This column was published in Businessworld, issue dt 18 Dec 2006
The Missing 'B' in Bschools
by Rashmi Bansal
You have heard of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari but what about the monk with an MBA? Eighteen monks from the Jade Buddha temple recently graduated from Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University’s Antai College of Economics and Management. They completed a six-month programme in ‘temple management’, which included subjects ranging from religious philosophy to managing temple finances and marketing religious products.
The results are quite evident. The temple now boasts of a ‘logo’, more shops and even a seminar series on Buddhism run by the head abbot. The seminar cost — $25,000 for a small group — is positioned as a ‘donation for enhancing one’s achievements and morality’.
The Antai programme is being seen as a success. Monks from 28 other temples in Shanghai are expected to attend in the near future. Are there questions about mixing the spiritual with the temporal? Well, yes. But the practical view prevails. “Many think that monks should just take care of the temple and have little contact with the outside world. But the reality is they must manage the temple and deal with money,” said Wang Fanghua, dean, Antai College, to Businessweek.
So, what next? Similar programmes for pundits, priests and imams? Well, maybe, but that is not the crux of this column. Whether you wish to treat a religious body as a ‘business’ is another debate altogether. What’s interesting is, here is a B-school programme which is helping folks to be more efficient in their current place of work, which is not necessarily a ‘corporate’. This is an extremely large segment, practically ignored by Indian B-schools.
Yes, of late, several B-schools have started ‘family business’ or FMB programmes. These courses take in students from family business backgrounds and expose them to modern management techniques and thinking processes. FMB programmes are structured differently from traditional MBAs, but they are two-year courses and suitable for younger members of medium to large family-owned enterprises. The heirs to the throne, so to speak.
NMIMS, Welingkar and Nirma Institute of Management’s FMB programmes fall under this category. SP Jain’s programme — the oldest one around — is slightly different. Here the students are actually expected to work alongside their studies. Classes are held for one week each month; and the rest are spent applying the acquired concepts to their business.
That is a great model, but it caters only to a fraction of a large potential market. While there are dozens of short-term certificates and diplomas for working executives, there are no such programmes for those who operate small businesses. Just like those monks, there are hundreds of owners of shops, trades and manufacturing units who could benefit, especially from fundas on marketing and accounting. Who doesn’t want to attract more customers, or benefit from better bookkeeping?
Of course, such courses need a different approach. As with the Jade Buddha temple, evidence of how the course actually helps you expand your business would be crucial. Less theory, more practice, an understanding of the problems facing small businesses, including addressing lack of confidence in the entrepreneur.
There are several reasons we won’t see such course anytime soon. We have no professors equipped to teach it. Most would consider it beneath their dignity, and none would be able to teach in any language other than English. It is not their fault, of course.
The MBA market here is modelled along global lines. The word ‘business’ in MBA is a misnomer. The programme is, perhaps, Masters in ‘Improvement of Personal Job Prospects’. The corporate giants who recruit don’t care what the student has learnt. Just that he should have the ability to learn it. And this suits B-schools perfectly. They can continue to think of the MBA programme as an art, and a science. That practical stuff? It is none of their business!
Note: Given the 700 word limit there were several points I could not dwell on in more detail. Here are some of those thought trails...
a) Our bschools and media (including business newspapers/ magazines) are obsessed with large business houses and multinationals. Whereas so much of what constitutes 'business' is happening in the informal sector, and at the level of individual entrepreneurs.
I think this segment should be covered in the media - as well as tracked/ studied by b schools.
b) Why are quality bschool education/ short term courses available only in English? That shuts out so many potential students. Unlike technical fields, like say engineering, a strong case can be made for teaching business management in regional languages. I can have a flourishing business as a Gujarati speaker who knows kaam chalau or even no English at all.
I guess this is really a problem of our education system as a whole, the obsession with teaching practically all professional courses only in English.
c) Of course, one may argue that concepts taught in an MBA are irrelevant to those with native business acumen. That in fact there is much that we b schoolers can learn from them.
I think at least one course which focuses on the traditional business communities of our country, the way in which they operate, advantages and disadvantages of traditional practices etc should be included in b school curriculum.
d) Lastly, family business MBA is a concept on which I really need to devote an entire column. One of these days, I shall...!