Friday, January 30, 2009

BC New Song

Remember Zeest - the guys behind the cult hit Sutta song? This morning an earnest, ungrammatical but sweetly worded email from the band landed in my inbox.

Subject: "A Treat for the Current Global Recession"

After a very long anticipation, Zeest finally managed to release their New Demo Song "100 Rupai". The song is a story of a financially frustrated Indo-Pak's youth life.

At these financial hard times throughout the world, we pray to have an economic prosperity & growth throughout South Asia.

Skip, Umair and rest of the Zeest Team Would like to Thanks to all the fans throughout the world, for providing us the ultimate support. No matter what age, gender & social group you belonged, you guys gave us the hope to work, even after facing so many barriers in our way.

Well, I rushed to download the song from their website and eagerly pressed play. What I heard was so terribly mediocre it honestly made me sad. Agreed, BC Sutta was not a musical masterpiece but it had spunk. It had a voice.

100 rupiah is pop music 'sub prime'!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slumdog MBA

ISB is over the sun and the moon for cracking the Financial Times bschool rankings once again. They have in fact moved up 5 places - from # 20 last year, to # 15.

I have the highest regard for ISB but to be honest, I do not buy the # 15 ranking. Reasons are as follows:

* These are 'global MBA' rankings. But how global is ISB? The student community is 96% Indian. Only 4% hold non-Indian passports (and my guess is many of those would be of Indian origin).

The faculty is only 82% Indian, despite the many many visiting professors.

* In the area of research ISB is ranked no 75 out of 100. It does not have a 'doctoral rank' at all because it did not have a PhD program till recently.

So where does ISB score? The weighted salary (calculated in PPP) and % salary increase (before and after the MBA). Those figures stand at $148,339 and 160% respectively.

These two parameters account for 40% of the weightage when calculating the ranking.

The question however is, if you were anywhere in the world and aspiring for an international MBA would you place ISB higher than Northwestern Kellogg (#21), Duke University: Fuqua (#22) or UCLA Anderson (# 29)?

I think the absence of international students at ISB is telling. But who know what came first - the chicken or the egg? A few more years in the FT top 20 is just what ISB needs - to make that demographic shift.

The second big question everytime the FT rankings are released is: "Where are the IIMs"? Well, they do not qualify as 'MBAs' under the criteria used by FT as they also admit fresh graduates.

As far as I know IIMs do plan to approach FT to rank the 1 year PGP X program where work ex is compulsory. These programs become eligible only after 3 batches graduate as the survey requires historical salary data and alumni responses.

But PGP X is not the flagship program of the IIMs, so it will still seem unfair - at the end of it.

Reminds me of the hoo-ha in India over our films making it to the Oscars. A Bollywood film - no matter how good - is only going to be considered under the category of 'best foreign film'. It takes a movie like Slumdog Millionaire, in an Indian setting but with a Western sensibility to get 10 Oscar nominations.

But the box office reaction to Slumdog in India is mixed.

Similar is the case with the IIMs. For the average 21 year old they are THE bschools of choice. ISB will never get 250,000 applicants for its 400 odd seats.

And yet, IIMs - or at least their alumni - do itch for the 'Oscars'. But are the institutes willing to cater to the international audience? Or take an interest in marketing themselves?? The answer is "no".

So they remain kings of the local market (for the near future - aagey ka keh nahin saktey). Like the quintessential hit Hindi film!

My comment on ISB in FT rankings last year

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dope from foreign bschools

If you're a current student or recent grad of a bschool anywhere in the world apart from India, please drop me a line at rashmi_b at

I am looking to conduct some email interviews with you. Or persuade you to do a small write up. Details, when I hear from you :)

A brief update on the transcription posting - I am quite astounded by the response. 22 people have written in so far. I'll be in touch with you guys in a bit. Currently I have only a couple of interviews done, bust scheduling the rest!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

'The Changeling ' - 3.5 stars

I saw a 'serious English film' in a theatre after a long time. The reviews of Chandni Chowk to China are just too abominable. Kind of confirms my suspicion that Kal ho na ho was ghost-directed by Karan Johar. There's no evidence to the contrary from Nikhil Advani since!

