A minute for your feedback please

Sunday, November 4, 2012

IIM Ahmedabad alumni association meets-some observations

The (presumable) benefits of being an alumnus from any premier college, is the sheer alumni base which helps during campus placements, subsequent roles and so on. Of course, there can be some debate on who is an alumnus( http://iimaexperiences.blogspot.com/2011/12/so-who-qualify-as-iim-ahmedabad-alumni.html) but what cannot really be doubted is their role in making the institute what it is today.

Since I graduated this year, I've attended 3 alumni meets, one in Hyderabad and two in Delhi(one normal monthly meet and one Diwali dinner yesterday). Some observations were
  1. Clustering around batchmates happened in all 3 places, of which I was guilty also. Instead of interacting with other batches also, the main interaction used to happen within attendees from the same batch. this was true for graduates from more recent batches, while due to necessity or otherwise, those from batches with low attendance(pre 2000 etc) were more open
  2. Hard drinks were the rule for these, not too surprising that. 
  3. More enthusiastic attendance from the non PGP alumni(MDP etc), but I'm sure they must have felt left out as they do not belong to any 'batch'. Still some interesting attendees there like a DGH Finance officer who had attended the 'Advanced Corporate Finance' MDP at IIM-A last year. 
Overall, at a maximum investment of Rs 500 or so, this is the most efficient way to catch up with your batchmates and others(ANY place otherwise especially in metros would cost that much or more per head). An encouraging sign is the use of social media and email to communicate these events(thats how I found out about it), and the collection of visiting cards/contact details to keep in touch.  I guess the attendees need to look beyond their batch however tempting it may mean, but otherwise good.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Audited placement reports-IIM-A leads the way again

Earlier this month, IIM Ahmedabad released its audited placement report on http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/iprs/members.php. For those too lazy to download the reports from that page, I paste the direct links for Final Placements 2012(http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/iprs/gallery/IIMA_IPRS_PGP_Finals_2012.pdf) and Summer Placements 2011(http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/iprs/gallery/PGP_Summers_2011-12_Report.pdf). For students who must make decisions on MBA 2013-15, these reports will admittedly be dated by a year, but still they give the most credible information compared to the other IIMs. I do not intend to crunch the numbers/reports, or give personal analysis(one should read the report, form an opinion, then maybe comment on this blog/reach out to other students/alumni rather than expect spoon-feeding).

Some important sections to note in the report are
  1. $value and PPP adjusted value of foreign placements-quite interesting reading
  2. Location wise average pay-no regional biases evident
  3. Sectoral pay-especially note the sectors which offer hefty joining bonuses!
  4. High base pay-bursts the perception that MBA CTC includes even office rent amortized!
Anyways, those aspiring for MBA, and their guides/parents/friends should certainly understand these reports, and demand them from other colleges. Admittedly, as Pagalguy points out(http://www.pagalguy.com/news/four-ways-which-iim-as-iprs-placement-reporting-standard-can-fixed-a-29347) , there are quite a few lacuna and loopholes, but these reports are a good start.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

MBA is management by analysis, atleast initially

During the 2yrs in IIM, many courses were analytics based like those on statistics, managerial computing, system flowcharting etc. The 'softer' HR subjects were scoffed upon by me and many batchmates as 'globe', atleast in the academics and assessment. While many profs/seniors used to stress the importance of HR courses, I felt that those skills would be learnt on the job unlike hard skills in which prior knowledge may help in serendipity and saving sleepless nights. Also, given the cooperative/common goals in MBA versus that in the workplace(often dog-eat-dog), it is doubtful

When you are new to the organization, taking process walkthoughs/interviews/mystery audits will only help till a point, and will probably tell you how things are supposed to work-process walkthoughs will show the inside view of the process, while Hawthorne effect ensures that getting a realistic view is difficult. Data is never biased(atleast should not be), so as long as you can conduct exploratory data analysis using pivots, filters, lookups etc to get a broad picture. And it is analysis which is necessary to show that you are just not spouting MBA jargon as the new whizkid on the block, but have actually understood the process and all.

Often, there will be things which you feel is 'broken','flawed','wrong' etc. But to counter the 'why fix it if its not broke', you need data to back you up. When data is not available, then seniority in the room wins but otherwise only data can counter data. Of course, do not get into the trap of analysis paralysis-conclude your analysis at a cutoff point, then followup persistently to implement your findings.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why management can never be a profession-no PHOSITA or public duty

Under patent law, PHOSITA(person having ordinary skill and training in the art) is a fictional person, considered to have the normal skills and knowledge in a particular technical field, without being a genius. For a patent to be considered non obvious, having an inventive step and application having full disclosure, the standard is applied whether it was obvious to and comprehendible by a PHOSITA. By defining this mythical concept/construct of John Doe(the exact details are only filled in on case-case basis), courts make it easier to award of reject patents.

Professions like accountancy, law, medicine all have CBOK(Common body of knowledge), Code of Conduct, professional standards and continuing professional education(CPE).In contrast, management has the following gaps in this idea of profession
  1. Absence of requisite skill-for example not being aware of relevant amendments, statutory laws, latest research in management field etc. I agree that not even CPE is enough for ensuring updation, but atleast it is something. Management does not even have that. 
  2. No ethical standards:-Though I personally feel that professional ethics standards are more of locking the stable after the horse has bolted, or limiting competition, atleast it does make the public aware of what minimum to expect from their professionals, and gives them liberty to sue for malpractice/breach of trust if not met. Again, this need to adhere to a code of ethics is not imposed by the organization but is usually employer specific. 
  3. No prescribed training:-Though some may debate the relative merits of apprenticeship versus on the full tome job training(say ICAEW vs CIMA models), some structured guild like training is helpful to learn a profession. Validity of this is not yet proven for management, so while it may be superior to any profession, it cannot be classed as one.
  4. No explicit fiduciary relationship:-Code of ethics etc exists in part due to the fiduiciary relationship between professional and client, which is nebulous when it comes to the relationship between a manager, business entity and its owners! 
So the next time people liken management to a professional, excuse me for differing! 

Why so few chartered accountants(CAs) in IIM Ahmedabad?

