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27 June 2008

Why I Am Not An MBA

Any Tom, Dick, Harry or Philip Kotler can be a marketing guru
Surajit Dasgupta

If there are three natural numbers ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ such that a^2 + b^2 = c^2, you call them a Pythagorean triplet (e.g., 5, 12 and 13 make such a triplet as 5^2 + 12^2 = 13^2. And if you substitute 2 by any number, say, ‘n’, then you see that you are unable to find any set of three numbers, ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ satisfying the equation a^n + b^n = c^n for n ≠ 2. This is known as Fermat’s Last Theorem, which no one could prove mathematically for more than three centuries after the French mathematician’s death until Andrew Wiles of Princeton University, UK, proved it in the last decade.

If Pythagoras of Samos and Pierre de Fermat had not formulated the above theorems, respectively, could Surajit Dasgupta have formulated them? Honestly, I do not suffer from such a grand delusion about my intellect.

Now, sample this: As we, human beings, grow by age, we want our professional, social and personal growth to take place simultaneously following this pattern:

“1. Biological and Physiological needs — air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2. Safety needs — protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
3. Sense of Belonging and Love needs — work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
4. Esteem needs — self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Self-Actualisation needs — realising personal potential, self-fulfilment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.”
If Abraham Maslow had not put in words the above “Hierarchy of Needs”, could Surajit Dasgupta have done the same and earned for all times to come the credit for such a ‘great’ ‘law’? That was certainly possible.

Any average person with strong faculties of observation and articulation can tell you that the above is how people wish to grow. Or they may talk of the same algorithm using a different set of words.

How do I handle a difficult customer? “SATMAC,” my first boss in Delhi sought to make it easy for me, explaining that when a prospective buyer raises a doubt over any aspect of my presentation, I must first “Smile” and then “Accept” his objection (tell him that I would have felt the same, had I been in his shoes). In the next step, I am supposed to “Turn” his objection on its head to make him see all the more reason to buy what I am selling; then, “Make” the selling offer “And” finally “Close” the deal.

“What a brilliant discovery!” I indulged in a soliloquy, about to ROTFL (Roll On The Floor Laughing). Did this bossy character really have to do an MBA to note that the above is how an interlocutor moulds a seemingly intractable mind in his favour?

Surrounded by a pack of ‘intellectual’ salesmen, I was tempted to get myself enrolled for an MBA course from some university more than a decade ago while working with a multinational bank. I approached the Indira Gandhi National Open University, appeared for its entrance examination, qualified and even bought the course material for an MBA in marketing. But that was that.

Hundreds of general truths touted as ‘laws’ all over the books written by Philip Kotler and his ilk put me off completely. Much as my salary could have jumped to a few hundred thousand rupees by now with the help of that MBA, I was not ready to indulge in a tomfoolery of such gargantuan proportions for two constant years, studying routine stuff formulated by a handful of ‘gurus’ who are celebrated for reasons known best to the corporate sector.

But I do subscribe to the adage, “Common sense is the most uncommon thing in the world.” And I pity the crowd of thousands who flock to satsangs all over Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Delhi, the celebrities like Madonna and Michael Jackson who listen to Deepak Chopra’s discourses awestruck, and the depressed who are pepped up by Shiv Khera. For, never have I found these crowd-pulling orators say anything that an ordinary person cannot think of independently — without help from a ‘guru’ — if only he exercises his brain a little. But why blame India’s north-western people alone for the herd mentality? Bengalis, the sanctimonious rational thinkers who consider themselves a class above the remaining countrymen, frown at me at the first visit to my house when they cannot locate a photograph of Loknath Brahmachari, Tailanga Swami, Balak Brahmachari, a swami from Ramakrishna Mission or any bare-chested baba hanging on the walls of the room where I meditate. They also snigger at me when I reply to the question, “Dikkha niyechhen? (Have you been spiritually enlightened by a guru?)” in the negative.

Like baba, like babalog! It's ‘cool’ to draw intelligence from 'professionals', not cultivate it through realisation — be it spirituality; be it marketing.

This is not to suggest that two years of an MBA curriculum is all about books that solve mundane problems by stating the obvious. There are indeed case studies as well. But do problems in the future replicate those in the past? Can they have similar, if not identical, solutions? Most certainly not. Therein lies the next problem with business school graduates. Once recruited, they try to handle emerging situations in their company through hackneyed means. They forget that in business there cannot be something called a “time-tested formula”.

