Monday, September 29, 2008

An American MBA outside the Ivy League

Naveen is a regular reader of this blog and here's his (somewhat belated) 2 cents on my post of 4th Sept 2008, 'Ivy league goes the IIM way - II'.

Just for background, I did my full-time, MBA from a US (Purdue) university in 2002, ranked generally 23/24 as per US News, after working in India for 3 years in software.

Somehow, many students/professionals in India are aware of only the Ivy Leagues and the associated high fees of doing MBA from US (Ivy/non-Ivy) or Europe b-schools. This acts as a deterrent to them and they give up on their dream of doing an MBA from

Based on my experience, I can say, that US schools ranked from 20-30 are also pretty good and they have a very exhaustive program. Many State schools like Purdue, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Maryland fall in these categories and they all are very good schools (not only in MBA but also have strong Engineering schools) plus the added advantage of lower fees and high probability of getting assistantships (like teaching to undergrads) that reduces the fees a lot plus offers monthly stipend. (could end up being cheaper than studying at ISB or IIMs).

All these schools have very high-class facilities and offer an amazing MBA experience of good coursework & projects, case competitions (even funding going to other US schools case completion, if you qualify), doing projects/cases with other departments and collaborating with them, to develop business case for their technical products, ample networking and discussions etc.

The MBA program at Purdue offers a very diverse class (~40% internationals) and is very strong in Operations and Corporate Finance. One big advantage in these schools is the relative smaller class size (~150 per batch) as compared to 400-600 students at the Ivy Leagues and other top 20 schools. So, a smaller class size offers more opportunity to grow and reduces chances of being lost!!!

We had approx 10 people from India (from varied backgrounds of Engg, Commerce etc.) and almost all, had an assistantship from 1st semester, that reduced everybody’s tension of funding for fees and other living expenses and also the risk of ‘what-if I do not get a job in the US’!!! Most of them had arranged for bank loans from India to cover 2 yrs (and got them easily) but after getting an assistantship within few days of landing @ Purdue, they did not need the Indian loan money.

As for jobs after MBA, most of the Indian batch got jobs by graduation. It was a struggle for a couple of Indian guys due to the tough job market at that time and because they were trying to change their stream (like moving from Marketing pre-MBA experience to Finance and similar).

The visa issue also becomes a headache for some students (Indian, Chinese, Koreans, South Americans etc.) as many companies, would not do sponsorship for MBAs (even though they would sponsor for Engg students from same school). So, pre-MBA work experience plays a major role in post MBA job experience and I would suggest that people get minimum 2-3 years of work experience, before going for a US MBA, due to the job factor plus (my opinion) you tend to learn more, once you have had a solid job experience.

The negative side of doing MBA from 20-30 ranked schools is that your chances (if you want to) of getting into Investment Banking (especially) or Consulting would be reduced, as the big names IB firms (whichever are left now!!) don’t come to these schools and Consulting firms 1st priority is the top 15 schools (from where they pick a lot of students).

Another reason is location of some of these schools, as they are in Mid-West, which is not the hub of IB (New York) or Technology firms (Silicon Valley), but that in no way implies people do not get jobs in East or West coast. It's just that, general tendency of companies is go to schools where they are based out of, or of students, is that they want to find a job in the region, where they studied.

In case of Purdue (which is 2 hrs from Chicago), people from my batch of 150 got jobs all over the US but mainly in Mid-West, and in all sectors (mainly corporate finance, operations or marketing), with very few in IB or consulting. So, prospective students should keep in find their career stream, in choosing the school (stronger the school in that stream, more companies to recruit for that stream) or region of school.

All, I can say, is my MBA from Purdue, was one of the best experience for me and gave me lot of exposure to people from different cultures and a very good educational experience (plus also a good job :)

Thanks, Naveen!

In other MBA related news, the IIMs sold 2.9 lakh CAT forms this year, which is a new record. Wonder if the numbers would have been so high if the markets and I-banks had collapsed a couple of months earlier!

Stay Hungry: the website

The Stay Hungry Stay Foolish website is now up. It has details of who's in the book, excerpts, reviews and also a blog with interesting background info and coverage of the events held so far.

If you are in Mumbai, I'd be delighted to see you at the launch of Stay Hungry on 2nd October at 4 pm, Crossword, Kemps Corner!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Life without television: a trial run

"Nick will go off the air for 30 minutes to encourage kids to get out and play"
- report in today's HT Cafe

Wonderful but meaningless marketing gesture. Unless ALL kids' channels go off the air on the same day and same time. And even then - what is a single day?

Of course, you will say it's the parents' responsibility to regulate their kids' TV viewing. Yeah right. Try it! It's like playing chor-police and the truth is you can't blame kids for watching too much TV. What are we adults doing?