Having followed this year's admissions of both IIM Ahmedabad and Bangalore closely this year(thanks to friends in both colleges), I was struck by the virtual absence of chartered accountants in IIM Ahmedabad, but with their number nearly touching double digits in IIM Bangalore. Both trends are not new, with the last chartered accountant receiving his PGDM degree from the 2009-2011 batch, but even till 2011-13 batch, nobody else has secured admission. While there are B.Com/B.A(Hons) and other non engineers in the batch, it is quite surprising that chartered accountants fail to get admission in that mecca of Indian management education IIM Ahmedabad(as a proud alumnus I still say that despite what some random rankings say it is still #1, but then I digress). After some thinking/brainstorming, this is what I came up with

  1.  No special dispensation for CAs:-Unlike in IIM Bangalore where the top 10 Chartered Accountants(among those giving CAT and applying to IIM-B) are called for interview irrespective of their CAT score, the same is not followed in IIM-A or IIM-C. 
  2. CAs neglecting their graduation/post graduation and thus losing out:-This year, a friend scored 80%+ in his TYBCom Exams of Mumbai University and(having secured 80%+ in 10th/12th also) was even called for interview, but his final admission was not processed because after recalculating his marks to include non university college level marks of FY/SY BCom, his aggregate in graduation fell below 80% thus making him ineligible for interview call as per IIM-A criteria! As most CAs pursue their articleship along with graduation, excelling in both becomes very difficult, more so securing the high marks IIM-A expects...
  3. Different aptitudes/interests/not exposed to objective type exams:-A reason why engineers score over their non engineer peers in MCQ exams like CAT, is their exposure to these exams since Std10 itself(take it from me, acing these exams is a skill honed through intensive practice), and CAs who work or undergo genuine articleship, rarely have time for attending coaching. Even those engineers who have not undergone CAT specific coaching still know how to give MCQ exams. CAs may not know that. 
How to solve these issues? Normalization of degree scores is one way to solve #2, but to solve #1 and #3, CAs need to buck up and ace the CAT instead of expecting special treatment IMO

Monday, June 25, 2012

Practical ways to rank an IIM by yourself

For Bschool aspirants especially with multiple calls, it is quite difficult to narrow down to one school. The usual sources of information are either outdated(magazine rankings have a lag time), biased(forum boards, alumni, bschool ads) or irrelevant(using weird criteria of no interest to the aspirant). Instead, I suggest the following framework which I developed virtually on the back of a napkin, while speaking with some juniors at IIM Bangalore
  1. Recruiters perception:-Here, the placement reports(audited or otherwise reliable) released by a college is important(though it comes with 1yr lag generally). See the roles, pay and profile not just the recruiter name as the same company may offer different roles at difference campuses. For example, Goldman Sachs offers front office roles at IIM A, B, C and XLRI, but for colleges like MDI Gurgaon, only back office/middle office roles are offered. 
  2. Students perception:-On whatever basis formed, the student perception is something good to know especially if you believe in the wisdom of crowds(that many independent people usually converge to the correct result). For this, check at what number the waitlist cleared, and also which college those with multiple admits decided to accept. Of course, like in this year, colleges like IIM-A gave buffer admits to ensure seats getting full to avoid losses due to students paying the Rs 1500 admission fee(measly na?) but not turning up on final day due to job offers, admissions for MS or other reasons. So that makes such comparisons difficult.
  3. Coaching classes perception/Academics perception:-Both of these are hopefully based on more rigorous criteria like teaching,research, infrastructure and so on. So these would add the scientific element in the entire mix.
  4. The fit for YOU:-For those with special requirements(like focus on niche areas like supply chain, private equity, non-finance international roles etc), they should probe deeper into the above aspects. For instance, IIM-Indore gets offers for supply chain/logistics roles owing to the experienced students and the star faculty like Prof Ravichandram. IIM_Bangalore gets VC/PE offers due to location and alumni mix, while IIM Ahmedabad gets great consulting offers due to alumni mix and other factors. In addition, some campuses are more friendly towards different learning styles(c.f weightage on mid term/end term exams) and students from different backgrounds(as the non engineer/gender diversity ratios show). So even see those factors.
The above 4 data  points can help you differentiate the top 3-4 IIMs among which otherwise there is very little to choose. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

How NOT to choose a Bschool

Just google 'how to select a bschool' and you will get umpteen results. Most of them however, are slavish reproductions of the Western oriented approach where a person, often after considerable work experience, applies to a few bschools with a detailed application, has a set career path/goals in mind, and often self finances the MBA himself. While over here, we Indians must often fake the bit about career goals(learn to lie convincingly about a 5 year career plan) and take resource to parent's financing the 2yr holiday after we tire of our jobs/to fill the gap after undergraduate education. Anyways, this post was motivated by hours of amused chuckling over several advertisements for bschools, which promise the sky, but on closer thought really have no value. Lets check out those factors
  1. Faculty from IIM/XLRI/Harvard etc:- There must be around 20,000+ alumni alive of IIMA,B,C alone, to say nothing of the other bschools. Being a faculty of those bschools is a cachet, but being an alumnus who then decides to teach does not in my view, have the same impact.
  2. Wifi enabled campus:-Lets face it. It is unlikely that you will need to use Wifi in classrooms for any legitimate academic purposes(its really more of a distraction). If the instructor wants to show videos etc, then he can use the desktop/laptop projector for that. And about using the wifi in campus, library, other locations, well, even a data card can achieve it much better than what a slow Wifi connection would. Ok it is good to have especially for those smartphone users who MUST check their email/facebook updates every now and then, but otherwise for us mortals, it is avoidable
  3. 100% placement assistance:-Mark the words 'assistance'. That means it is on a best efforts basis. I agree that no program can really give a job guarantee(except maybe the IFBI retail banking operations diploma or the ICICI-NIIT MBA for recruitment of officers. So be aware that this is just a weasel word, without any legal backing. Now, if anyone guarantees a job with minimum CTC post campus OR defers the fees till the graduates get a job, THEN I'll give some credence.
  4. Free laptop/books/exchange program/study tours..:-Nothing in life is free. The cost is built into your course fee, and the institute administration is probably getting a cut/commission from the supplier, which is compulsary.
  5. Paid internships:-the minimum companies can do is to pay you for the work you do during the internships.But rather than stop at that, look at the company mix, and also the conversion rate of internships to PPOs, and then final acceptances. even at very good colleges, the PPO rate rarely exceeds 25%-35%, and the acceptance rate in a good year may be around 80% or less. 
  6. Student Exchange Program:-This may be in some little known colleges, which are just located in a 'fun place'-read London, Paris, New York and so on. What you may not know is the extra costs/fees attached to that. So find that out before entering with starry eyed videshi dreams. 
  7. 'Industry Interface'-lectures, projects:-the lectures are likely to be a hagiographic version of how the executive rose to his position, or a marketing spiel for his company. The projects may be a form of crowd sourcing ideas or just free labout(a typical marketing project for example!). So do dig deeper to understand this industry interface. the acid test is whether those companies offer scholarships, paid internships/projects and come down to recruit as well.
  8. Swimming pool. amenities, club house....Remember all those amenities are at YOUR expense and reflected in the fees. They are surely good to have, but remember that it is NOT a favour or anything, just something you pay for. And even in colleges without good hostels(read FMS, SP Jain and so on), accomodation at every price point would surely be available nearby. So just because a college offers superior amenities is not a sufficient point. 
  9. Star faculty/authors/gurus:-Firstly, many of these people may just be self proclaimed management gurus, who rarely teach(why would they when they can earn big bucks in training or consulting or MDPs). So find out whether those 'star faculty'/'big names'  actually teach, and if so whom, and how often, and whether you can get in. 
  10. Rankings/Awards:-Lesser said about it the better, but if a college uses a single ranking to defend its position, its a red flag. Multiple data points, consistency across years are all important while evaluating a college. Also, think about whether the college strengths dovetail with your own. for example, if you are a finance guy and the college is great in marketing and so-so in everything else, you may want to rethink your position. Also, try to find out the age of the rankings, as also the scope. Many colleges rest on past laurels(like using 2010 rankings in 2012 ads even when 2011 rankings available) or win awards just because the top colleges did not participate or the college sponsored the award function. So be careful. 
After all this, you may think about what is remaining to look for! Nothing beats speaking to a cross section of recent alumni from the college, whom you trust to be objective. But for the rest of us who are not well networked(u should rethink your MBA potential in that case!) and must go for non brand colleges, go to the pagalguy forums or try speaking to the placement coordinator/faculty to see what impression you get. Hopefully, even if not the complete truth, those people should not lie. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Is MBA still needed to break into India Inc?