So, Changeling it was. And it is a pretty hard-hitting film. The story is simple: Christine Collins is a single mother who comes back from work one evening to find her son Walter missing. Five months later the LAPD finds a boy who matches Walter's description and claims to be Walter.

At the railway station where they are 'reunited' Christine exclaims,"That's not my son!" But she is manipulated into agreeing to take the child home because she is not 'thinking clearly'.

What follows is a very Indian-sounding tale. Corrupt police force, lone woman against system (ok, not totally, there is a crusading activist pastor on her side).

Christine is thrown into the psychopathic ward of LA General Hospital. The doctor says she can walk free if she admits that the boy returned to her is Walter. Thanks, but no thanks, says our heroine.

Now the shocking part in all this is it is a TRUE STORY. Not even "based on" a true story but an actual one. Of course it happened in 1928. . So guess what, Los Angeles - city of dreams - was once as lawless as good old UP or Bihar.

Although even back then the streets were cleaner.

What I liked about the film:
Using sets or digital photography, the film manages to convey a beautiful period feel. The trams on the road, the clothes worn by the boys to school in the era before jeans, and the Pacific telephone company where operators run manual switchboards and the supervisors swish by on roller skates. I just loved all of that.

There is very little hysteria or melodrama - it is all very sad but sombre and understated. Without revealing any more of the plot let me just say that there is no 'happy ending' although justice is eventually served - in more ways than one.

What I did not like:
The film was long - way too long. Aadha ghanta easily snip ho sakta tha.

Secondly at some point I felt it was trying too hard. It practically screams, "Nominate me for an Oscar!"

Lastly, I didn't care much for Angelina Jolie in this role. Director Clint Eastwood apparently chose her as soon as he discovered she was interested because her 'face fit the period setting'. Maybe she did fit the bill, and maybe she did put in a good performance.

But I can't really say. In many scenes the only thing that held my attention were those huge pouty lips - smeared with a newlywed-in-Gurdaspur shade of bright red lipstick.

Overall I would give the film 3.5 stars but of course it is not something to watch for 'timepass'.

Stuck to Satyam?

You can check in but you can never leave... That was Hotel California but the situation is somewhat similar at Satyam right now.

Firstly, there are few openings elsewhere. Secondly, as far as freshers go, the company has taken a Rs 2 lakh bond from each trainee. Apparently it works like this: you keep a fixed deposit of Rs 2 lakhs with State Bank. If you leave before completing two years you forfeit that FD to Satyam.

Asking employees for a bond is an IT industry practice. However Satyam is the only one which asks for so much money upfront and for a period of 2 years. TCS and Wipro too have a bond but for Rs 50,000 and Rs 75,000 respectively.

Says one recent engineering graduate working with a consulting firm: "Other IT majors have SLAs .. so if they train you in some niche skill they have SLA for large amount".

He explains, an SLA is a Service Level Agreement. Although it would be more appropriate to refer to it as a bond. A legal document on 'court paper' signed by your company and you. "So when settlements happen while leaving.. they get this amount if you leave job early."

How exactly can one 'enforce' this? Well, the company can refuse to give you the experience letter or NOC required to join the next place unless you pay up.

This guy, let's call him Engineer X, had an SLA of Rs 1 lakh for 1 year. Now that period is over and he can move on freely (if he wishes to). Until he gets trained in some other skill and is under SLA again for some time.

I don't know if SLA bonds work efficiently but certainly keeping cold hard cash does! The fact that I have to literally PAY 2 lakhs (or at least lock it in for 2 years) raises several issues in my mind:

* I need money to get a job. They promise to give it back to me but it still sounds very un-capitalist.

* Would every fresh engineer have this money to spare. If not, does the bank provide a loan for this purpose?

A job at Satyam for a fresher would pay between Rs 2.4 lakhs-3.5 p.a. Engineer X adds,"Satyam many a times offered jobs to top 10 students in many colleges..!!" Obviously not the IITs or other big brand name colleges but still.

So where is this money? If we estimate around 10,000 freshers joined the company in the last two years (and that is a conservative estimate) the amount collected as bond would be Rs 200 crores.