Call it “business management” or “business administration”, the business that is either managed or administered can at the best be a shop, not an industry. It is for this lack of innovative thinking that despite MBA institutes and graduates filling our geography and society at a tremendous pace for the last two decades, among the prominent brands we only have a Reliance added to the old famous duo — Tata and Birla — in this period. Never mind the fact that the number of billionaires in India is rising at a considerable pace; what is the brand equity of the nouveau riche?

Also note how silent the rise of Reliance industries was under a semi-educated Dhirubhai Ambani — overlooking the controversies surrounding his business expansion for a moment — and how noisy the effort of growth by Reliance’s shops are under his high-profile, MBA sons.

The way you cannot train somebody with a horrible voice to sing, you cannot sharpen horribly blunt brains. India has so many problems that each of them offers a unique business opportunity. But one does not see MBAs tapping them. Brilliant ideas, howsoever few, are invariably sprouting in the brains of graduates from other disciplines or even simpleton, rustic dreamers from remote villages. Can you teach how — and what — to dream? At a price of Rs 500,000 or more? Well, a boastful Arindam Chaudhuri declares so (without revealing the price, of course) in his full-page display advertisements in most newspapers of the country. Pity Sigmund Freud and The Interpretation of Dreams.

And pity the scores of frustrated IIPM graduates in private firms located in different parts of Bangalore, Gurgaon and Pune struggling as the lowest-rung executives in their offices. One wishes they did not have the MBA baggage. If nothing else, they wouldn’t have had an attitude problem while dealing with grubby — though resourceful — businessmen who provide the much-needed revenue to the MBA salesmen's employers.

As for the IIMs, let MNCs hire them for Rs 2,000,000 or more as the cost-to-company per annum. These graduates have no less right than Deepak Chopra to turn rich, cashing in on the despondence — and the consequent idiocy — of the materialistically rich. But dear MBAs, do spare a thought for generating employment rather than consuming it.

Let’s cut the degree to size. We don’t need Masters of Business Administration. We need Masters of Business.
If Sir had been a salesman: If general truths were laws, Isaac Newton wouldn't have stopped after formulating just three laws of motion

The writer is a mathematician and linguist, now a corporate communicator and has been a journalist, a teacher and a marketing manager (in reverse chronological order) in his previous vocations


Sandeep said...

Yesterday i derived the final truth about human behaviour "Stupidity/irrationality is the lowest energy state of mankind". They can trade thier intellectual freedom for security and so called piece of mind. This discovery goes well with the theme of this article.

I knew one of the MBA final year student. I asked her what do they study as i could not comprehend how "business can be taught" in a classroom. Anyway, finally she had to do the "project" and lady worked day and night to prepare a report of Company Merger and Acquisitions. I read the report and found it quite informative. I asked what would you do with this report. She said that i will submit as all other will do.

I proposed that why don't you start your first business with this. Get along with your friends and prepare a booklet with 10-15 reports merged together and i am sure that many people in business community would happily buy it for few hundreds. Detailed analysis of recent topics of interests are a potential business opportunity for you. She was stunned by the offer and replied,"Bhaiya, i don't have to do business, I have to manage it, I have to seek a Job". I replied," you just wasted 3 years of your life dear." And i see that same pattern all over the place. Hardly 1% business graduates have guts to be enterprenuer.

And believe me, as Surajit already mentioned, MBA classroom is the most boring session of your life since all thats taught there can be discovered by self-interpretation and analysis.

Business is action. It cannot be taught in words.

SidDes said...

An MBA is not necessary to run a business, or maybe even manage one. However, it certainly is more desirable than initiating young freshers into the job with almost no background whatsoever in business.

Nirmal said...

1% is rather too much. An MBA is essentially as much a tool for risk aversion as about generating 7 figure salaries.
All premier MBA schools are filled with upper middle class kids who're there not because of any great intelligence but because they had the access to information, the money to pay for the coaching classes etc.
Most entrepreneurs from MBA schools come from business families.
And I agree with the deepak chopra analogy. I've seen first hand the herd mentality that is endemic to this bunch. Irrespective of whether it is marketing, sales, finance or even personal investment and life, the risk aversion is evident as they always have "gurus" for any and all of these things.

Sudhir Kumar said...

Wow, the moral of the story is - "Common sense is the most uncommon thing in the world." A well-written article, and I specially liked the reference of Ambanis. While Dhirubhai made a big empire by his efforts, Mukesh & Anil are defaming their brand just by fighting. Is this what education means?

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.