Top Indian MBA programmes, like other top-notch qualifications, are, in effect, talent screening mechanisms. Since only the top one per cent of applicants make it there, recruiters are assured of a minimum level of quality. For those aspiring to a career in business, admission into one of the top 20 MBA programmes is indeed a passport to success. This is true for those graduating from the IITs, AIIMS, SRCC, the National Law Schools and others, where admissions are very difficult.
Indian MBA schools take in students at younger ages of 21 to 24, with little or no work experience. American top-ranked programmes have older students with more work experience, with an average age of 26 to 29. The first two IIMs in the country, IIM Calcutta and IIM Ahmedabad, had 70 per cent students with less than two years of experience in the 2013 class. Here, recruiters have little by way of track record to differentiate among applicants. They, therefore, rely more on the initial talent filtering offered by these MBA institutes.
A professional course like MBA has two major objectives-acquiring business education and skills during the two-year programme, and acquiring that dream job at the end of the programme. Usually, the second is more important to most students, who see this as return on investment in the MBA. For evaluating MBA rankings, placement is a very important criteria for both recruiters and students. The BT rankings have other criteria as well, including learning experience and future orientation. These would perhaps not be as important as placement. This was underscored to me during a recent meeting of a top MBA programme's advisory body.
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As far as learning during the two-year programme goes, most top MBA graduates, five years into their careers, would perhaps agree that while their academic inputs were stimulating, their learning outside classrooms, especially from fellow students, was equally significant. Most of us would say such learning from a diverse set of peers and students was even more educative. At the middle- and top-management levels, the alumni network of the institute is an asset for most MBAs. Here, US schools have much that Indian B-schools can learn from, including organising an annual business event where big hitters from industry are invited. A Wharton or Harvard is actually easier to get into than the IIMs, but their alumni networks and global reach is far more effective.
Academic inputs do provide a framework for actions in the corporate world. There are indeed outstanding teachers who are 'rock stars', challenging minds and providing great learning experiences. But for the most part, freshly minted Indian MBAs need further training in a corporate environment. I have been part of a private equity fund that believed in hiring MBAs only after they'd acquired two years of post-MBA experience.
There is also a need for more life skills among fresh MBAs, who seem to value only the technical and subject-matter courses offered as electives. At our silver jubilee reunion, an IIM director agreed that more soft skills are needed at all career stages, including the first five years. However, there was little inclination among students to opt for such 'softer' electives. One would strongly recommend the top MBA schools getting their alumni to deliver guest lectures on the importance of such life skills, in an era where teamwork and collegial skills are much more important than working with screens alone, whether computer or smartphone.
For MBA aspirants, therefore, if you have less than two years of work experience, go through the talent screening mechanism and get to a top Indian MBA programme. If you've been working longer than three years, try getting into a global top MBA, much easier to make it there. Either way, enjoy your two-year stint on the campus!
Shailesh Pathak graduated from Shri Ram College of Commerce and the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. He worked for 16 years as an IAS officer and 12 years in financial services companies.