi Rashmi:

    The update to your post is that this time an IIMA student has been hired at an unprecedented starting salary of Rs. 50 lakhs. In spite of the IIM brand, I feel this sort of "pampering" (what else to call it?) someone who is still wet behind the ears is not a very good trend for the overall market.

  3. Sharat Unni4:07 PM

    Cdnt have put it more crisply myself Rashmi...What you said is so true...especially the part about the IIT-IIM nexus...wdnt have beleived it, if i hadnt experienced it myself...
    But maybe for the sake of the other readers, RaviSanghvi who was offered this whopping salary of $152,000, is for once NOT an IITian...maybe IIMs still do have hope..

  4. I sometimes cannot understand why investment banks chase after IIT-IIM grads. For once, their technical background does not seem to be of much help in their I-bank work. They would be much better picking up CA-IIM or perhaps only CAs with industry experience, since they undergo a more rigorous training at their core competence.

    Perhaps, one of the reasons why IITians who turn to management are preferred is that the very vibrant campus life lends them a confidence which is hard to match. Compare that to the life of a regular city dweller (today) who runs from college to tuition centre, and you realize why IITians are regarded as being more balanced.

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