Category Archives: Faculty

Change is the new normal – how can an MBA help?

The past 20 years have seen dramatic marketplace transformations, in India and elsewhere. Think about transformations of the economy; India and many other emerging markets have witnessed hyper-growth while the established markets in the US and Europe have been hit by recession after recession. Technology has introduced disruptive change to the workplace; the way we communicate and collaborate, share information, learn and refresh our knowledge and skills has changed forever. Along with these macro-level transformations, each one of us has also changed, as a consumer and as an employee. We expect 24×7 access to everything, want courteous and knowledgeable service and thanks to increased transparency are only willing to pay a fair price. In this rapidly and continuously transforming environment, job descriptions and careers have gone through transformation over the past 20 years, and will continue to do so. Change will be the new normal for everyone planning a career today. We will need to prepare ourselves for hitherto unknown challenges, job profiles, and careers.

Are business schools responding to these challenges and is the MBA education offered by them still relevant in this changing professional environment? In other words, is it worth signing up for an MBA?

Competencies managers and leaders need

Unlike all the jobs in engineering, medicine, and jurisprudence, there is probably not a single role in today’s business which cannot be done without having gone to business school. Managerial capabilities are typically being acquired through informal work experiences. But because learning by trial-and-error is rather inefficient, big Indian and foreign multinational firms have often made an MBA from a reputed institute a mandatory recruitment requirement for certain functions and roles. But isn’t this more of a filter to fast-track the selection process of candidates? What competencies do businesses really look into? According to a 2009 study by Rubin and Dierdorff published in the Academy of Management & Learning, it is the management of six areas: of the decision-making process (getting the information, judging the qualities of things, services, and people), human capital (coaching and developing others; resolving conflicts and negotiating; developing and building teams), strategy and innovation (thinking creatively; developing objectives and strategies; providing consultation and advice), task environment (communicating with persons outside the own organizational unit; establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships; selling or influencing), administration and control (evaluating information to determine compliance with standards; documenting or recording information; performing administration activities), and logistics and technology (inspecting equipment, structures, or material; controlling machines or processes; interacting with computers). Very obviously, it is not the strategizing that goes hand in hand with painting of endless slide decks, but it is, as Rumelt puts it in his 2011 book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, the driving through of strategy from the diagnosis of the situation via the guiding policy of what needs to be done all the way through its coherent execution. Indeed, execution is the most important part of strategy. Strategy without focused execution is pointless, a waste of time and corporate resources. But when we ask our fresh MBA students during the week of welcome for their career aspirations, execution is very low on their agenda, that is, if they consider it as a career option at all. Haven’t they done exactly this before joining business school? Isn’t this the area they want to leave to others? MBA students typically want to pursue their career in strategy – but corporates need the graduates to be in execution. Plain and simple. How do we close this gap? Are our MBA programs impervious to the industry’s requirements, are they wholly out of touch with the real world, are we making our students believe they will be placed into a CXO role? Or are we preparing them for corporate reality?

Dawn, rise, and criticism of MBA programs  

Arguably, the MBA program was the most eminent educational innovation of our time. But contrary to common belief, business schools did not invent the case method; instead, they adapted it from law schools and used it to break down corporate strategy and decision making into a dynamic real-life experience in the classroom. The prevailing logic is that formal training is more efficient and effective than gaining required competencies through informal experiences on the job. Today and as per the last count of GMAC, there are 15,673 institutions worldwide offering business degrees out of which 3,902 are located in India and 1,082 in China. In India, criticism of business schools regarding the competencies they try to impart comes and goes in waves; each wave sparks considerable attention in the press. And yet, the number of aspiring Indian students taking the GMAT test is going up by 13 per cent every year. In America, such criticism goes as far back as to the dawning of the first business schools, undergraduate schools of commerce (such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 1881) and graduate schools (Dartmouth College’s Amos Tuck School of Administration and Finance in 1900 and Harvard Business School in 1908). More than a hundred years later, how well do business schools meet the core requirements of the industry? And what can we do in an emerging market like India?

