Back to school

Rajiv Bhuva, T.V. Mahalingam and K.R. Balasubramanyam         Print Edition: October 3, 2010

At 37, Rajiv Nair is working towards an MBA. But he is not a late starter: when he completes the Postgraduate Programme in Management for Senior Executives, or PGPMAX, from the Indian School of Business, or ISB, Hyderabad, in mid-2011, he would have earned his second MBA. Back in 1998, Nair pocketed his first MBA diploma from Mumbai's Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, or NMIMS. And that MBA has served him well.

Today, with a cumulative work experience of 16 years in the retailing sector, Nair is the Business Head for General Merchandise & Apparel at Hypercity, a prominent hypermarket chain. Most would describe his career as a successful one and yet Nair has chosen to go back to the world of classrooms, assignments and exams. Why?

The ISB Batch Profile

  • 55 per cent of ISB's inaugural PGPMAX batch of 60 is self-funded
  • 55 is the age of the oldest member of the batch
  • 38 per cent of the batch is between the age of 40 and 45
  • 27 per cent of the batch has over 20 years of work experience
"I feel that the world around me has changed since I did my first MBA 12 years ago. Just the business of retail has changed in the last 5-7 years in India," explains Nair. "The education that I got 12 years ago has little relevance today. It's important to stay updated," he adds. But how does Nair explain shelling out Rs 27.5 lakh as course fee for the Executive MBA programme at ISB - the costliest such course in the country?

Couldn't he have used that money better by investing in a one bedroom-hall-kitchen flat in a Mumbai suburb like Thane, where real estate prices are in fifth gear? "You see, that's the unfortunate part," sighs Nair. "When I speak to colleagues or friends about the course, they equate it with material assets. When you have 20 years left in your career, if you don't invest in yourself as an asset, you don't stand a chance," he adds.

One of his batchmates at the programme, who heads the national practice for a large multinational in financial services, agrees with Nair. "It's a long term investment… 'Will I make Rs 2 crore in the next two years?' may not be the right question to ask," he says, on the condition of anonymity. "In my case, I report to the CEO directly. My next logical step-up is to become a Chief Marketing Officer or Chief Distribution Officer. But to get there, I need a more rounded perspective of business and the course will help in that."

That's the idea behind the PGPMAX of ISB, whose inaugural batch of 60 students started attending classes in June 2010. "In every organisation, there are functional leaders. But they lack the firm, wide, integrated perspective needed by business leaders. The course will help them bridge that gap," says Deepak Chandra, Deputy Dean of ISB, who conceptualised and launched the course, which requires participants to be on campus for a week of classroom learning every sixth week.

 SOME EXECUTIVE MBA COURSES IN INDIA

ISB, HYDERABAD

  • PROGRAMME: One year, part-time
  • FEE: Rs 27.5 lakh
  • STUDENT PROFILE: At least 10 years of work experience

JBIMS, MUMBAI

  • PROGRAMME: Three years, part-time
  • FEE: Rs. 1.6 lakh
  • STUDENT PROFILE: Graduates with at least two years of experience

IIM BANGALORE

  • PROGRAMME: One year, full-time
  • FEE: Rs 18.75 lakh
  • STUDENT PROFILE: At least seven years of experience

SPJIMR, MUMBAI

  • PROGRAMME: 21 months, involving 60 full days of classes
  • FEE: Rs 4 lakh
  • STUDENT PROFILE: Graduates with at least five years of experience
"We were hoping to have average class experience of 14-15 years but the first batch's work experience has worked out to an average of 18 years, thanks to the interest shown by some senior professionals," adds Chandra. The oldest student in that class was 55 (see The ISB Batch Profile). PGPMAX differs from the more common PGPX, or Postgraduate Programme in Management for Executives, in that it attracts much more experienced professionals. A PGPX can be done by executives with 3-5 years of experience.

The ISB is just the latest entrant into the Executive MBA programme space in India. Such programmes have been around for over half a decade now in a handful of business schools, in some form or the other. But a growing interest from senior executives, their willingness to pay out of their own pockets and in, some ways, the recession and the resultant eagerness to re-skill, have led more business schools to launch such programmes in the last few years. Other than ISB, NMIMS and IIM Bangalore have also launched Executive MBAs in the last two years.

"When the times were good, there was no looking back," says Rajan Saxena, Vice Chancellor and Distinguished Professor of Marketing at NMIMS. During and after the slowdown, Saxena has seen more Executive MBA enthusiasts from consulting, financial services and information technology. Executives used the slowdown as an opportunity to invest in their own career and get ready when the economy revives, explains Saxena. In most of these programmes, a majority of the students fund their own education.