I guess I could have used a less loaded statement to convey my opinions on this topic! and yet, I do present a balanced view(to the extent possible). Recently, Citigroup India announced a graduates entry program(unusual for Indian companies though prevalent globally), thereby following in the hallowed footsteps of Unilever India, BHEL, Schlumberger and others which rely on graduates too rather than picking MBAs/other post graduates. Some other examples are the Bharti Airtel's Young Leader's Program(YLP) which also recruits  chartered accountants with upto 2yrs work experience, Kraft India's program for finance leadership and so on. So why is this trend picking up, and what does it portray for the aspiring MBAs?
  1. CAT seen as a selection tool:-Companies like CRISIL mandate CAT for their selection process, and carry out a process simillar to that of top Bschools(GD, PI, CV scrutiny). So they get the benefit of CAT score(signalling academic ability) without paying for the candidate's 2yrs in Bschool. 
  2. Less competition:-Campus selections(as done in MBA recruitment) necessarily has the company compromising on its recruitment standards in terms of time per candidate, number of rounds, spot offer vs exploding offer rules etc to avoid losing out their desired candidate to other firms. But when companies carry their own process like how BCG, CRISIL etc do, they can take their own time deciding on the candidate and subject him/her to as many rounds as possible. So from the HR perspective, that is a good thing. 
  3. Possibly less attrition:-One reason people leave their jobs to pursue MBA is the feeling that they need a MBA to progress in their company. But if they have entered the same program that MBAs do, even if at a somewhat junior level like in consulting firms, that feeling is less likely and in fact they may surpass MBAs and leapfrog the ladder. That would lead to less attritition for the company. 
  4. Larger batch size and lowered teaching standards:-thanks to the faculty wars with ISB, foreign bschools and others, many bschools have seen lowered teaching standards after the retirement/exit of star faculty. And owing to the 49.5% reservation quota which led to expansion of bschool, many people are in bschools who would otherwise not be there(this holds in full measure even for the management quota admitees). Hence, filtering the wheat from the chaff is becoming tougher even in the case of campus placements. 
  5. High expectations from MBAs:-Owing to the high fees(in millions of rupees except maybe in FMS) and society expectations, a fast track career is now the expectation of every MBA(in Abhijit Bahaduri's words 'Mediocre but Arrogant'), and when companies in this economic condition cannot or do not wish to meet their expectations, those MBAs leave when things look up(as PSU banks realized at their expense after having hired MBAs in 2010 from IIMs). So companies prefer hiring graduates to hiring from lesser ranked bschools.
the above 5 reasons can explain why more companies are gravitating towards giving graduates(albeit the creme-de-la) an equal shot at the positions previously reserved for MBAs! That does not mean that they are right or wrong in doing this(that is the company's decision), but it does mean that the job pool for fresh MBAs on campus, will only shrink in the years to come. So pull up your sleeves and go to work, instead of whiling away those 2years on campus!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Role of alumni in making bschools succeed-thoughts from IIMA Golden Jubilee Conference Dec11

A meeting of IIMA alumni is like a board meeting of India Inc's top professionals-such is the power of the brand. So when many alums met in Dec11 at IIMA to discuss among other things, their own role in helping the institution, I attended with an anticipation of listening to interesting ideas. And I was not disappointed. Below are some ideas of alumni reproduced with my comments. I have not personally identified the author of the comments to preserve their privacy
  1. Reaching out to non traditional countries:-IIMA alumni and other professional executives have deep networks in South Korea, Latin America etc, which could be tapped for executive education, student exchange programs etc. Colleges should leverage their alumni networks in these areas
  2. Funding:-For infrastructure, faculty chairs, scholarships and what not!
  3. Projects:-Alumni are well placed to recommend their alma mater for research and other projects.
  4. Mentoring:-Alumni could mentor students(this is done in Wellingkar's, not sure how well it works there in practice). IIMA student body starting it this year
  5. Case Writing:-Alumni could get their organization approval for cases along with access to protagonists, and maybe co author cases
  6. Advisory Council-An IIMA professor presented his research where he found that the top ranked colleges had a high alumni involvement on their advisory councils(when measured as a % of alumni on the board/council). This result points towards the future of Indian schools as well, as it is the alumni who have the deepest interest in maintaining the brand.
  7. Faculty-Foreign Bschools have parallel tracks for academics and industry professionals to become professionals, and in colleges like Harvard, around 25% faculty are from non traditional industry track. This can be explored for Indian colleges too.
  8. Tough Love/Frank Feedback
    1. Industry perception:-Whether narrowing/expanding image, beyond rankings
    2. Diversity:-If diversity(not just gender) is reducing, that has implications on the future alumni base, and also on roles offered on campus
  9. You graduate as an amateur, you specialize in your job:-Instead of bschools trying to make candidates experts in marketing/sales/finance, it is better to admit that one can specialize only in the job, and to instead focus on honing core skills
  10. Research rigour, Scale and practical relevance:-Colleges like ISB manage to combine all three(with batch sizes of 570+! ensuring largely expanding alumni base). Industry(alumni) can help with funding, grants, projects etc to help colleges achieve all 3. Even ISB is largely industry funded. 
All the above comments gave food for though, when I was 3months away from graduation at that time!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Indian entrepreneurial ideal-more Ambani/Mittal/Adani than Steve Jobs

A classmate at IIM-A and a friend, Sandip Dev, wrote(http://itsallpartoftheplan.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/manufacturing-steve-jobs/) an inspired piece explaining why he did not expect an Indian Steve Jobs anytime soon- Certainly not before 2020. May  be 2030 or 2040. The article, written against TOI forum posters inspired by Rancho in 3idiots, tried to explain why USA produced Gates/Jobs but others did not. It  covered points like support ecosystem/climate in the region where Gates/Jobs lived(what if they had lived in Montana?), funding, culturally acceptance of failure, IPR laws etc. An interesting point he made was that despite UK/Germany's advanced education/research, they have not produced any major tech breakthroughs, thus highlighting the importance of having a full ecosystem.

