A brave new world for the class of 2010

Saumya Bhattacharya        Print Edition: October 18, 2009

Mario Joseph Gonsalves had meticulously prepared a career plan. After working for two years at Siemens in Chennai, Gonsalves, 24, decided to pursue his dream of becoming a CEO by the age of 35. Choosing IIM, Bangalore, over Lucknow in 2008, he did not quite time it right. Just a couple of months into his two-year MBA programme, Gonsalves saw the economy go in a tailspin.

Worse, his seniors struggled for placements, striving to even get Rs 10 lakh per annum offers from lightly-regarded recruiters, including public sector banks. “This was a tough time to choose to do an MBA,” agrees Gonsalves, “my seniors had a tough placement season, with companies freezing recruitments, offering lower salaries and deferring placements.”

As India’s economy seems to be turning the corner, and business is limping back into shape, things are looking good for Gonsalves and his peer group—the class of 2010— which is hoping for a steady, if not spectacular, placement season that begins in three months. Recruiters in sectors worst-affected by the recession, including Finance and IT, are lifting their job freezes, says Professor R.L. Raina, Chairman, Placements, IIM Lucknow. “Consequently, we expect a rich and diverse mix of companies to throng the campus in the upcoming recruitment season.”

Still, this ray of positive news cannot alter the fact that the world has changed dramatically for Bschoolers— possibly for a long time to come. Gone are the exorbitant pay packages and on-the-job perks like off-sites in Phuket. A semblance of normalcy—Raina calls it a return to sanity—has now returned to the job market. Each potential job slot from a firm that would have been regarded as middle-of-the-road last year is now a coveted position. What’s more, B-schoolers across India are thinking about the job market, their careers and their quality of life in fundamentally different ways, unlike in the last decade that signified the corporate—and Bschool— boom in India.

THE ADJUSTMENTS
More than one specialisation in times of poor job market.
Learning and job profile more important than compensation.
Stable public sector opportunities are in demand.

Rohan Mahajan studies at a marquee institution—IIM Calcutta—but he’s not taking his pedigree for granted this year. Mahajan has adopted a “holistic route,” he says, where he has taken an equal number of Finance, Marketing and Operations courses along with HR and Ethics. “I did my internship in Finance, marketing financial products, and was exposed to the strategy part. So I’ll be open to all kinds of jobs,” he adds.

Similarly, Devika Phumphra, a second-year student from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Delhi, who was already equipped with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance, hoped to major in Finance at IIFT and set her sights on a plum offer from Lehman Brothers or Goldman Sachs—one of which has gone bellyup— and has had to significantly change her game plan. She’s now pursuing a dual specialisation in Marketing and Finance. “The market is good for non-finance companies, so I thought of dividing my risks,” she says. “I am open to sales and marketing offers now and if the market improves in a few years I can always go back to finance.”

Equally cautious is the IT brigade at B-schools. Last year, most IT companies had given campuses a go-by and the few who made it to campuses picked up fewer numbers. That’s left K.S. Subramanian a little worried. A second-year student of Loyola Institute of Business Administration, Chennai, Subbu, as he is known, had earlier worked with Infosys for a year before he decided that an MBA degree was important. “Last year there were hardly any IT companies, this year... there are still a couple of months to go,” he says. Not leaving anything to chance, he has opted for Marketing and Finance as electives in the second year and is keeping his fingers crossed for placements.

However, while financial firms and MNCs have been ambivalent about hiring students, the one unlikely winner from the downturnaffected employment crunch is a sector that high-flying MBAs wouldn’t normally be caught dead in—public sector companies. Last year, 30 per cent of IIFT students settled for PSUs and this year, too, PSUs continue to be coveted. Take the case of Nidhi Fatehpuria, 23, a second-year student of Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies (JBIMS), Mumbai. She had set her sights on a good position at a multi-national bank or a multi-national investment bank.

Fatehpuria was full of hope when her course began in 2008. But the final placements for 2009 had her petrified. “My goals have to be mended,” she says. This has caused a dramatic shift in her expectations. Now, she would choose a PSU or even a public sector bank, as long as the job profile involved finance. “My learning curve is what’s important to me, and I wouldn’t say no to a 360 degree learning experience,” she says, adding that she wouldn’t mind waiting for a job of her liking, even if it takes months.

A second-year student at Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi, Amit Kumar thinks last year’s turbulent placement season has forced him to do “reality checks”. Kumar passed out of BIT Mesra and worked as a software engineer with Satyam Computer Services for close to two years. Engaging with clients there made him realise that consulting was his domain and he decided to pursue an MBA. While the dream of working for the Tata Administrative Services still glows, Kumar is more open to other options now. “Expectations are still there, but the dipping pay packets have made me more realistic. An appropriate job profile and stability are high up in my list of priorities now.” Kumar is also thinking of the PSUs as an option.

The brave new world of MBAs has learnt to be realistic. This also includes programme heads. At Welingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai, Director Uday Salunkhe is holding roundtables with industry for the first time ever. “We want to get a sense of what our industry needs in terms of talent,” he says. These roundtables are also his own reality check on placements ahead. Salunkhe has been promising industry heads that the Class of 2010 will be far more realistic, and focussed on satisfaction and not mere packages.

“The days of the bumper Rs 1 crore salaries are history,” says Gonsalves, who captains the IIM-B cricket team and bagged a pre-placement offer from blue-chip Boston Consulting Group. While he won’t commit to a specific salary level this year, most of his peers expect him to settle down at around Rs 14-15 lakh annually. “It is no longer an allconquering desire to work in an investment bank overseas,” says Gonsalves. While BCG may be a typical management grad employer, for him it’s the opportunity to play on the consulting firm’s competitive cricket team that’s an added attraction.

On her part, Phumphra has decided not to compromise on profile though she has learnt to compromise on compensation. “When I entered I was expecting a package of Rs 12 lakh upwards. Now I’d be happy with Rs 10 lakh. The good thing about the slowdown is that it has taught me to broaden my horizon and focus on priorities. I might compromise with a low pay packet, but never with a profile I’m not happy with.”

The new crop of MBAs seem to have learnt many valuable lessons in managing expectations, balancing risk and making compromises unlike their predecessors. And this may just turn out to be more important than anything else they could have picked up in the classroom.

Additional reporting by Somnath Dasgupta, Rahul Sachitanand, Nitya Varadarajan, Anamika Butalia and Anumeha Chaturvedi

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