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B-Schools: The business of managementA force to reckon with: B- schools have a responsibility to produce managers who understand the hidden corporate rules, theories and realities and play an important role in the business world

B-Schools: The business of management

Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and J&K, each has at least one of the top 100 MBA institutions, and students are spoilt for choice. Here’s what the region has to offer

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Dr. Subhro Sen 

In parallel with the growth of the Indian economy, we are witnessing a small boom in the growth of programmes providing Undergraduate [BBA/BMS] and Master’s degrees in Business Administration [MBA] across the country. After the rationalisation of Market five years ago — a period that saw many marginal providers disappear, others struggling to find students and many of the lower tier programmes among the 3000+ institutions churning out poorly trained MBAs and BBAs — this latest 'boom-let' is more about improving quality than increasing quantity. 

Facing an increasingly discerning population of students who evaluate programmes intensively online, scan surveys providing market intelligence, visit portals and seek out peer reviews this trend is especially evident in the top 200 programmes that are seeking to innovate, deploy technology and diversify the pedagogies they employ. 

However, given the widespread availability of quality e-learning content, full courses and materials from the world’s leading MBA schools available for downloading and emulation  — virtually all free of charge — this trajectory towards improved quality of the educational materials and course designs can theoretically ‘trickle-down’ to all management programmes across India. 

Many government initiatives  — both at the union and state level — are also providing access to quality content and detailed ranking guidelines to improve standards. While faculty quality remains an acute challenge, the ‘barriers to entry’ for building baseline quality in all programmes have come down and that is a welcome sign for management education in India.

Rising North

North India is no exception to this nation-wide trend. If anything, we are witnessing an added quality surge here with multiple new institutions displaying top tier aspirations, matching infrastructure and global collaborations opening their doors just between Chandigarh and NCR in the past few years. Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and even J&K have established at least one top 100 MBA granting institution this decade.  And given the numerous established institutions across the region which draw students in large numbers — students are increasingly spoilt for choice.

Time for institutes to re-imagine and re-align

In this competitive scenario, it is essential for management education providers, both public and private, to ‘practice what they preach’ to their MBA and BBA students: innovate continuously with their curricula, invest in (educational) technology to both lower costs and improve educational outcomes, develop their talent (in this case, faculty and placement services) and above all, differentiate themselves in the marketplace with a quality offering at competitive prices. 

To do so effectively, they must re-imagine and align their programme outcomes and placement capabilities to the rapidly evolving needs of their two key stakeholders: employers and students. 

Corporations need and eagerly seek recruits ready to help them flourish in the digital era; students seek new knowledge, specialised skills specific to success in exciting new roles and career tracks that are growing rapidly. 

Let us examine a few of these in  detail:

Creating Charioteers of the Technology Economy

The Bhagwad Gita features the greatest of all such sarathi’s or charioteers. The business leaders and managers of today need to be prepared to be the new charioteers of the constantly evolving digital world. They must become agile learners, be comfortable in volatile and uncertain competitive situations and rapidly update their strategies and business approaches on the fly.

Facing an onslaught of disruption led by previously unimagined, radical new technologies — Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, 3D printing, Robotics, Nano Technology, UAV's, Sensors and Internet of Things driven by Cloud Computing, Mobility, Machine Learning, Predictive analytics — industry after industry has changed irreversibly.  For example, if we look at the hospitality industry — the need for huge investments to create and buy properties, maintain the infrastructure historically limited the number of players in the field. The industry in India was dominated by a few large brands. Today, businesses like Airbnb, Oyo rooms etc. have inverted the game. They are leading the hospitality industry and room bookings without investing in a single property.

Being future ready

In an analogous fashion, entire industry sectors need to become future ready. Today it is all about business platforms that are a combination of technology, information and service assets and collaborative ecosystems as another layer of complexity beyond strategic physical assets and efficient supply chains. 

The winners will be institutions that equip their students with a cross-disciplinary understanding of an intertwined global economy.  Such abilities to understand and predict how the technologies are evolving, how these can be applied in this new era can be gained only through tightly-integrated programmes that provide hands-on experience, real life assimilations, internships, workshops, trainings and interactions with industry experts.

