Monday, March 29, 2004

Badri Dei.. Do you create wealth or you chase it?

I am not an wannabe MBA! At the same time, I am also not an outsider, because for a period of almost a year, I wanted to be part of what Srihari D claims is an 'exclusive club of engineers who have jumped ship and hitched themselves to the MBA bandwagon'. Yes, I wrote the CAT in 2001, just months after I wrote my GRE too.

So, for starters you could say that I am or wanted to be one of them stereotyped individuals that Srihari claims are the sole beneficiaries of the subsidies that the government currently bestows on the IIMs. That I am not, is another issue that mushrooms out of my ineptitude. But as the ego-centric guy that I am, I wish to focus this tirade on Srihari himself.

Srihari seems to be a non-engineer. Or mebbe he is a engineer who is an MBA himself, but has been suffering lately from pangs of guilt. Whatever it is, he raises some questions that borders on an all out attack on engineers who want to be up there - as part of the upper management.

1. Does an MBA measure his professional success by how much he earns?
The author says that too much hype is created over IIM's yearly placement weeks and the salaries that companies off. Well, I can say that though most of these 'hype raising pieces of literature' have headlines carping about the salaries, most of these articles generally seem to place more emphasis on giving us a feel-good mood by linking these salaries and offers to the upward swing in the economy. And if I have to be more brutal, one of the more prominent sources of the noise that the author refers to, is the same website that has featured this very article. Prime example - IIM graduates' salaries go through the roof. But even this is just only in 2000. For most of the other years the main object of interest is the link between the state of the economy and the number of placement offers. For more clarification, just do a google search for 'IIMs, placement' and key in 'Rediff' to see what the same site has carried in the past years.

2. Can only engineers manage?
No one says so. I am not gloating, but go to any business leader and ask him about 10 skill sets that any person would require to be a manager and I am sure engineers would have more of these than someone from another stream. The reason - the syllabi taught in any engineering college/university, be it the IITs or the humongous number of self-financing institutions all over the country. Well, having said that, I have to clarify something too. This status quo that I am talking about exists only in India. In most other countries, for eg. the US, where I am presently living, any college graduate has to take courses in science and math, regardless of his or her major and so it's mostly in the last two years of the 4 year college degree do people do things different from one another and the grind is the same, regardless of major.
In that sense, people from non-engineering streams are losing out in India, where someone with a BA would not know the basics of calculus, while elsewhere any college grad could vouch for the fact that the differential of Sin(x) is Cos(x). But there are most certainly exceptions. Hence, a lawyer or a journo can easily manage a firm, provided he/she possess key qualities i.e. the aptitude that can easily be found in an excellent engineer ? the ones who get into the IIMs in droves. I have recently heard about a person who was asked to sing a classical song during an IIM personal interview and that person made it after successfully doing what he was asked. The point I am trying to make is that if someone says he/she is good and can substantiate it, I don't think the IIMs discriminate- be it a biochemist or a journo. So quit whining about engineers having it easy. Just work harder!

3. Why do you need engineers to sell shampoo or manage mutual funds?
I was asked on my MDI (Gurgaon) personal interview to draw up a probable initial entry campaign strategy for a deodorant/talcum powder. And toward the end of my pitch, I was asked whether the fact that I was an engineer added value to the campaign. I of course said yes, but the interviewer did convince me that it was otherwise. Ya, ok. Maybe you don't need engineers to sell shampoo or manage mutual funds, but why can?t engineers do that?
And as for the author's grouse that people get into engineering as a shortcut to the IIMs. Whoa, when did a average 17 year old get such wisdom. Most of the kids I know are confused about what they want. And it is their parents who drive them into the engineering or the Medical pasture to graze. Not to mention the fact that 10 years ago, when these same kids wanted to go abroad and get their Masters, you shouted 'brain drain' and now when they wanna stay back and contribute you start complaining that these kids are in it for the money. Hell, they are in it for the money. But how can you demean their motives? Does the author have any shred of scientific evidence to prove his rant? I don?t think so. Only number quoted is 'only 10 % join engineering firms'. So? What is the percentage of engineering firms that want to recruit from the IIMs? Was this decisive number factored in?