Take the case of 35-year-old Yogesh Kumar Singh. A Computer Science Engineer from National Institute of Technology, Allahabad, Singh joined IIM-B's Executive MBA course after 12 years of working in the research & development, or R&D, departments of Sasken, Motorola, Synopsys and Yahoo! "Not a single day has any of us regretted having forgone a year's salary by joining this course or paying the course fee," says Singh, who has paid the Rs 18.75 lakh fee for the one year, full-time residential programme out of his own pocket. Most students in IIM-B's Executive MBA programme are selffunded.

At ISB, more than half the batch is shelling out their course fee personally. And they have few qualms about doing so because the faster track they get on to after the course will ensure that they recover this money in 3-5 years. Incidentally, IIM-B's course is among the few fulltime Executive MBA courses. Most of the other programmes have a few weeks of classroom education spread across the duration of the course.

"Most of the students who have joined this programme have international work experience and are from the levels of middle management like general manager or below," says Trilochan Sastry, Dean (Academic) at IIM-B. ISB's class includes some CXOs from smaller organisations and vice presidents and general managers from larger companies.

India Ahoy, But Campuses Can Wait

India is in the thick of the action as far as foreign universities are concerned. Yale University has many programmes of faculty and student exchanges and research collaborations with India. "We will continue those activities with greater intensity and wider scope in the future," says George Joseph, Assistant Secretary of the University for International Affairs, Asia.

The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies has faculty and student exchanges Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi. Yale University has also established many leadership education programmes, including the India-Yale Parliamentary Leadership Program, training programme for the Indian Forest Service, the Yale CEO Summit, the US-India Energy Partnership Summit, among others.

Yet, Yale has no plans to establish a campus or to offer degree programmes in India. "Instead, we will continue to focus on establishing partnerships and collaborations between Yale and Indian institutions that advance the teaching and research activities of Yale's faculty and students," says Joseph.

The Richard Ivey School of Business of the University of Western Ontario in Canada has recently launched partnership with Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and IIM Bangalore for developing Indiaspecific case material for use in business education globally. "Companies abroad must know about corporates in India," says Ariff Kachra, Director of India Development at the school.

Richard Ivey also has plans to open its India office within six months. Its India strategy is two-pronged. It wants to be a leading publisher of India-based case studies and will tap the executive education market with its International Executive Programme. "We are currently looking at opening an office, but it will be a few years before we are open to a campus," says Kachra.

- Saumya Bhattacharya

What's encouraging - at least from the IIM-B and ISB point of view - is that most candidates prefer an Executive MBA in an Indian institute rather than going abroad for one. "One has to factor in the opportunity cost of moving abroad and possibly putting a fast-track career on hold," says an ISB student. Economics also is a clincher. Even the most expensive Executive MBA in India costs less than one in Wharton or Harvard.

ISB's PGPMAX costs about $59,000 (Rs 27.5 lakh), while most American Executive MBAs are in the region of $60,000-110,000 (Rs 28-50 lakh). One key aspect that distinguishes the Executive MBA course from a plain-vanilla one is the profile and demographic of students. S.K. Palekar, Chairperson of Executive Education and Professor of Marketing at Mumbai-based S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), says that mainstream MBA programmes are aimed at a narrow age group of 20-25.

An Executive MBA, on the other hand, has got a much wider scope given that it addresses the 30-50 age group. "The fellow students are an additional source of learning, thanks to their diverse industry experience," Palekar adds. And that's one area where institutes aim for maximum diversity and seniority.

It's early days yet, but the executives appear to be getting adequate bang for their buck. "Almost 70 per cent of the candidates who have passed have got promoted faster," says Palekar, who points out that 70 per cent of every batch at SPJIMR is filled by candidates sponsored by partner companies like Tata Chemicals, Larsen & Toubro and Mahindra & Mahindra. Corporates themselves see the Executive MBA programmes as a means to populate their leadership pipeline and retain talent. L&T is amongst the largest employers of engineers in the country, many of whom find the need to pursue an MBA. "If we don't give them the opportunity, they will leave," says Mohan Madiman, Vice President of Corporate HR at L&T.

Balkrishna Parab, a faculty member at Mumbai's Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, or JBIMS, for the Executive MBA programme, narrates an interesting incident. Two years back, Parab quizzed a senior executive about the value he hoped to draw from the programme. "He laughed and told me he was here to get a driver's licence," recalls Parab. What he meant: a licence to help him navigate to the next level of his career.

- Additional reporting by N. Madhavan

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