He is a high-achieving bureaucrat and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. Srivatsa Krishna, a 1994-batch IAS officer, shares his personal views with Business Today's Shamni Pande on why a management degree is a good investment for the future. He is currently serving as Secretary, Department of IT, Biotechnology & Science & Technology, Government of Karnataka.
Q. What made you opt for an MBA ?
A. I think of myself as a dreamer and a doer, both at once. I topped my batch in the national civil services examination in 1994 and opted for IAS (Indian Administrative Service), which to my mind is the most incredible opportunity available to touch the lives of people, in myriad different ways. Having been in the government for several years, there was a curiosity to know about the "other side". Is it really tougher or easier to bring about change in the private sector? What skills does a top notch MBA possess which can be of value inside government? What can the private sector learn from the government and vice versa?
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Since before me, no serving IAS officer had done the Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA, it was an intellectual challenge to get in. Taking the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) and other application procedures after being away from academics for 10 years was quite exciting.
Q. How has an MBA helped you?
A. MBA helps in two ways. One it equips you with tools and experiences which are "transportable" to other sectors. In other words, the classroom experience and the extremely accomplished classmates one meets at HBS, contribute to a life changing experience. The pedagogy used by HBS is simply brilliant and culls the best of everything that is out there, to give an extremely fulfilling educational experience. Second, you enter a network which is very powerful and the sum of the parts is much greater than the whole. Thus your ability to reach out to "anyone, anytime, anywhere" in the world, is unparalleled through the HBS network. There is simply no more powerful and helpful network on the planet, which almost always unfailingly helps you out when you need help.
Q. Do you think that this gives an advantage to people seeking varied opportunities that might they might have missed otherwise?
A. Unarguably the MBA is the best investment in your future. In India people invest in homes, in gold, but a good MBA is worth infinitely more than all these, for it equips you with transferable skills and prepares you for an exceptional career, be it in government or the corporate sector. It gives you access to people, ideas and skills which prepares you for an exceptional career, cutting across domains.
Q. What was your experience like outside the government and what did you learn?
A. I worked in diverse sectors- in investing, consulting, infrastructure and in the multilateral world. To create a sustainable change inside any organisation, especially one which is rooted in the past, is incredibly hard to do. It is not just about vested interests but more about vested mindsets and ideas, and taking the horse to water is one challenge, making it drink is another, but often, one has to create both the horse and the water, inside a dreary desert and then make it drink!
Q. What made you come back?
A. Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is a deep undying passion for me and even today, is perhaps one of the best careers in India, for none else gives the scope, the canvas, the diversity and the challenges, at every step of the way, irrespective of where one works. So immediately post B-school though I got a million dollar offer from one of the top most investment funds in the world, yet because government did not permit, I decided to go to World Bank in Washington DC, something that the IAS allows. After working across different countries and implementing large projects in complex situations, I came back to my first love, IAS, to work in public service, which is both meaningful and challenging.
Q. Has the system been supportive of your initiative and desire to hone your skills and gain varied experience?
A. Absolutely. IAS as a system allows one to hone skills and do a variety of things and then bring back these diverse experiences to impact the lives of citizens. Part of the richness of the IAS as a service comes from this flexibility that it offers.
Q. Do you think people more people prefer to do an MBA during a recession?
A. Data shows that during recessions more people opt for an MBA to retool and re-skill themselves and to take time out to rethink their careers. Many want to change paths and doing a MBA is a great way of making that happen.
Q. Finally, do you think it is important for people such as you to actually work outside the government for sometime?
A. Working outside government almost always gives you a 360 degree view of the world, to look at problems differently and find innovative solutions. If you want to be an entrepreneur inside government, you need to think laterally and out of the box, but yet not break the box, all at once. You have to be a reformer and the Pope, both at once inside government and to do that you need to go outside government for sometime. A combination of practical tools such as how to read a balance sheet or valuation of a company or an idea, or use technology to do direct cash transfers to the poor or design a large economic zone that creates jobs and wealth.
Think about it: government can put a man on the moon, but can't collect garbage efficiently; we can reach Mars if we want to, but can't fix our potholes. The irony couldn't be starker. For India to become important, not just remain self-important, and to rise to its erstwhile glory of being a "golden bird"- remember not very long ago, in 1600 and 1700, our economy was among the top two economies in the world, accounting for a quarter of the world's income. Somewhere along the way India has lost its way in the world. The time is here and now, to find our way back and rise to become one of the world's most productive places to work and happy places to live in.