4. If the army promotes a raw NDA graduate as a general will you have any faith in it?
Well, again same reasoning. If age or experience alone makes you give someone your vote of confidence, then why don't you let the oldest man in the country lead the army. So does that mean that unless someone is old enough in your eyes, you don?t expect the person to succeed?

5. Does the IIM turn out hares rather than tortoises?
Refer to my retort for the next question.

6. Is an MBA the proverbial rat which deserts the sinking ship?
Is Srihari really my mom?s pseudonym? Well, he seems to certainly have the same half baked ideas that my mom had when I was apping for B-school. In fact, I swear she used more or less the same words to justify her side of the argument when I was trying to convince her that B-school was equally good to a Masters here in the US. But I sort of sympathize with her because, my father has lot of stories to say and also my grand-dad apparently jumped companies like Edwin Moses in the 400m hurdles.
I think that company boardrooms are like Indian political parties. The more the brains in the board room, the more the chance of conflict. As a lower level employee, people don?t get to press their ideas regardless of the quality, but when you are in a position to be heard, people tend to push their ideas through and if they are repeatedly ignored they tend to try and move to a different place where they are more likely to be heard. The obvious fall out of this is that any project that was in the hands of the individual suffers because of the individual?s exit, which is more or less my father?s grouse. But I did manage to shut him up with this argument when he tried to side with my mom. But my father?s wounds are deep and hence I think I never did convince him completely. But these are sweeping generalizations again, that any outsider can make without going into the true story.

7. Why should the government subsidize engineers who sell toothpaste?
First question is that, whether the subsidy you (and me) are talking about really exists. But then, even if it did, why not, if these engineers are doing their job well? Do you have any alternative to these engineers or are you going to exclude engineers who are in the IIMs from these subsidies?
If you wanna take these subsidies off, feel free to take away the subsidized (sometimes free) electricity from the farmers who use their supply of free electricity to pump water round the clock to sell to contractors for cash. Also feel free to remove all the subsidies that you can easily qualify for if you bribe your local government official for a community certificate. As Velu Naicker famously exclaimed 'Ask them to stop before ask me to stop!'.

8. Why don't MBAs join manufacturing companies?
So, if a manufacturing company says that I am good for the job and is willing to offer a good salary commensurate with my skill-sets I am sure no MBA would flinch away from that opportunity. So it is what I am offered, that I or any average person would go for.
I am sure he has no numbers to prove hypothesis. Everything in this universe works on the law of supply and demand. Wherever demand is huge, prices (in this case, salaries) are better. But that does not mean that demand or supply is concentrated in one area alone. So if someone says I am good enough for a particular job and if that person happens to be the one I am going to work for, why should I not go for it, even is it does not exactly seem to be my cup of tea. After all, haven?t there been professional cricketers with engineering degrees?
And as for harping about how wrong the IIM's motto is - well, it could be wrong, cos for development in all these areas, the Indian government has its own civil service. Unless these areas are privatized, MBAs are redundant here in these fields.

9. Are IIMs turning out wealth creators or wealth chasers?
10. Are IIMs creating managers or leaders?
11. So what are the IIMs all about?

I choose not to think even about answers for these questions. Mainly because the author does not seem to give us answers worthy of argument. Only sweeping opinionated comments like 'An IIM graduate is unlikely to ever be an Ambani, a Tata or a Birla' and cliches like 'A leader sets the direction, a manager follows' that make him sound like the people behind the Miriam-Webster dictionary. As for perhaps the one remotely interesting statement about how only 4 of this years IIM-B graduates want to be entrepreneurs, I would have been impressed if he mentioned statistics about entrepreneurs who have graduated out of IIMs in the last 10 years because we know that one piece of statistic is just conjecture and not a trend.

So to sum it up, the whole article talks about a lot of relevant things, but by not propping up his hypotheses with numbers and facts, Srihari's rants seem like pure conjecture. But mebbe people like Gaurav, Vijay and Sabarish (incidentally all studying/just graduated from IIML) can elaborate and tell us where Srihari is going wrong. Or are they telling us to ignore him?

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