Functional, quantitative, and analytical core courses

Functional, quantitative, and analytical courses dominate most management programs. Courses such as managerial accounting, financial analysis, corporate finance, business law, macroeconomic policy, international economics, and marketing are a specialized training ground for specific business functions. But many argue that this is not true professional management education, which should instead focus on skills, values, and ethical behavior. Notwithstanding such criticism, most MBA students find their first jobs in functional areas, rather than in leadership positions. They will be primarily selected and placed based on their tangible knowledge and skills. The best-paying jobs are often to be found in finance – even after the financial crash of 2008. Management consulting is another discipline and well-sought profession for MBA graduates which requires breadth and depth of functional knowledge.

People management and interpersonal skills

And so there is a widespread call to add other courses with different type of coursework to the MBA curriculum to balance and counterweigh the functional education. People management, interpersonal competencies spanning the corporate hierarchy and national cultures, and skills of managing self are invaluable in a transformational environment. Leadership skills are frequently sought by recruiting companies and according to a 2009 GMAC survey, managers perceive interpersonal skills considerably more important than behavioral knowledge. And yet, most programs underemphasize the honing of these skills. Innovative business schools develop their curriculum towards leadership and include team-based experiential and research-based learning activities into their teaching, evaluation, and grading. Such activities are about building skills through doing and enabling personal growth through self-discovery and reflection. And while this process may be kick-started with a psychometric assessment, it goes far beyond questionnaires and evaluations.

Decision-making and problem-solving capabilities

An often voiced concern in the industry is that MBA graduates are neither creative and innovative, nor structured and disciplined in their decision-making and problem-solving process. The standard business school case studies may be twenty pages long and full of data, but yet they contain little ambiguity and uncertainty which is typically found in the world outside of the classroom. Most real-life business problems are not highly structured, but loaded with uncertainty and risk. The necessary structuring has already taken place in the write-up of business school case studies, but regrettably not in the situations encountered in the business world. The previously mentioned study by Rubin and Dierdorff showed the largest discrepancy in business school courses covering the management of the decision-making process and the importance as evaluated by industry managers. Financial models and net present value calculations are not sufficient to equip students with decision-making capabilities for complex problems. As the author outlines in his 2013 book on Making the Compelling Business Case, decision making is just as much a process of retrieving reliable information from stakeholders, aligning the needs and wants of the various stakeholder segments, and presenting the resulting recommendation in an easy-to-understand way to senior management. From a pedagogic point of view, business school courses need to focus on multifunctional and multicultural teams, rapid prototyping, and empirical validation by trying out many things on a small-scale and killing early in case of failure. We call this approach to learning design thinking rather than abstract thinking, acknowledging very much that the origins of design thinking are to be found in engineering rather than in the management discipline.

Ethical values

Giving voices to ethical values in management education will contribute to help avoid egregious legal and ethical breaches, corporate scandals and ultimately the collapse of corporates as we have not long ago witnessed with Satyam Computers in India and Enron in the United States. Ideally, ethics should be taught in a stand-alone course and in parallel integrated into existing core and elective functional courses. Why not have a session on ethical issues in core marketing, supply chain management, or taxation? Ethics seems to be particularly relevant in a country like India where luxury villas and gold purchases aren’t rare, but where only a meagre 42,800 individuals have admitted to having a taxable income exceeding Rs 1 crore in the financial year 2012/13, that is slightly more than 0.1 per cent of all tax payers. But can one actually teach ethics? Ethics is not a body of knowledge, which can be captured in a case study and accompanying lecture notes. Ethics as we understand it today is more a set of reasoning skills and part of a Western moral philosophy dating back to the ancient Greeks; it most certainly requires faculty to establish a trusted and safe classroom atmosphere, where deeply felt differences can be expressed freely. And attempts of teaching ethics can be botched up pretty easily by faculty not confident in this area. Notwithstanding these challenges, there is one goal that can be achieved even with the help of case study teaching:  making students aware when they are about to face an ethical dilemma which cannot be resolved by following standardized, rationalized, and institutionalized processes. Finally, corporate social responsibility can also be addressed via co-curricular activities such as community service; India offers plenty and more opportunities for mentoring underserved communities.