I have a slightly different take on the subject. In my view, the 'old economy' industries needing execution skills, cost management, and eventual vertically integration focus, are where Indians can add the maximum value given their constraints. This is as opposed to 'tech' industries, where creativity and ideas can be then funded by VCs/angel investors.
  1. Less of resources makes Indians more resourceful-this is not true just of India but also of Taiwan Japan, and Singapore, which have scarce natural resources but which have leveraged their human capital and location to become trading hubs and commercial centres. And resourceful does not mean something new, it can mean adapting an existing model for example Snapdeal, Flipkart and Redbus are adaptations of Groupon/Amazon and other portals.
  2. Private sector has not done great R&D without Government funding-Be it USA or Japan, government funded R&D has been the secret for pharma and the internet itself. It is not as if companies there cracked the secret sauce of innovating well.
  3. Confusing education with entrepreneurship-Barring IITs/IIMs and some others(IIsc/IIIT/BITS/AIIMS etc), the higher education in India(and even primary education for that matter) needs improvement, and has led to brain drain. Since higher education is needed to be a tech entreprenuer, Indians have lagged in that, but when it comes to creativity and spotting gaps(these DO NOT need any specific education), India has produced many entrepreneurs 
  4. Operating on a shoe string budget/operating leverage:-A reason why Indian entrepreneurs have managed high ROEs is the cost efficiency(be it banks or trading companies like Olam or Reliance Industries itself) they bring to focus. Even before the ICWAI was existing, the famous partha system of accounting among the Marwadi community did ensure cost efficiency in groups like Birlas. That slowly percolated down to India Inc(except maybe Kingfisher), and helped the companies scale up without going broke. While some companies are losing that focus(like a certain industrial goods major which thought of buying a jet), others are thankfully returning to basics. Non Asian countries struggle to lower the 'standard' of working/living which is needed to control costs, and therefore Indian entrepreneurs/executives succeed in highly operating levered industries like auto, steel, generic pharma, retail banking,telecom but not in low leverage industries like fashion, education
  5. We are inherently savers and spend less:-That mentality helps in some industries but not necessarily in tech. 
 While the series of Indian tech startups like flipkart/snapdeal/infibeam/redbus/inkfruit may seem to prove me wrong, even they play the cost card i.e 'value retail' rather than any higher end service or so, thereby leveraging a core competence of the Indian psyche.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Support Function or Business Partner-your choice

I'd blogged earlier(http://iimaexperiences.blogspot.in/2012/02/hr-law-and-operations-next-hot-things.html)  about how HR/IT/Operations-of which HR/IT are 'support functions' in the sense that they do not directly contribute towards the top-line-are gaining importance. And a major reason for that is they are becoming more relevant to business. Gone are the days of technical geekiness failing to make that business case for the $MM spend. With the entry of MBAs into those roles, they can more easily relate to the other side(Sales & Marketing/Finance) and make a business case by quantifying intangibles.

As the Indian economy undergoes a structural shift, the new-age sectors like e-commerce, retail, education, healthcare, media are gaining importance, and they have many interesting 'support roles' in operations/supply chain, HR, technology(not IT!) and even Corporate Finance. But the difference between working in 'sunset industries' and traditional industries in my view, is that the deference to hierarchy/SOPs/tightly carved out niches are yet to come in. Hence, even those not directly revenue producers, can prove their value more easily by contributing to the bottom line, and working in cross functional teams to come with innovative workable solutions. For example,
  1. Making sure store shelf inventory levels are optimal with desired fill rate/carrying costs
  2. Designing systems for faster rollout of new products in banks/other service organizations
  3. Designing appropriate incentive systems for salesforce, top management and bankers, to minimize perverse incentives to game the numbers. 
  4. Reducing your function spend as a % of sales, yet improving the turnaround time/throughput.
But what would it take for this to happen? In my view, that would entail
  1. Understanding the business-either prior experience/rotations across units or just being alert
  2. Prepared to educate others in jargon free plain English about your techniques
  3. Preferably coming out with a solution rather than just highlighting a problem
  4. Comfortable with cross functional teams and adapting to different sub-unit cultures
  5. Having the organizational goals in mind(not just your narrow goals of say slashing costs)
  6. Talking the jargon-building the business case(not a glossy business plan!) in the way it gets thru
  7. Be prepared to make yourself redundant-to take on progressively responsible roles. For example, shared services seem the way of the future especially for conglomerates or multinationals. Hence instead of resisting the trend, go with it.
 In brief, while non MBAs also enter those functions and do exceedingly well, the success mantra in my view, is to act more like a business partner than just a functional specialist.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Look beyond BRICS to BASIC/CIVETS-know your geopolitics

Even the best bschools are sometimes behind the times. In 2years of solving cases based on BRIC countries, one may be forgiven for thinking that emerging markets stop and end with the heavily hyped BRIC countries. That flawed world view(once you read the resources below and think critically, you will understand why it is flawed) may read you to ignore countries like Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, Turkey, Canada, Australia where history is being shaped as we speak. Internships, job opportunities, student exchange programs could all be available in those countries for IIM alumni in the near future(if not already), so do not form decisions based on uninformed conjecture. In the finance world, BRICS is rapidly getting passe and changing to CIVETS/BASIC as people realize that countries like India belong more in the developing/emerging world than to be classed as powerful etc. Anyways, without much ado, some useful resources to be more geopolitically aware are below. So next time, before you laugh at the survey which shows X% of Americans are ignorant about world affairs, think hard about how much you yourself know. That random history/geography learnt in school is changing before our eyes, so that is not too reliable either. 
  1. Read the BeyondBrics blog on FT.com, that is free access to all, and you can use your student ID to read the associated articles for free also. 
  2. While Economist may sometimes have a too liberal/Western slant, reading other media like Project Syndicate can help to correct that bias
  3. The CIA Factbook(latest edition is 2011) is a good one stop solution for facts, while Google Public Data Explorer helps to easily collect and visualize other data sets as well.
  4. Lonely Planet also gives a good overview of the country from the travel/linguistic perspective, and would help the travel minded people make up their minds. 
  5. Of course, speaking to/connecting with real people really has no substitute and that is where networking(both real world and social) has its place, for uncovering the ground realities. While the sources I outlined have been largely accurate and objective, nothing beats understanding from someone who has been there/done that. 
 The above resources are not exhaustive and just meant as a starting point. Comments welcome.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