I know that I have certainly been watching way too much in recent months. I generally channel surf, rarely watching a full program - so I kid myself ki nahin dekhti hoon. It's like saying I don't eat large meals only a lot of snacks. It still adds up. And it's a LOT of junk.

At the beginning of this month I took a tough decision: "This month, NO television!" We simply did not renew the Tata Sky connection. They called to check why. Bas yun hi, hum TV nahin dekhna chahte... Thank you very much!

So what do we do? Well board games like Monopoly and Connect Four have been brought out of the closet. I read more and sleep earlier (and better). I listen to Radio City 91.1 between 9-11 pm every night (it's on right now). They play really cool songs from the '70s and '80s - the kind I grew up listening to (amazing stuff!).

I'm not AGAINST TV or anything - in fact I actually have the best of both worlds. My parents live one floor below so jab marzi ho one can go down and watch. But doing so is a conscious act, not a mindless one.

The month has come to an end and I'm not sure what's next.

All I know is that when there is really important 'breaking news' someone breaks it to you... But TV ke bina there is so much peace in the house!

Friday, September 19, 2008

'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' update

Thank you all for you good wishes. In a couple of days I'll let you know:
* Where you can buy the book online
* Ordering through

We're working on it! Any leads on the amazon front would be appreciated :)

In other news, there will be a series of 'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' book events over the next couple of months. Starting tomorrow.

Saturday 20 Sept 2008
Venue: Crossword, Ahmedabad
Time: 6 pm

Sunday 21 Sep 2008
Venue: Crossword, Baroda
Time: 11 am

Pls do drop by if you live in any of these towns! I'll be there and so will two of the entrepreneurs featured in the book - Sunil Handa and Shankar Maruwada. Along with Prof Rakesh Basant from IIM Ahmedabad.

And now I better crash coz I have a Spicejet flight to catch. And they've just sent an sms asking me to report TWO hours ahead of departure. Ek ghante ki to flight hai...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' out in stores now

The inspiring stories of 25 IIM Ahmedabad graduates who chose to tread a path of their own making.

What more is there to say? Well, this is the book project I had been working on. Like a human baby, it actually took 9 months from conception to delivery (starting Oct 2007 and ending June 2008).

Soon it will be in your hands, where I hope it impacts your thinking in some small way. And acquires a life of its own.

Let me know if you have any trouble finding the book. And I'd love to hear what you feel - after reading it.

A dedicated website will be coming up soon.

Stay Hungry Stay Foolish, Rs 125. Available @ Crossword, Landmark, Oxford and well, bookshops and stalls across India

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lehman: Going, going, gone

There will be no more bright eyed IIM grads flying to London and New York to do their summers with Lehman Bros.

It's the death of a Dream.
The end of the Formula.

Sure, in time, i-banking may bounce back but right here, right now the idea that clearing one entrance test, followed by two semi-educative years on campus lead you straight into the 'global league' (in terms of greenbucks).

That, for the next couple of batches, is over.
And honestly, I think it's actually a very good thing.

I don't hate i banks or i bankers. But I do have a problem with the fact that these jobs offered so much more money than ANY other sector that even the thinking bschool grad could not help being dazzled. It was like a thousand watt bulb shining in your face -blinding you to all else.

2007 was actually the peak year for the global i-banks, in 2008, they remained strong but consulting and private equity were seen as 'hotter'. One 2008 grad from IIMA who had offers from a global i bank in New York as well as McKinsey chose the latter. Two reasons: I banking he felt was more 'risky' and secondly, he wanted to stay in India.

Here's the sector-wise break up of who got placed where @ IIMA in 2008

That will change because Lehman & ML apart, there are just very few jobs now on offer in the financial sector. Global or otherwise. The regulars will come and pick up a couple of students, just to keep the relationship with the institute. But that will be a light drizzle, not a downpour.

We won't be seeing (I think) any new records being set in terms of dollar-converted-to-rupee salaries (last year's record: Rs 1.44 crores).

We also won't be seeing (I hope) the crazy one-upmanship among the top three IIMS about which one bagged the most PPOs and global ibanking offers.

What will happen? No IIM grad will be wanting for a good job, but there will be no auto-pilot choice. Students will think and choose more carefully.

The traditional recruiters like FMCG marketing (HLL, P & G), Indian companies (TAS, Aditya Birla group) and emerging sectors like retail and telecom will attract more attention and interest.

Consulting and PE of course will be red-hot.

An interesting phenomenon (pointed out by a former i banker friend) is that in the US, whenever there is a slowdown, applications to MBA programs surge. If you're out of a well paid job you may as well go back to school. By the time you graduate, the economy would also have recovered.

