03 July 2015 14:41:35 IST

Recounting the B-school experience

Ask yourself: What difference will you make in the world today?

We live in a globalised society where the ripple effects of singular events may be felt across markets. Hence the pertinent question today is what should be the single most important factor in pursuing a management degree. The Harvard Business School (HBS) sums this up nicely. Each day at HBS begins with one question: “What will you do?”, “What difference will you make in the world?”

On reflecting today, though I value greatly the learnings from my management education, I am left with a sense of incompleteness. Here’s why:-

Competition and collaboration

My very first introduction to “competition” was the B-school entrance exam. The multitude of aptitude and analytical tests followed by group discussions and personal interviews were the harbinger of times to come.

I consider those two years as a dizzying period of personal and professional makeover. It was a time to prepare for real-world challenges. The class was a milieu of equally smart peers who had come from diverse socio-economic and educational backgrounds and with whom one would compete daily — during projects, case studies, placements, and so on.

We also worked jointly on various committees — placement, alumni, industry interaction and, thus, learned the art of collaboration.

Training for the future

The two-year programme opened up vistas of business education, its application in the real world through case studies, endless assignments and projects. It ensured that lessons in group dynamics came from actually involving students in multiple projects and groups at the same time.

The B-school experience taught me to stay put in times of intense pressure, to take on multiple responsibilities, to deliver the tasks at hand on time, to be receptive to other people’s opinions and to build consensus.

My branch banking years stand testimony to the daily challenges I faced as a manager. Those years tested the application of my knowledge, interpersonal relations, team building, managerial skills and, above all, crisis management. They broke down my conventional thinking in many ways and made me a hands-on manager. My supervisor ensured that I knew the entire gamut of branch operations so that I could lead a team and guide my subordinates.

Banking is a high customer impact industry. Those years taught me that no matter what issues you faced either personally or professionally, you could never let the customer down. There was no room for excuses. You had to don your thinking cap and provide practical solutions to customer issues, causing the least inconvenience to them.

My B-school experience of working with diverse kinds of people stood me in good stead in my role as a process and compliance manager. My work involved policy and process drafting, reporting to senior management on critical data, liaising with auditors and other regulators. I had to work with different teams on a common agenda. This also meant bringing collective experience to the table, making high impact decisions and execution with minimal delay.

Choice of electives

The world of business has changed over a decade and a half since I graduated and so has the pedagogy of management education. Back then we did not have much choice in electives. The sheer number of core courses as well as electives on offer today at various Indian and foreign universities is mind-boggling. There are a wide array of subjects to choose from and pursue your interests.

International exposure

Indian managers today are in leadership positions in multinational companies, handling overseas markets. It’s relevant therefore, for students to have a global perspective of the markets, to understand foreign policy, international tax and labour legislation and cross-cultural issues, and be proficient in a foreign language or two, among others.

Recognising these needs, many B-schools are conducting exchange programmes wherein students get international academic exposure through participation in live consulting projects with renowned global companies.

There are opportunities to complete a semester or take up specialised courses in leading foreign B-schools. During my time, such opportunities were few and far between.

In hindsight I can say that B-school gave me the skills and training to work in challenging environments, to adapt, learn and grow from my experiences. It helped me gauge my strengths and weaknesses. I learned to appreciate the virtues of competition and collaboration as I met like-minded people jostling to find their rightful place under the sun!

Websites referred to: www.hbs.edu, www.spjimr.org