An open letter to Madras HC on why campus placements are fair

Disclaimer:- I could not locate the ruling on www.judis.nic.in, so this article is without reading the entire ruling. Still, I think the newspaper extract gives enough data to go along. Fair disclosure-my campus(IIM-A) also has campus placements that feature on TOI front page(!), so can't say I'm neutral but have tried to be objective 

Dear Madras HC, 
Three days ago, I read that you passed an conjunctive order(http://ibnlive.in.com/news/hc-restrains-psus-from-campus-hiring/232542-60-120.html), which barred the PSUs named in the order(like HPCL, BPCL) from recruiting from the campus till the final hearing. You were reported to have raised concerns about the fairness of the process, and about employment exchange members being considered. With due respect, I submit that barring campus placements by PSUs is misplaced, for reasons explained below
  1. Equal Opportunity for public service:- I'm sure you know the law better than me, but from my understanding, it would mean equal opportunity to be considered. The PSUs I know of do not have campus placements as their exclusive mode of recruitment for any post, but supplement their existing exams/applications with campus placements. So others do have a chance to anyways apply also. And even if the role is different, it is the business judgement of the PSU as to whether students of any particular campus are best fit for it.
  2. Reasonable cause for 'discrimination':- The constitutional prohibition on discrimination is circumscribed by the reasonableness test,  and the PSUs just need a show an intelligible link between their selection process and their desired outcome. During campus placements, the PSU knows that its student pool has been vetted, tested and nurtured during the 2year period(atleast for the reputed colleges which the PSUs visit). Also, the PSU can subject the students to tests w/o using its own infrastructure, can interview multiple students on the same day, and more importantly can steal a march over its private sector competitors. Hence, this process meets the tests of efficacy and efficiency. 
  3. No recruitment assured/equally competitive ratios:- Though the PSU may still give offers to ensure its place in the next year's lineup, the fact remains that giving 1-2 offers to a pool of say 400 students compares favourably with the conversion ratio of entrance exams, more so for 'serious' applicants who can even clear the entrance tests. 
  4. Public purpose of professional management:- Multiple committee reports on PSUs have stressed the need for PSUs to infuse young professional managers to compete with their private sector peers. And given that MBAs confident in their abilities are unlikely to have the time/inclination to undergo the prolonged selection process of the exams. So like other recruiters, PSUs do need to wow the students by actually coming down on campus
  5. But yes, the ruling can cover these points to ensure the fairness
    1. Management Quota students:-For Students who have not got admission via explicitly protected quotas(like affirmative action) or merit, the merit argument is much weakened. Hence, the question is should PSUs consider those students for campus interviews too?  This is the classical nature versus
    2. Centralized Assessment Centres:-To ensure that more students(campus or otherwise) get a chance to be considered post written tests, a chain of PSU assessment centres could be set up to evaluate interpersonal skills/group tasks ability etc. Outsourcing this may pose integrity issues, unless it be to reputed players like Teamlease subject to strict audits etc.
    3. Conduct non campus candidate's interviews first:-This will help PSUs gauge their talent pool much more accurately, so that they can make the spot offers which are the norm in the campus system.
    4. An objective definition of merit to prevent nepotism:-PSUs DO have clearly defined role and recruiting documents(which would help build case that they do not discriminate). They should not relax those standards for campus, and ensure that conflicts of interest(like relatives on campus..) do not enter the campus process. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