In India though, I wonder if all this news may not have the opposite effect. I don't think the aam junta will STOP wanting to do an MBA but we may see the numbers taking the CAT stabilise. Instead of the year on year surge.

Also watch for the hot new trend of i bankers returning home. And when asked "What are your plans"? the response I'm hearing a lot of is "Starting up".

That could be a respectable way of remaining unemployed until the markets correct themselves. Or a case of i bankers who've 'made enough money' deciding to hang up their ties for good.

In which case - welcome to the club!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Art of Giving

On Sunday, when I saw Nitish Kumar's appeal to contribute towards Bihar flood victims I thought, haan bhejna chahiye.

But four days later I had done nothing. Cutting a cheque and mailing it required some initiative on my part. And I just did not follow through.

SO this morning when I checked my ICICI bank account online I was happy to see a quick and easy way to contribute. Just before you log in they have created a page which allows you to send money towards Bihar flood victims through internet banking. Which as you know takes less than a minute to complete.

So I did make my small contribution.
And I know that many others, like me, will 'follow through'.

The money contributed will be handled by GiveIndia, so I know it will be wisely spent. Incidentally, GiveIndia will also deliver at your doorstep the tax exemption certificate under Section 80G (not very important to me but could be for others!).

GiveIndia's mission is to induct people like you and me into a culture of 'giving'. But it's also about coming up with ideas like this one, which make it easier for us to actually do it. Understanding the 'end user', as they say.

And well, I could go on and on about GiveIndia but you can read the whole story in my book 'Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish' which will be out on September 15 in bookstores across India. Of the 25 stories in the book, GiveIndia is one of my personal favourites.

Meanwhile I cannot help wondering whether 'giving' means I actually care. Which is the ultimate objective of GiveIndia, to engage us, to shake us out of the inertia of 'me, myself and I'.

The floods in Bihar are a colossal human tragedy but they have failed to move India in the manner of the Gujarat earthquake, or the tsunami.

I think somewhere in the back of our minds there is the thought:"Bihar? Deserves it". Jaata hai to jaaye, good riddance.

Acknowledging the feeling is the first step towards releasing it. Giving money I hope is the first step in the long journey towards making us more 'giving' - in so many other ways.

And not just when there are floods and earthquakes.

As Venkat puts it in Stay Hungry Stay Foolish:" People don't realise that India is a daily living disaster. Diarrhoea is a bigger disaster than earthquake, tsunami, cyclone - all of them put together..."

Actually it's all too overwhelming, which is why most of us look away in the first place!

But more of us are accepting that each one can make a difference.
The starting point - for any change - is believing that in the first place.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ivy league goes the IIM way - II

So Indian students with the right credentials and less or even no work experience have a decent chance of getting into a good US bschool. But as Suze Orman would say, "Can you afford it?" It can be tougher than you think. A recent grad shares his experience:

I graduated from a top-20 school (which isn't an Ivy League by the way, but then when we were talking Stanfords and GSBs, I guess a non-ivy isn't necessarily a deal breaker). My decision to pursue an MBA wasn't economically motivated - I was doing pretty well back home, and just wanted to try something else, and I didn't know what that something else was supposed to me.

Coming to America wasn't as regrettable as going in for an MBA was. The two years were real tough. The school didn't guarantee loans, and I mismanaged my funds. One of my loans didn't come through and I was stranded mid-way, having spent nearly 40,000 dollars at the end of the first year and with no money for the second year. I had to negotiate with school to allow me to continue, which they did but there were times when I had to choose between being able to pay my bills or buying groceries.

(And now that I started earning again, that strain is eased but the school has held my diploma till I pay of my dues - and that means no India trip for me for a long time).

I was the only one in my class who had never worked outside of India (and never earned foreign moolah) - so there weren't too many people who could relate to the situation. But even though I might be a one-off case, MBA is pretty expensive whatever way you look at it (an MBA costs you one half of what it costs you to buy an average home in America), and even if you get a loan, it's important to keep in mind that we, termed aliens for tax purposes won't get credits for the tuitions or the interests that we pay (unlike the citizens).

Getting an MBA could be a positive NPV venture but the initial cash outflows could create a BIG void. The second disadvantage that we aliens have is the (non) availability of work visas (there is no guarantee you would get one even though you might have a good job and you are ineligible for a lot of positions because of your visa status).

Apart from the high expense, the experience has been awesome. There were people from more than 30 different countries, and the age difference varied. In a class of nearly 165, there were 7 who had near zero work experience. They were either undergrads at the same institute and had developed good rapport with the admission staff/faculty, or had dabbed in entrepreneurship (e.g. one had started a gaming company, the other used to sell designer clothes), or were pursuing joint degrees (one was a medical student and another a law student).

