20 Oct 2015 17:47 IST

MBA is more than just an academic course

This degree without enough work experience is useless. An MBA is a tool that students must learn how to use

Is your B-school experience helping you at all? If yes, how?

I have been working in start-ups for over 15 years now, and the skills that I find absolutely essential to survive were picked up during my MBA. Working in start-ups only honed these skills. They are:

An understanding of different functions in a business and how they need to work together smoothly to build a successful business: This also inculcates a strategic mindset and forces me to think holistically.

A structured approach to problem solving: This is a very critical skill that is, unfortunately, not taught in our education system. Most problems that one faces in the real world are complex, with incomplete information and a limited time to take decisions. This impacts multiple functions of a business... without a structured approach, one can easily go astray.

People management skills: In a good MBA programme, a lot of projects are done in teams where one gets to work with people from diverse backgrounds. In today’s workplace too, one has to build good working relationships with, and achieve productivity from, people with diverse backgrounds and age groups, such as MBAs, software developers, trainers and salespersons, amongst others. Getting people with such diverse backgrounds to work effectively together in tandem requires excellent people management skills.

Networking: One of the key value adds of my MBA has been the high quality alumni network, which has been extremely useful through the years. I have consistently found the IIM-A brand to help open doors and meet people with more ease than might have otherwise been possible. However, I must stress that while the brand name might open doors, it depends on the individual to take advantage of the opportunity.

What do you wish could be taught better in MBA?

A greater emphasis on critical thinking and communication. In business, one has to continuously evaluate information, and separate factors into “important” and “not important” categories to make decisions. One then has to put in place structures to oversee effective execution of these decisions.

One also has to cogently convey one’s ideas to others, i.e. boss, peers or subordinates, to persuade them and get their “buy-in”. Today, it doesn’t matter which function one is in; unless one is good at communicating, it is very difficult to be effective in one’s job (or for that matter, personal relationships!)

Thus, based on my experience, I feel good communication skills play a more important role in today’s workplace than many of the technical courses taught in B-schools — an insight that most of us did not appreciate while doing our MBAs! Granted that these skills were certainly taught as part of different courses (I also did a separate course on written analysis and communication), in hindsight, I feel these areas deserve greater emphasis in the curriculum and should be taught by instructors who bring in plenty of experience in how these skills are critical to workplace success. The way it was delivered during my B-school days was quite dry — it became a chore, rather than an opportunity to learn.

Is the MBA helping you? How about a “reality check”?

I think we need to recognise that the MBA is a “tool” at the end of the day. Unless one first learns to use the tool well and makes a continuous effort to use it correctly, it will not be helpful. So to a large extent, it lies in the hands of the individual to extract value out of his/her MBA.

I also find too many people approaching MBA as a typical academic course, where success is defined in terms of good grades. This is particularly true in India, where people tend to pursue the degree without work experience. What they don’t realise is that without accounting for real-world scenarios, a solely theoretical understanding of business and its myriad branches is useless! People need to recognise that success in business is not just about good grades, but about having the understanding to take the right decisions in a dynamic world and motivating the team to deliver. In this context, I would say that my MBA does help me because I recognise that I need to use the tools I learnt and to constantly keep learning and improving myself.