Given that Satyam managed to manipulate its bank FDs in all kinds of interesting ways one has to wonder whether this money is safe! Hopefully the new auditors will get to the bottom of this one.

As for the bond itself - kya yeh Fevicol ka hai jo kabhi tootata nahin? Under the changed circumstances it should be revoked. When things fall apart, why should freshers hold?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Beyond CAT: the issue of fairness

Sorry to make a hat-trick of posts on MBA entrance but CAT is just one exam. There are others. Too many others, in fact.

Now the argument for 'more' is that students should not be crucified for poor performance on one day in one test. But the sheer number of these other exams is I think an issue.

It is common knowledge that institutes make a lot of money by conducting their own tests. But even those bschools accepting CAT or XAT scores ask you to apply separately after buying a prospectus of Rs 1000-1500. So they get the money minus the headache.

The other reason some bschools might prefer conducting their own exam is to have more leeway in admissions. But here too you can always establish your own criteria or conduct a second test (like MICA does).

Anyhow, the reason why I am bringing this up is an email from an MBA aspirant (let's call him Aspirant X) which brings up several issues related to how various tests apart from CAT are conducted. I am reproducing what he has written with my comments:

1) During the IIFT test, as i heard and witnessed myself, many students started the paper as early as 10 mins before the scheduled time. 10 mins in this paper means one whole section! When few of us complained the invigilator warned the class once but it had no effect and the students continued to write the paper.

This was mainly because the paper had no seal so there. They must be cutting costs but at whose expense? Many students complained to the institute but the matter died down soon and no action was taken.

2) Something similar happened during the SNAP test but this time I was a party to it and i also started the paper 5 mins before time as others had started 10 mins before time.

3) NMAT and XAT were conducted quite professionally and i haven't witnessed or heard any comments about such issues.

My comment: This is not the first time there have been complaints about the conduct of the IIFT test. Here is an online petition asking for reconduct of the test in 2005 because of invigilation issues. 140 students had signed the petition back then. At the time students had similar issues with NMAT as well.

But there is a second issue which is more serious than some students getting a headstart. And that is regarding the evaluation of the SNAP paper itself.

This year for the first time students were allowed to take the SNAP test paper home. Naturally, every coaching class produced a key and students calculated their likely scores. Now here's what happened to Aspirant X.

I checked my scores from all these keys and the lowest net score i was expecting was 73.5. This score would not have landed me with a call from SIBM Pune but i was hopeful of calls from other institutes including SCMHRD.

But now that the results are out, it turns out that my score has dropped to 63.25. As per the cut offs predicted by all the major coaching classes, now i stand no chance for a call even from SIIB.

Aspirant X is not an isolated case. I checked with coaching institutes and they said most of their students were in the same situation. Their scores were 10-20 marks below expectation and not just in verbal where there is room for ambiguity but sections like logic.

TIME has even put up a webpage acknowledging the issue, adding that they have 'brought this issue to the notice of the Symbiosis institutes'.

The head of one coaching institute offered a simple solution: "They should release the answer key." That is what the IIMs did when they faced a similar controversy on CAT a couple of years ago. Now they release the answer key to CAT as a matter of routine every year.

My comment: Believe it or not there was a similar issue with SNAP in the year 2005-6 which was covered by JAM magazine. At that time we reported:

Pooja Sengupta, an Anna University engineering graduate, appeared for the SNAP (Symbiosis National Aptitude Test) on 18th December 2005, along with thousands of aspirants across India. But when her result arrived on 7th Jan 2006, she got a rude shock. "I scored 15 marks less than expected in the General Awareness section. Immediately, I sent off two emails to the SNAP office requesting them to re-evaluate my answer sheet."

Pooja is not alone. More than a hundred other students who took the SNAP have doubts about whether their answer sheet was evaluated correctly. Megha Moolkim (SNAP id 515948) says, "I got 3/40 in GA which is impossible." When aggrieved students called the Admissions Office they were told by Mr Shinde, Controller of Examinations, "There is no process for re evaluation.. the decision is final and binding."

Then too, students had put up an online petition. The SNAP spokesperson told JAM in a telephonic interview, "A few students have called... It is not a new thing. Students always have complaints and think they should have scored more".