Rooting for design thinking

Customer and “Experience-centricity” is at the core of businesses today. Understanding, curating and managing the customer experience is fundamental to strategy. Underlying this nuanced understanding of the customer is Design Thinking. Such approaches to solution or product design that take into account the whole life cycle of the product need to be integrated organically throughout the curriculum. It is not enough to think of just the functionality of a product or how efficiently it is manufactured but also its usability, its effect on society at large —  even how that product will be disposed of when obsolete. For example, the mass production of mobile phones did not adequately take into account how those phones containing cadmium, a highly toxic substance, will be discarded. This has led to huge environmental  issues, with almost four lakh cell phones being discarded every year. The managers of the future will have to adopt a 360 degree view and deliver the best customer experiences. Institutions, in their turn, will need to equip students with a knowledge of end-to-end design approaches to their business.

Leading like an entrepreneur

The new world order is marked by the rapidity of change. Technological disruption has lowered the barriers to entry for the field of any business. Almost anybody can start a business anywhere with lower investment than in previous generations. People no longer need to be physically proximate — they can collaborate and co-work from anywhere in the world. Competition can, therefore, come from anywhere today. More people from rural, far flung areas are able to access the market with greater ease through online platforms. For example a rural artisan from Lucknow can buy raw materials from a small business in Kerala and sell to consumers in Bengal at very low costs. This has led to a surge in entrepreneurship  both in the “for profit” and “not for profit” sectors. As people see and face new unsolved problems, novel solutions emerge that are a fusion of services and technology. Companies when hiring today emphasise the need for managers who think and lead like entrepreneurs.  

Many programmes today are paying greater emphasis to entrepreneurship and attempting to expose and train students accordingly. The larger question is —  how effective and deep is that training? How systematically do they cover the various aspects of the entrepreneurship cycle: from ideation to commercialisation? How do they provide students opportunities to develop the many skills required by entrepreneurial leaders? That is where the real difference between rivaling management programmes will emerge. For example, institutions that have the incubation infrastructure, industry linkages and financial ability to actively foster entrepreneurship experiences for students are clearly going to surge ahead. 

This seamless integration between management concepts and the ability to put them into practice will be the key. As with other dimensions of quality, this journey will be determined by commitment of the institution to invest in these capabilities and aspiring students should look carefully beyond the lip service to entrepreneurship to tangible evidence of such infrastructure.

Carpe Diem

The business imperative for those institutions that aspire to excellence today is quite clear. It is Carpe Diem —seize the day and moment and vault to the top.  Invest appropriately keeping the students’ learning outcomes and future employability at the forefront and reap the rewards. 

There is a wonderful opportunity to re-think not just the MBA but the BBA or Bachelor’s in Management Studies. MBAs with quality training remain in perennial demand. At the same time, many large employers are increasingly seeking younger, less expensive, readily trainable candidates and undergraduate programmes in business that master the new alchemy described above will flourish. 

— The writer is Director, School of Management and Entrepreneurship, Shiv Nadar University, Noida

Institutes & students at a glance

 5,20,000 MBA seats in 5,500+ B Schools

 Only 66 per cent B Schools are AICTE Approved

 85 per cent students in top 30 B-schools are engineers

 30 per cent in top 30 B-schools are women

Scripting a new paradigm

A review of the practices of the top schools overseas and the most innovative emerging institutions in India suggests that a new ‘manifesto’ or blueprint for business management programmes has emerged in the last few years. Collectively they include the following: 

  • A “re-imagining” and re-design of the management curriculum for the digital age whereby a 'disruptive technology lens' is applied to all courses offered and cases used.
  • Introduction of design thinking, creativity and innovation practices, distributed collaboration and co-working as key pillars of programmes.
  • Entrepreneurial Leadership practicums using rich simulations and start-up challenges to stimulate “Thinking and leading like entrepreneurs” irrespective of the type of organisation they eventually work in, including the government.
  • Active emphasis on structured internships, deeper real-life experiences while still in the programme.
  • Intensive focus on personal leadership development and authentic communication skills
  • Offering layered industry-aligned specialisations in emerging areas such as customer experience mapping and brand management, integrated 'omni-channel' digital campaign management, cybersecurity, predictive analytics et. al.
  • Exposure to leading in the global environment, including languages such as Spanish and Mandarin.  
  • This is just an illustrative list. With the pervasive availability and democratisation of access to quality learning content, these are among many exciting examples of the new pathways to excellence in management programmes.

Opportunities for growth and globally benchmarked excellence for Business Management programmes in India are substantial. However, the speed of this transformation will depend on the will and commitment of the leaders of  management institutions to foster excellence at all levels in their programmes

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