I wouldn't know how would they have fared had they pursued job opportunities. Only one of them actively looked for jobs (and even though he had multiple job offers, most offers were a rung or two lower than what they would have been had he had some experience under his belt). Almost all the interviews I had were based on my work experience pre-MBA and so I believe it matters a lot. But younger people do tend to get higher salaries (younger = less than average age) though I don't have stats to prove that. And Indians tend to be among the younger lot.

The older guys didn't really care much about salaries (quite a few of them knew they would have to settle down with lower than their pre-MBA salaries because they were switching careers).

In short, MBA in the US is akin to a two year reality show. The stakes are high - and if you don't have sufficient assets to back your loans, one mistake could put you in debt for life. Work experience helps (the kinds where you have managed people or dealt with bureaucracy or been caught up fixing processes). And if you come straight from India, there is a lot of potential to learn and have fun at the same time.

"Whatever the reasons, the bottomline is, if you have a high GMAT score, great academics and something in your CV which stands out in terms of leadership skills or entrepreneurial experience, you should take a shot at top US bschools. Even as you take the CAT, XAT and all that."..Completely agree. Just one thing to add. Make an informed decision whatever school you choose to go to.

If you'd like to share your experience or advice on doing an MBA abroad, write to me at rashmi_b at

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ivy league going the IIM way

Yesterday I bumped into a Stanford GSB student and learnt something new. It is possible for foreign students enter one of America's top bschools with negligible or even zero work experience.

"The youngest person in my class is just 21, and with a kheti background (ie family owns a horticulture business)," he said. And there are other examples of students at Stanford GSB who are just graduates or have 1-2 years work ex.

"Of course your profile should stand out in some way," he adds.

Frankly, this news has left me a bit confused. What does one now advise the numerous students who ask:"What is the eligibility for a top 20 US bschool?" Is the standard answer of '4-5 years of work ex' redundant??

Some google research reveals that there is an effort by leading bschools to recruit younger applicants. Since 2006 Stanford GSB has lowered its age requirement for Chinese applicants.

Guangdong Online reports: "Our school welcomes undergraduate applicants with outstanding experience," said Seda Mansour, a vice director with the Stanford business school's recruitment office.

The Wharton School also greatly encourages Chinese applicants with less than two years of work experience.

In 2007, a QS TopMBA Applicant Survey revealed that the average age of MBA applicants has fallen to 25.5 years, from 26.8 years in 2004.

Columbia is actively seeking to recruit fresh graduates into her class of 2007 – academic high-fliers who would otherwise be lost to the business school world once they enter fast track careers in banking or elsewhere. Columbia will also target a greater number of candidates with less than three years of work experience.

Harvard Business School has also started to recruit younger students to their MBA programme. They target students within 3 years of graduating from university or college. The average age of the Harvard MBA student was 27 years of age, but has fallen to 26 years of age as the school has recently admitted a number of 22 year-olds.

However, the survey noted that while US bschools are becoming more flexible, European bschools have not changed their policy. The average age at top European bschools remains 28.5 years.

Do younger applicants face a problem in the job market? Apparently not.

According to Jana Kierstead, Director of MBA Career Services at Harvard Business School, younger students received salaries just as competitive as their more experienced classmates, and equally across all industries.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Katherine Schwab, a vice president at Citigroup, says she has recruited "young, hungry" M.B.A. graduates at Rochester with great success for the company's finance training program.

"The students we have hired at Rochester bring a lot of energy and flexibility," she says. "They haven't had management experience in the past and are willing to travel all over the world and approach different opportunities with a lot of enthusiasm."

Hmm, sounds like the Ivy league may be headed the IIM way. And it's ironic because IIMs have always faced criticism for taking in fresh graduates.

Chicago GSB and some other top-ranked schools have relaxed work-experience requirements partly in hopes of attracting more minorities and women.

Whatever the reasons, the bottomline is, if you have a high GMAT score, great academics and something in your CV which stands out in terms of leadership skills or entrepreneurial experience, you should take a shot at top US bschools. Even as you take the CAT, XAT and all that.

The good news is that if you are admitted to a school like Stanford GSB, you will automatically be eligible for a student loan to fund your studies. And of you can apply for the Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani fellowships at Stanford which covers ALL your expenses (estimated to be $ 83,000 per year).

The only condition being that after graduation you must return to India for a minimum of two years of employment in the private or public sector.

Last year there were 1400 applications for 5 fellowships which is tough competition but still worth trying for!

If you are an student or graduate of a foreign bschool do share your insights and experiences with me. Especially on this work ex issue but any other topics also welcome. Drop me a line at rashmi_b at

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