Preparing for globalization

Unlike their counterparts from the United States and Europe, many Indian MBA students have not really had international exposure before joining business school; given an often to be found middle class background, they are also unlikely to have travelled internationally. And yet, looking at the continuing growth of India’s export-oriented industries like IT and BPO, many of them will be likely to jump into international roles after their graduation. Business schools have an obligation to prepare them for a global world, which is – following the notion of Friedman’s 2005 bestselling book – often dreamt to be flat. In reality, international business isn’t anything close to flat, rather it is full of barriers, more aptly described by Ghemawat in his 2007 book Redefining Global Strategy as the CAGE framework of cultural, administrational, geographical, and economical distances. While cross-national alliances between Indian and foreign business schools open up exchange possibilities for a small number of elite students, the exchange of faculty can help to prepare students both in India and abroad for global collaboration in a more cost-effective manner. The Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and the MYRA School of Business in Mysore and are two quite different Indian business schools, established and emerging, located in a tier-I and in a tier-II city, but they both recruit a good proportion of their faculty from leading institutions around the world. When interacting with students, it is interesting to see how different styles of teaching, evaluation, and faculty-student interaction open eyes for intercultural differences – a realization of culturally driven behavior which can later be most valuable at the workplace.

So, what should aspiring MBA students do?

Given employers’ growing expectations of MBA graduates, aspiring MBA students should carefully look at the business schools on the Indian market and go beyond the various ratings published in magazines which more often than not still rely on criteria like acres of land and number of books in the library. There is pretty clear evidence, that the right business school activities add important factors to students’ employability after graduation and ultimately to their success as leaders in a rapidly and constantly transforming business environment. And as management guru Peter Drucker once remarked, the question should be focused “on the extent to which we enable students to get going,” MBA programs which give students a well-blended mix of functional and analytical knowledge, leadership skills, decision making capabilities, ethical awareness, and confidence in a global environment, will help to establish fresh graduates in the corporate world very quickly and ultimately help them achieve a good return on their monetary and time investment into their MBA education.

Dr. Wolfgang Messner is Associate Professor of International Management at MYRA School of Business and Director of GloBus Research in Mysore/India. Email: wolfgang.messner@myra.ac.in or wolfgang.messner@globusresearch.com

The Riskiness of Risk: Then and Now

Browsing in the bookstore of a business school is always interesting. You get a sense of what students want to read and what faculty feel they should read. There are the usual showpiece classic texts beyond student means, and low-price ‘quickie’ books much disdained by their professors. During one such foray into a bookstore recently, I chanced upon Duffie and Singleton’s Credit Risk, more specifically a well-worn paperback version of the 2005 monograph. I picked it up and thought of old friends and old times.

We were a diverse group appearing for the qualifying exam in the statistics Ph.D. program at Stanford University more than twenty years ago. We came from places like China, Hong Kong, Korea, Germany, Israel, India, and the US. Our abilities and interests ranged from abstract mathematics to computer programming, from clinical trials to stock markets. We were hunting for dissertation advisors and thesis topics.

Receiving serious consideration from many of us was the Graduate School of Business (GSB) at Stanford and the scary, sophisticated things underway there in the guise of probability theory. This was a subject that caused me more than a little grief in my courses and I duly steered myself more towards other areas. But several of my classmates felt the call and signed up for Professor Darrell Duffie’s course at GSB. They told the rest of the rapid transitions from rigorous theory to financial applications and vice versa. They told us of difficult assignments and the fear of failure – in short, a typical Stanford experience.

But times were such. Using deep mathematics like stochastic calculus, financial instruments like credit default swaps were being designed and analysed. The future – yet to come – was to be somewhat ambivalent about all that. Today, decades and several financial crises later, thousands of miles away, re-reading the topics in Credit Risk brought back the excitement of those adventurous times and the care and caution we perhaps should have all had.

Other times … Applying financial technology to the bustling practical world of retail consumer finance (think credit cards and personal loans) is a challenge. GE, particularly GE Capital, is a commercial organization with a firm determination to stay ahead of the competition. As scientists in the company’s R&D wing, GE Global Research, we were conscious of the need to make money – or at least not lose money – while taking advantage of the latest advances in finance research.

Ten years ago, much of this research was focused on understanding correlations. Correlations, be they between assets in a portfolio or between products being sold together, are complex beasts. They ebb and flow with time and external events; they indicate empirical linkages that often seem to have no fundamental explanations in terms of asset quality.