An email sent by JAM to the director and deputy director of SIBM yesterday re the latest controversy has not elicited any response so far.

With the number of students taking the SNAP nearing one lakh now it is important to address the issue of fairness and rigour in evaluation. Even though it is true that if most students have scored lower than expected, cut-offs will also fall accordingly. The point is the principle of natural justice.

When we teach concepte like transparency and accountability AT bschools, we should also see these concepts applied BY bschools!

Do send in your comments and experiences on any bschool entrance related issue to rashmi_b at

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Transcriptions, anyone?

I have started the interviews for my next book and am looking for someone who would be able to transcribe them.

If you have prior experience, great. Otherwise, no problem. The important thing is you must be a stickler for accuracy.

You could be a student with time on their hands or anyone at all, looking for freelance home-based work.

You could be based anywhere in India although co-ordinating despatches of tapes/ CDs would be faster and easier if you're in Mumbai.

Drop me a line at rashmi_b at if interested and we'll take it from there!

Past perfect II: the other side of the story

My previous post brought out a great deal of angst. But here's the thing:

CAT + past performance may not be the best way to identify future business leaders. But it is the most OBJECTIVE method available.

Now we can debate the amount of weightage that should be given to various parameters (this year weightage given by IIMA to class 10 & 12 marks in the tie-breaker seem excessive to me). We can also ask for normalisation across boards.

But can we really ask for a more subjective process, a la Stanford and Wharton? In the Indian context that may not work.

One of the foundations of the IIM brand is that the intake is purely on merit. There is no room for influence, money, or any other means of 'getting a seat'. Whether you are the Prime Minister's nephew or the director's son, the IIMs are above bhai -bhatijawaad.

The moment you include more subjective criteria, there are questions. Now you may say ISB also follows a subjective process but then it is not a government institute. Rejected candidates do not go and file RTI.

In an interview to Mint's Sidin Vadukut, last year IIM A director Samir Barua stated that the fall in diversity of the batch (the 94% engineers) was a direct consequence of 'things like the RTI act'. To quote from the article:

... because of RTI and extreme pressure on the IIMs and IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) to explain admission procedures, the institute could no longer be “fuzzy” in the selection process. “Previously, we ensured some sort of diversity by picking up a mix of people from those who cleared the written test. We could introduce a level of subjectivity at the interview stage. But now, because of RTI, applicants who don’t make it demand to know why they weren’t selected when they scored better than another admitted student in the written test.”

But this seems to bother me more than it does Barua. “I think engineers are just as creative as arts or commerce graduates. What irks me is that I lose the ability to pick up someone even if they scored a little less on the test but impress in the discussions and interviews,” he adds.

Of course, I still think it is upto the institute's prerogative to figure out a means to have more diversity (eg lay out a lower cut-off for students from non-engineering streams if they feel it is important to get the right mix in the class!). I think IIM Bangalore has managed this process best amongst all IIMs.

But it is upto the students to accept that either way there will be some 'arbitrariness' in selection.

For all those who hold up the high standards of Ivy League schools, I recommend a book called The Price of Admissions: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates by Daniel Goldman.

The book mainly looks at undergraduate admissions, not bschools, but it outlines how subjective an admissions process can become!

Ideally we should have objective criteria, with some room for subjectivity. Which is what we did have, until the IIMs became more transparent.

In my time, if you didn't get in, you accepted that as your destiny and moved on. Now, people take the CAT again and again, and some will use instruments like RTI to know 'why'.

Incidentally, IIMs do use the 'international' method to select candidates for the 1 year PGP X program. But there, applicants are in hundreds, not lakhs!

Given the 246,000 test-takers in the fray for the PGP program, and how important this test has become to them, methinks we'll be fighting CAT and dog over weightages and percentiles for some years to come!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Past perfect?

Do people peak in performance at class 10 and 12?
Should poor performance in these exams haunt you for the rest of your life?

The IIMs certainly seem to think so. And particularly, IIM Ahmedabad. The institute recently released a document which laid out the selection process it is using for the 2009-11 intake.

In the general category, you would need to score at least 98 percentile overall and 94, 94 and 94.5 in sections 1, 2 and 3 respectively.

