Venkatesh Kini, President, Coca-Cola India and South-West Asia, is a rare non-engineer from a top B-school. After his BA in Economics from Hindu College, Delhi University, Kini joined IIM-A, from where he graduated in 1989. Kini says experience is a great teacher and young upstart MBAs will do well to get rid of that chip on their shoulders and learn from company veterans. He also says that an excessive reliance on quantitative skills by hiring engineer MBAs can lead to one-sided skill-sets in an organisation. Excerpts from the interview :
If you could change something in your MBA, what would it be?
If I have to do my MBA again, I would like to have worked for at least two years, so that I get real world experience. I learnt a lot at IIM-A and enjoyed what I learnt, but I wasn’t able to relate what I learnt, while I was learning it, to the real world.
What were the learnings from your MBA that you could use in corporate life?
I feel an MBA is almost like a foundation course; it opened my eyes to all the facets of business I would encounter in my work experience. What it taught me was the basics of finance, the foundation for any business person, the basics of marketing; it taught me things like statistics and operations research. Each of the subjects I learnt, I wouldn’t remember the details of once I started working, but I knew enough to know what I didn’t know and knew where to go and learn it.
Today, in Coca-Cola, as a large recruiter of MBAs, are you happy with the way the MBA is structured or would you want something different?
I find that the youngsters we get from business school are getting brighter by the year. In fact, in many cases, I call them ‘scarily bright’. I find that they are passionate, hard-working and ambitious.
If I were to say what more MBA schools can do, with two kids studying in the US, I can say that the breadth of experience we give to students in India is less than what students get overseas. I am talking about exposure to clubs, internships, projects and also the freedom to explore the softer side of life: arts, culture, literature, history, which rounds off the technical skills and creates far more well-rounded individuals. I believe we can make students more well-rounded and encourage students who have a passion for things that go beyond academics.
What would your advice to young MBAs be?
First of all, learn and soak in what an organisation has to offer. When you first join, having the right expectations is everything. Having the wrong expectations and joining an organisation leads to a lot of disillusionment and frustration and mismatch between an individual’s culture and an organisation’s. So, go in with eyes open, recognise that you are not going to be CEO in two years, recognise that even if you were the smartest guy in the room all your academic life, when you join an organisation, the fact that you can crack a test really well, does not qualify you to be the smartest person in the room.
You need to recognise that experience is a great teacher and that a lot of the people whom you work with may not have the same background and experience that you do, but will equally have valid points about the business. Often, the first two years of exposure to a company for a fresh MBA with no experience, tend to be a period of adjustment, but can also be a period where not only frustrations set in but also friction with co-workers who may not be from the same background or have similar experience.
What are the pros and cons of being an engineer-MBA or a non-engineer one?
It’s not about engineers and non-engineers. It’s about diversity. Successful people in business don’t necessarily have to be engineers, they don’t necessarily need strong quantitative skills. If anything, they need soft skills. The ability to work with people, ability to inspire, motivate and lead people, ability to collaborate and work in teams, ability to sense and understand and empathise with consumers and stakeholders. These are just as important as the ability to crunch numbers and analyse data very quickly.
So, I think an excessive reliance on highly quantitative skill-sets to qualify to be an MBA student in a top institute can create very one–sided skills-sets coming into the workforce. I have often seen that we find really successful and bright young talent outside of the top B-schools because they are often more well-rounded and bring complementary skill-sets than what we get from the top schools.
Do you see B-schools placing a greater emphasis on teaching entrepreneurship?
I definitely see a much larger number of young, talented students wanting to be entrepreneurs straight out of B-school; that’s a great trend. Entrepreneurship is rarely taught, it comes through exposure to various facets of business, through the right incubators and accelerators and also through the right mentorship. I know many business schools are doing it; they have to create the right ecosystem for entrepreneurship, where people with funds, people with expertise and knowledge and drive and passion can come and create a launch-pad. We are probably half-way there.
What do you advise MBA aspirants and B-schoolers to read?
I would encourage them to read anything they can get their hands on. Read wide and read deep, don’t just read business books and magazines, pick up biographies of great leaders, reach out for the classics, pick up books on current world politics and current events. Basically, broaden their horizons to the point that they can make the connections in their mind far more creatively than being really focussed on one kind of business-oriented skill set.