To say that we were struggling was a bit of an understatement. Work from several institutions pointed to techniques such as copulas, and we duly tried many such techniques out.  (One of the interns working with us then went on to become a star in academia based on his thesis on such matters.) While the theories were elegant and often quite beautiful, they seemed to be cavalier about crucial aspects of correlations between actual assets. Reading chapter 10 of Credit Risk now is a sobering experience.

Most experts today believe that we need a new generation of both mathematical as well as financial innovation to sort all this out. This is a relief for us practitioners (perhaps we weren’t that stupid after all?) and distressing at the same time (“so if the folks at Stanford don’t know what is going on, are we at GE on a wing and a prayer?”) Clearly there is still much to learn.

At the MYRA School of Business in Mysore, life goes on these interesting times. We must be deep and rigorous in our teaching and research, yet we must ensure that it reflects the complexity of real enterprises. We must promote entrepreneurial growth and shareholder value, while steering clear of dubious ethics and financial excesses. We must create a new generation of capable and knowledgeable managers, who are at the same time responsible citizens and leaders.

This will not be easy, but we will be wrong not to try. Along the way, we will tell you what we are finding out and learning. In turn, do tell us your thoughts. Connected, we can accomplish much. Together, we can do more.

abhinanda sarkar

Dr. Abhinanda Sarkar

Associate Dean and Director of Research

MYRA School of Business

November 3, 2014

You have to Train your Mind to Deal with Test Anxiety

I can hear many of you go “Not another article on how to crack the CAT/XAT/GMAT. Spare us.”
OK! It’s your problem, not mine. You are the one wanting to get into a B School, not me.

I teach in a new and happening B School. It’s called the MYRA School of Business (www.myra.ac.in). BTW, I am an alumnus of IIMA. Got your attention, right?

So, how’s your preparation coming along? You are probably going to T.I.M.E. or its competitors for coaching. If not, you are probably going through a self-study program. Or, maybe you are sweating it out in a cram school in Kota, Rajasthan or some such place. Good for you.

You’re probably losing sleep and weight. You’re also getting plenty of input and practice in developing your math, verbal, data analysis and interpretation, and logical reasoning skills. No pain, no gain. You’ve got to exercise if you want six pack abs. You’ve got to exercise your mind just as much, if you want to crack the CAT/XAT/GMAT. You don’t have a choice. Your competition – thousands of other young Indians like you with IIM on their mind – is doing it.

You knew this, right? That’s why you’re firing all cylinders, right? You are thinking “I’m doing as much as I possibly can. So what more could I be doing? I don’t have the time. I don’t have the energy”, right. Well, you’ll just have to read this article to find out what more you could be doing and how.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Have you noticed? Winners in any field – sports, cinema, politics, business, research, engineering – the men and women who demonstrate excellence and success all say that they gave it their best shot, gave it everything they got and then some and gave it more than their 100 percent. What are they saying? What do they really mean? How do you know in real time that you are giving it your best shot, giving it everything you got and then some and giving it more than your 100 percent?

This is where our ancients come in. They figured out that the trick to excel and succeed in any endeavor was to simultaneously tap into and build up your Shaktis – the powers you carry within you. The more you use your Shaktis, you have more of them.

THE THREE SHAKTIS

Our ancients identified three Shaktis – Gyan Shakti, Kriya Shakti and Iccha Shakti.

Gyan is knowledge. Gyan Shakti is the power that you get from knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge. To do anything at all requires that you know what to do and how to do it. Having this knowledge and being aware that you have this knowledge gives you confidence.

Kriya is action. Kriya Shakti is the power that you get when you work also known as when you put in the effort in complete activities that’ll help you to achieve your goal. Just having a goal doesn’t mean you are goingto realize it. You’ve got to put in focused work if you are going to realize your goal.

You gain confidence when you slog and are aware that you are slogging to achieve your goal. Why? Because the hardest person you can ever con is you. You know when you are working toward realizing your goal. You know when you are going through the motions. You know when you are goofing off.

Iccha is deep, deep desire for something. Iccha Shakti is the power that you get from having such intense desire. It is what keeps you going, especially when you want to say “Screw it, it’s too hard and not worth the trouble.” It is the bedrock of your motivation. You must have experienced Iccha Shakti. You would have felt this tremendous desire at some point in your life. Gyan and Kriya give you confidence. Iccha helps you set your goals and stay committed to them.