Now 1160 candidates from the 2.46 who appeared for the CAT this year qualified under this criteria. That number was further whittled down to 609 based on your past academic performance - in class 10 and 12.

The bottomline is that the institute needs to use some kind of tie breaker and it has opted for class 10 & 12 marks.

Unlike IIM Bangalore or IIM Lucknow, IIM A does not consider work experience, graduation marks or any other factor at the tie-breaker stage. I guess that is IIM A's prerogative - they basically want all the 'toppers'.

But there are two issues with this profiling

One is a technical one. Ankit Doshi is a BCom graduate from Mumbai with 3 interview calls, but he missed out on A. He believes it is because marks across different boards were not 'normalised'.

Giving his own example, Ankit states that he cleared the pre-screening criteria but probably lost out on the Academic Performance score as he scored 85.86% in class 10 (SSC) and 85.13% in class 12 (HSC). According to which his AP = 12

But in the ICSE or CBSE board (or even a state board like Andhra) scoring above 90% is common and those students would have an unfair advantage and score an AP of 16.

I think this is a very valid point and the institute should take this into account!

Ankit adds, "If you study the marking and scoring patterns of students, such a criteria completely closes the doors on students of Arts and Humanities across India . How many Arts std XIIth toppers even cross 85%?"

Well, that is a whole separate Pandora's box. At the 15th year reunion of IIMA's class of '93 held two weeks ago, we had a raging debate with some of the faculty on the changed student profile. From a 70: 30 ratio (70 being engineers and 30 being 'other streams'), we now have 93% engineers in the batch.

The faculty says it's because most smart kids in India gravitate towards engineering and hence more engineers crack the CAT. But factors like 'AP' make it that much more difficult for even the smartest of arts and commerce grads out there to get that interview call.

The second - and more fundamental - issue is should the past be given so much importance at all? Is it really an indicator of 'success' in the future?

One way to look at it is that if I am successful at an early age, I get a lot of positive strokes for it and therefore remain motivated to continue succeeding in the future.

But the other side of it is that now that I have the label of being 'successful', I no longer really need to peform. To do something more, or better. Because I am already 'there'.

Psychologist Carol Dweck has written a book on this subject called 'Mindset: the new psychology of success'. Which inspired Guy Kawasaki to make this post explaining why most 'hot' companies eventually drift into mediocrity.

Let’s say a startup is hot. It ships something great, and it achieves success. Thus, it’s able to attract the best, brightest, and most talented. These people have been told they’re the best since childhood. Indeed, being hired by the hot company is “proof” that they are the A and A+ players; in fact, the company is so hot that it can out-recruit Google and Microsoft.

Unfortunately, they develop a fixed mindset that they’re the most talented, and they think that continued success is a right. Problems arise because pure talent only works as long as the going is easy. Furthermore, they don’t take risks because failure would harm their image of being the best, brightest, and most talented. When they do fail, they deny it or attribute it to anything but their shortcomings.

I think those two paras precisely explain why we've seen that enormous mess on Wall Street! The sub prime mess is the ghastly creation of bschool bred minds who firmly believed they could do no wrong. And even if they did, the safety net of being part of an elite club would save them.

Carol postulates that people have two kinds of mindsets: growth or fixed. People with the growth mindset view life as a series of challenges and opportunities for improving. People with a fixed mindset believe that they are “set” as either good or bad.

The issue is that the good ones believe they don’t have to work hard, and the bad ones believe that working hard won’t change anything.

As far as I can see the past performance, topper-centric intake of our most wanted bschools is only reinforcing the fixed mindset. A mindset which is certainly not suited for an increasingly unpredictable world.

On the right note

Being my first post in the New Year and all that I should be writing on something monentous. Like Truth and Hturt.

On the other hand, what I am really excited about at this moment is this ad for Cadbury's Bournville. Brilliantly executed and what a tagline!

I am dying to have a Bournville but you see I can't just buy one... I've gotta 'earn' it. And so I shall!

On a lighter note did Ramalinga Raju get into this mess because he bit into a Bournville without asking the question:"Have I earned it?"

He should have stuck to good old fashioned fudge :)

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