10 tips to decide a career during campus placements

Ordinarily, I hesitate to write articles on topics that a simple Google Search/ reading books will throw more light on. However, I've endured a week of advising people on their career choices, taking mock HR interviews, giving interview 'guidelines' etc-and thereby got an insight into what makes the best aspiring managers of future tick. And I strongly believe that campus dynamics may influence the process with false choices/'hype and herd mentality'/misinformation/speed dating etc. Hence, I decided to capture all those insights/suggestions below, based on that week, and also interactions with alumni/faculty/some recruiters etc.
  1. Job versus career:-Remember that although you are interviewing for a job, it is just the starting of a number of roles in your eventual career. So do take the long term view and try to think what next/how will your career grow from here. 
  2. Summers vs Finals:-The recruiting dynamics are quite different between summer internships and final internships. During the summers, recruiters have less to lose(since only 2 month commitment) and may not grill as much, and tend to look for general HR fit/skills reasoning that the candidates-especially those without prior experience-may not have much technical insight/company awareness. Hence, those with the swiftest tongue may win out here. However, the final placement dynamics ensure it is more grueling as fit+interest in company+technicals+assessed tendency to 'remain' is assessed, and there are more application forms/SOPs/assessment tests/GDs/presentations and what not, and fit is usually better. Of course, companies may fear the lemons problem while interviewing those without that coveted PPO(pre placement offer), so that is another factor. Some tips are
    1. Summer stipend not necessarily prorated for final salary:- During summer internships, investment banks/consulting firms tend to prorate the stipends resulting in lakhs/month, while many other roles which may pay equally well(say 18-25lakh) may give a nominal stipend which is not prorated, but on confirmation, the final pay is much better. Hence, before dismissing a firm outright, find out the final pay structure as well. 
    2. Be clear on company PPO policy:-Some companies(can't name them here) have a clear policy of not awarding PPOs(!), others award just PPIs and convert them to PPOs towards year end, while yet others boast of a 100% PPO policy. See the historical trends on campus and general company/sector health before assessing this, especially if you are the sort who wants a secured job rather than say a challenging internship w/o 'assured' PPO
  3. Compensation:- While this may seem the no brainer, one should remember that Gross does not matter, net saving does. High pay is accompanied by high variable component, high tax, more incidental expenses like rent/dining etc, so depending on one's lifestyle/location, the net savings  would vary drastically as per the role and location. For instance, a person with a residence in Mumbai would save around 20,000+pm(minimum) by working there as opposed to Gurgaon. 
  4. Quality of work/learning opportunities:- Some roles have a great pay but are kind of 'brain dead' i.e very little personal/professional growth. So if you are someone who values mental challenge, new kinds of work and intellectual stimulation, then some high paying roles are not apt for you as they may get monotonous.  So ceteris paribus, do what you like
  5. Location/Travel/Work life balance constraints:-Family responsibilities(NOT only women-even for men) may make some reluctant to go abroad/travel extensively. While some value worklife balance more than those extra zeros in the pay check. Find out the pros and cons of the role you are taking.
  6. Exit options/Career Growth:-Anecdotal evidence holds that 60% of all IIM graduates quit their first job within the first 2 years. But exit options goes far beyond that. It depends on the quality of work you have done, the employer brand, skills learnt on the job etc. And some careers like consulting have great exit options, while some companies like HUL, ICICI, GE, TAS have typically spawned great managers for India Inc. So people who value an enhanced choice of exits may go for those roles which enhance their employability(as opposed to just more pay) 
  7. Do you have what it takes to reach the top? Most people do aspire to reach the top of their chosen profession. Though the skills vary, generally lower level roles need more technical skills while higher level roles need more selling(internal and external), people and organization building skills. Hence, even if one would make a great analyst(for example), it is better to introspect whether they have the required zeal/qualities to make it to the top(these are necessary not sufficient!). Of course, not all wish to make it to the top, in which case this point is not for them.  This is where speaking to alumni and networking helps to get data points for making that call.
  8. Sync with eventual goals:-Some people nurture the dream of being entrepreneurs some day, in which case general management roles/rotations during career etc would be appropriate, as opposed to a desk based role/advisory role-or even better taking that career plunge directly. While others may plan on becoming global thought leaders/academics some day, in which case research/consulting roles may be good. Yet others may want to settle abroad, in which case working in roles offering that mobility is better. While one can never plan even 5yrs ahead(let alone 10-30yrs), the core goals/objectives/motivators(be it fame/money/responsibility/giving back to society/family size) tend to stay unchanged, and can be that navigating compass to decide between choices. 
  9. Your competitive advantage/Blue Ocean Strategy:-It is not for nothing that people advice 'do what you love and the money will follow'. If someone is really good in something, the market does notice it eventually-be it the same industry/foreign roles/cross functional stints etc. And working in nascent industries has its merits of ESOPs/first mover advantage/not competing with other IIM graduates etc. Some examples of this are film industry, commodities trading, SME banking etc. The highest networth individuals among alumni are typically entrepreneurs..
  10. Don't fall prey to 'false choices' during campus placements:-Sometimes under the Cluster system with companies confirming their participation late, it may so happen that a company coming under a later cluster may be much better fit for you than a 'Cluster 1/Day0' company in terms of pay etc. So especially if there is a chance of your dream employer coming to company(like Zynga/Groupon/Facebook/Linkedlin etc), don't compromise on your choices. And off campus, there is a whole new world out there. So don't adopt the frog in the well approach that the universe of choices is only the campus jobs, and nothing beyond that. Also, following the herd is not a good idea, even if you are a topper etc throughout.
This is all for now, hope it helps those who are sitting for any campus placements-even though largely written from the IIM-A vantage standpoint.

IIM final campus placements 2012-great but lottery?

When the going gets tough, the tough get going
The above is NOT just a hackneyed cliche but is really true. It is when things get worse that true quality shows up and is differentiated. So when the finance job market kind of collapsed, the well oiled placement system stepped up to the challenge and filled the gap with consulting/general management /sunrise industries. Some management colleges with pretensions of challenging the best, realized their status and all. And students who attended the Wharton India conference held in Mumbai recently, found out from the Wharton students of Indian origin that the job situation was worse than in India, because those students had to network like hell, attend interviews off campus etc and in comparison, those fortunate enough to get campus placements had easier offers.

Despite those who call the placements as 'cattle farms'. they are quite efficient systems of matching employers and students. While people can crib about the scheduling exploding offers, being spoilt for choice etc, that does result in an overall efficient outcome for all concerned. Otherwise, imagine a senior manager having to interview 20 people on different days etc, the coordination problem would be quite difficult.

The reason this efficient system may seem a lottery at many colleges(but mainly IIMs) are
  1. With multiple students and companies on a given day, there is usually an algorithm needed to match students with companies as per revealed preferences, availability of students etc.  This algorithm is kept a blackbox from all but a trusted handful, to avoid chances of gaming the system. Hence, certain scheduling decisions may seem random, especially for those not slotted for interviews.
  2. In a spot offer system where companies must make spot offers or risk losing the candidate to other firms(or students must make spot acceptance decisions or risk losing that hand in the bush), the final job matching may correlate more with scheduling luck than the actual 'optimal' preferences. Of course, this brings us to scheduling of interviews again
  3. Equity and efficiency needs to be balanced in this system as in any other system. Equity would entail that all students get atleast one interview, that people are not allowed to reject offers once accepted etc, but efficiency would entail that people on the 'hotlist' of many companies are scheduled first and often to clear the company wishlist, they are scheduled repeatedly
The only way a more prolonged fit could be ensued is via the summer internship PPO route, or otherwise through multiple interview rounds/assessment centres. However, the later approach needs break from academics, and colleges like IIMs do not see themselves as placement centres. Hence, companies/industries with long interview processes often must modify their techniques else avoid coming via the campus route. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

The paradox of choice-how more choices make it difficult to choose careers on campus

Be it summer internships or final placements, students at India's #1 Bschool have a large number of realistic options(ok most of them do).  Indeed, in bschools where students have an upper hand, stuff like allowing to hold offers/reject PPOs/'dream on companies' etc all exists, and for the express purpose of maximizing choices on campus. But research shows that the more choices there are, the greater is the chance of sub optimal decision making. For instance in his TED talk on the Paradox of Choice(http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html) , Barry Schwartz makes the point of analysis-paralysis and bounded rationality in the context of investments, retal, healthcare etc. Some interesting quotes from that transcript are
  1. The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.
  2. When there are lots of alternatives to consider, it is easy to imagine the attractive features of alternatives that you reject, that make you less satisfied with the alternative that you've chosen.
  3. Opportunity costs subtract from the satisfaction we get out of what we choose, even when what we choose is terrific.
All these 3 points are quite valid in the context of campus placements, because while applying off campus, the offer universe might be much more, but the job seeker courts the companies instead of vice versa(atleast at entry level). Hence, the heady feeling of being wanted would boost the self image of the candidate. Anecdotal evidence is that upto 60% of top tier MBAs switch their jobs within 2 years of graduating from campus. Expectations mismatch may have a lot to do with this, which is turn fuelled by the opportunity costs of the options given up.