WHAT DO THE THREE SHAKTIS HAVE TO DO WITH YOUR CAT/ XAT/GMAT PREP

Actually you are working the three Shaktis whether you are aware of it or not and whether you accept it or not.

You decided to take the CAT/XAT/GMAT this year. You were drawing on some deep desire, Iccha Shakti, that helped you decide that you’d get your PGDM. You set your goal. You worked your Iccha Shakti.

You have probably been working hard to prepare for the CAT/XAT/GMAT. You wake up early to hit the books. When you are done with college/work, you race to get to the coaching school or home to get going on the study guide. You are likely sacrificing your social life, your entertainment and your youth. You are working your Kriya Shakti.

Chances are that you dealt with your Iccha Shakti when you began thinking about “What to do next?” when you entered your FY or completed several years of work experience. Once you decided on getting into a B School, your Gyan and Kriya Shaktis likely took over. Chances are that you haven’t revisited your desire to get into a B School since. You need to keep working your Iccha Shakti to give your best test performance. Here’s why:

You could have acquired all the Gyan. You could have done plenty of Kriya. You could be acing your mock tests. However, these simply aren’t enough to ensure that you will perform at your peak on the CAT/XAT/GMAT. Many students experience test anxiety before and while they take the tests. You have to train your mind to deal with test anxiety

Where does this anxiety come from? The awareness that one is taking a test whose outcomes can profoundly influence one’s life; a keen recognition of competition for admission; anticipation of a challenging test; fear of failure; guilt at not having better utilized one’s time; and memory of prior disappointing test performances and the negative fallout such as criticism from significant others like parents – all contribute to build up of anxiety before one takes the test. It can result in students being irritable, cutting back on sleep, measuring their progress by hours worked instead of knowledge and skills developed, loss of appetite, a gnawing fear that they may not “make it”, feeling helpless, thing poorly of themselves, feeling confused and making silly mistakes during revisions and mock tests and beating themselves up.

During the actual test taking, many students experience an uncontrollable shaking of legs and arms, fidgeting, sweating, thirst, increased urges to visit the rest room, feeling confused, blanking out, feeling stuck while answering a question that they have done before, feeling remorse at having made a mistake and being unable to resist wanting to return to a difficult question. Anxiety causes them to perform poorly, regardless of the knowledge they have and the effort they put in to acquire this knowledge.

THE MAGIC EDGE – USING ICCHA SHAKTI TO LOWER YOUR ANXIETY

Show time is a few weeks away. You must dial down your anxiety. Here’s how:

You’ve used your Iccha Shakti to sustain yourself through the long prep slog. You kept telling yourself “Got to prepare. Got to crack the CAT.” Now, you use your Iccha Shakti to reduce your anxiety and crack the admissions test.

It doesn’t take much time. 3 minutes as soon as you get up. 3 minutes before you go to bed. Spend a minute visualizing yourself getting to the test site, showing your id and admission card, walking to the work station, and answering the questions that crop up on the screen. Does your breathing get faster as you go through the visualization exercise? Is your mouth feeling dry as you see yourself answer the questions? Don’t get disturbed. Such reactions are common. The idea is to bring down your anxiety level.

Spend the next two minutes talking to yourself. Don’t refer to yourself in the first person, namely, as ‘I’. Research has shown that self-talk is more productive when you address yourself in the second person, namely as ‘you’.

Tell yourself “You have worked hard”, “You are well prepared” and “You are controlling your anxiety”. Say these aloud, so you can hear it. At first, you’ll feel foolish, but pretty soon it’ll become a habit. Pay attention to your breathing as you do your self-talk. Does your breathing slow down as you talk to yourself? Is the involuntary drying of mouth reducing as you talk to yourself? Is your body temperature returning to normal?

By doing this exercise, you are adding the desire to reduce your anxiety to your desire for admission to a B School. If you start doing these exercises now, your anxiety level will have reduced noticeably by the time you take the test. You won’t be getting stuck or making foolish mistakes because of test anxiety. The chances of your cracking the CAT/XAT/GMAT go up dramatically. Try it. All the best!

NAGANANDA KUMAR

Executive Director and Professor, Strategy & HR

MYRA School of Business, Mysore.