But should this be an issue at all? If recruiters want to give special treatment to some campuses by sending their A team to interview/courting students with food/freebies/calls-and therefore giving them more choice-so what is the issue? From the student perspective and campus perspective, more choice is better since it would give more confidence to students and avoid them rushing into a career. But sometimes, specific placement rules like company preferences/spot offer or offer window system etc nullify that advantage, making the whole process akin to speed dating.
My $0.02:- Sometimes, placement systems may seem like democracy(all other options are worse!) but they do work. However, they can do with more thought and improvement on both sides

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Recruitment styles at IIMs- Final Placements 2012

At the outset, let me clarify that media restrictions and desire to protect proprietary trade secrets of IIM-A/companies concerned curtail this post from being more informative. But the following are interesting trends which I think will continue.
  1. More application forms:-Usually(atleast at IIMs), a simple 1 page CV is related to firms which then analyze it on their end. But this year, more firms have begun mandating filling in applications in their own format either online or offline(paper forms). 
  2. More 'fit' questions:- Companies are aware that the tight job market may make candidates apply to roles that do not dovetail with their own preferences. Therefore, many companies are making their HR questions more intensive, be it via application forms or in the interviews
  3. Excel based forms which are then printed to PDF:-This is a very interesting innovation, which leverages the best of Excel and the PDF add-in. Instead of spending on paper forms/curtailing space, the companies now(atleast some of them) send an Excel based form which the candidate can fill, and then export to PDF and attach as application. Even the photo can be pasted(.jpeg file) in the form! It saves paper and ensures company can store those forms as PDF easily.
  4. More senior people coming down:-As Economic Times mentioned in a recent article, IT firms are sending senior people and alumni in droves(even at CXO level) to campus, perhaps to raise the firm profile and send a signal about the firm's interest. Very few companies now send merely junior people or HR to campus. 
  5. More tests/group activities:-Psychometric tests(elimination and otherwise) are making a come back, as are some non GD group tasks. Ironically, that is when IIMs have abolished GDs(atleast A&B have), so some candidates may be on the weaker foot there.
  6. Fewer spot offers:- Since companies are wary about candidates leaving them soon after joining, they prefer to take the best fit they can, which would entail looking at the maximum candidates they can. Of course, placement committee rules do matter but this seems a trend. 
  7. Selling the growth story:-Be it mature or old companies, many of them are claiming that they are still expansion mode despite the global turmil and all. If you are global, claim that you are expanding in Asia/the role you are coming for! If you are Indian, claim you have game changing international aspirations etc. 
Would update this post if required but this is what  I see at present. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

HR, Law and Operations-the next hot things in MBA?

Even thought MBA was originally conceived as a general management diploma, there is no denying that at any given time, some disciplines have always had better prominence/pay/recognition than others. As I see it globally, the way various function disciplines evolved can be understood by the industrial mode/consulting focus etc. What is interesting is also that functions earlier perceived as core became support/being outsourced(like manufacturing) and vice versa(like HR now seen as a strategic advantage).
  1. Operations Till 1930:-Taylor was among the earliest management consultants, and focused on operational improvements. That spread to help companies refine their mass production.
  2. Marketing and Strategy 1930s till 1960:-Undoubtedly the age of marketing and strategy. As industries become deregulated, mass media exploded thus allowing marketers to reach wide audiences, as the Henry Ford model of mass production become popular
  3. Operations and Strategy 1960s till 1980s:-Prodded by the competition from Japan, companies again went on a operational improvement spree, prompting some strategy consultants to diversify into the field rather than pontificate from ivory towers. 
  4. Finance and Strategy from 1980s till 2010:-The golden age of junk bonds, LBOs, hostile acquisitions, demergers, mergers and what not. Corporates went on a finance binge, supported by diligently prepared strategic plans. MBAs began to enter those two fields with a vengence! 
  5. HR and Operations from 2010 till date(atleast in India):-In India, management consulting is still a nascent discipline,and so the consulting firms are still hiring en-mass. But Indian entrepreneurs are quite savvy with little patience for only ideas-they also wish a fair dose of implementation also.Hence, the Indian arms of even the global strategy consulting firms are laying a strong implementation focus as well. Also, there is a shortage of good HR professionals, and the pay is slowly but steadily reflecting that.Even in the top echelons of finance where rationality prevailed, the fields of psychology and behavioral finance are taking root, be it via designing better products/trading strategies/controls/remuneration structures. And these fields directly impact HR.
  6. Law too important to be left to lawyers last decade:-Winning legal wars in this age of trial by media, often entails taking the high moral ground and careful planning. Microsoft in its infancy was rescued in an arbitration case early in its career. With intellectual property enforcement increasing even in India, and the case of Indian business houses facing significant legal wars/lobbying concerns etc, law has become too important to be left to experts, and aspiring managers would need to improve their legal acumen. 
The reason I'm focussing on these 3 areas is that I feel outsiders can add substantial value in other areas, be it marketing, finance or IT. But in these 3 areas-HR, Legal and Operations, the top consultants are often niche and not too well known. Also, in my view, those areas represent the last bastion of value creation, as even private equity firms have realized when they need to turnaround firms in 5-7 years instead of flipping them(that is why they appoint operational consultants). I do not say that finance and strategy have lost their mojo, just that the large growth areas and value creation seems in the other 3 areas. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

The importance of networking before and after MBA

When I was preparing for that IIM interview call, I spoke to alumni from several business schools including IIM-A itself, ISB, JBIMS, XLRI etc. Each of them gave a unique perspective and helped me refine my expectations of how to best present my case. Despite my rather unique background in the applicant pool(non engineer), I did get several useful insights from the selfless way many devoted time and patience to help out. Even during the MBA here(2010-12), I needed to seek inputs from alumni related to career choices, research projects, speaker series, articles for magazine etc. And inevitably, they were happy to help-even to the extent of calling me from abroad/oustation at their own expense! Telecom is cheap but that is not the point.

This year, I returned the favour somewhat by advising an IIM-A call getter(fellow CA) right from CAT preparation stage till the interview. I guess I would have spent 3-5hrs in total, and that while his own efforts obviously made much more of a difference, I like to think that I played a small role in that success. But all that(my speaking to alumni and even the call getter seeking my advice) would not have been possible without proactively reaching out. One may cynically feel that why should others help when they have nothing to gain? But then, they are not exactly inundated with such requests and often feel flattered to help, also people are inherently altruistic despite what economic theory may hold.

Contrary to general perception, MBAs from top bschools are not arrogant(on the contrary, they usually feel less competitive pressure than those from other colleges), and are quite willing to help out within the limitations of their busy schedules. As a 2005 alumnus pointed out to me, the more senior people are, the less competitive pressure they feel from you and thus are more willing to help. After leaving campus, the main asset one has is the alumni network, and using that means networking. Now, by networking I do not mean spamming with visiting cards/friend requests/insincere sales type requests etc. Rather, it would mean meeting people in real life first(as far as possible) and then using cyberspace to maintain that connection.

How does one get in touch? Some basic tips are
  1. Linkedlin makes the outreach portion of networking much more easier, but just having a huge Linkedlin network does not help. One needs to nurture the network and keep in touch with constituents. Else, it will become like another huge social network such as Orkut, without much value add, just leading to information overload and link squatting.
  2. Send a thank you email/note/call after your purpose is achieved, updating about the result either positive or negative. That maintains the connection. 
  3. Be considerate of their time, and ask questions after doing your own research.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Personal leverage-the reason for high finance salaries

The mass media loves to question whether MBAs deserve the high pay that they command. While I did partly state my views on banking compensation in an earlier blog post on clawbacks/deferrals (http://apoliticallyincorrect.blogspot.in/2011/04/no-payment-for-failure-absurd.html), its time to explain another reason why this pay is justified.

With the advent of mass media, sports events could be broadcast live to millions/billions, thereby increasing the addressable market, advertising revenues and consequentially athlete earnings. Similarly, the advent of global telecommunications(ICT boom) has allowed organizations to act global yet think local. In the finance world, the whole network can be leveraged behind a single trade to ensure that the bank acts as one to close business. With the world as an oyster, is it any wonder that trading desks with a handful of people routinely generate billions for dollars? After all, they can peggyback on old client relationships, global teams, structuring solutions, transnational risk appetite/funding etc. While some may argue that the platform determines the profits more than any individual, few banks would agree with you, and therefore fix a target compensation/profit ratio upwards of 40% even in these tough times(earlier it used to routinely cross 60%). The rationale is that if the person can impact the global network in such a significant way, recognize rewards accordingly. Similar arguments hold for the finance personnel in global shared service centres, who number few but who are exceedingly well paid.

This blog post does not defend any purported compensation excesses, but just makes the case for why MNCs can afford to pay their staff better than local peers, and why finance roles usually pay higher than in other industries. The above is just one reasoning, there are other reasons as well.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The 5 student associations that left IIM-A better in FY12 than in FY11

Earlier, I'd blogged about the cold rational logic about why student associations on campus conduct events and competitions for various motives.(http://iimaexperiences.blogspot.com/2012/01/college-festivalscompetitions-winwin.html). With the imminent handover of these clubs to the junior batch, I thought I would give my 2paise on the student bodies that made a lasting impact on campus OR showed a dramatic improvement over the achievements of last year. I must confess firstly that I did not have personal knowledge of all events/activities on campus(for instance I was not much involved in Chaos events/cultural activities) so excuse me for missing out certain people/clubs. And also, due to conflict of interest, I do not list BETA(The finance and investments club of IIMA) of which I'm a member!  And while other student bodies do organize rems etc, I included the top 5 which I think made the best impact.
  1. Messcom:-The mess quality/variety improves at lower prices compared to last year, with a record number of 'special dinners'-open free of charge to the entire student community. While Joos was shutdown without a wholly satisfactory arrangement, the committee did do its task well, and ensured new food outlets/better menus etc. Kudos to Mohit Garg and his team
  2. Entre:-The entrepreneurship cell was quite active in its core work(Entre shop), conducting competitions and co-organizing speakers sessions etc. And of course, the pricing of the merchandise was quite reasonable. Kudos to Selvamuthukumaran('Selva') and his team.
  3. Public Policy SIG:-Set up this year by my floor mate Akash Bansal, this SIG was quite active with speaker sessions, monthly magazine and co-organizing Ideafest with Entre. It did improve the politics/current affairs awareness on campus to a good extent.
  4. Alumni Cell:-Their series of guest lectures, alumni outreach efforts etc culminated in a great Golden Jubilee concluding session in Dec11. While student participation somewhat reduced towards the end, they did great work. Good work by Tejesh Kinariwala.
  5. CultComm:-While only time will tell the entire effect, they did do a good work of organizing a New year party(a first ever for IIM Ahmedabad) which saw great attendance from outside campus as well. Other events like Janmashtami celebrations etc were also good. Great work by Nizar and team.
Lets hope the student bodies for FY12-13 do an equally good job and carry forth the traditions

BCG & Opera Case Study competitions-alternate shortlisting procedure!

Earlier, I'd blogged about how companies are increasingly using competitions/games/contests as a way to gauge the interest levels and quality of students on campus, while spending relatively little(for the amount of information they gather) money/resources. Read this earlier post for some background(http://iimaexperiences.blogspot.com/2011/02/how-corporates-are-using-contestsgames.html). Recently, I'd the privilege of participating in the BCG case study competition on campus, where one works on a past BCG client problem (suitably annoynmized) and proposes solutions to the same. Among the initial entries, some teams(10 in this year) were shortlisted for presenting their case to a Partner and a Project Leader of BCG, who travel to campus for that purpose.While my team did not win that competition, there were many interesting lessons from that competition.

While working on the problem, I learnt a lot about my interest and tolerance level for typical issues faced during consulting such as contradictory data, data mining, ambiguity, multiple facets of a problem etc. While the avowed aim of having fun was not truly achieved, I did learn a lot about the sector by arranging expert interviews, conducting secondary research etc. While BCG thankfully mandated keeping the use of outside data to the minimum(thus giving premium to analytics), the same was still needed to form a perspective on the industry, and help those new to the industry.

The final interview shortlists did reflect a slight bias towards those participating and getting shortlisted for the finals of those competitions. The conventional CV based shortlisting model(using academics/extra currics etc) was supplemented by using that competition as a tool. Even Opera Consulting had conducted a competition based on their work profile of 'Big Data', and gave a shortlist to some participants who would otherwise have not received a shortlist based on their CVs alone.

If we define the Moneyball approach as creatively using alternate metrics to analyze, then these firms deserve an A+. Participation(and doing well) in these competitions ensures students self select themselves for the roles, and give the firm a small work sample of how they would perform on the job. Hence, one must admire that. Other companies are also doing the same as evident in the large number of competitions by Pepsi/LearnwithFlip/Tata Business Leadership Competitions etc which offer preplacement interviews/interview shortlists to those performing well in those competitions. While campuses like IIM Ahmedabad do not permit contest based PPIs/PPOs to the winners, nothing stops those companies from coming down to campus and anyway doing the same.

Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable

Be it business plan competitions, consulting case competitions, interviews, exam preparation or otherwise, I've seen the best laid plans fail. For instance, during the interviews for 2011 summer internships, the batch of 2010-12 largely saw HR based questions, stumping a few who had overly focused on technical questions. During business plan competitions, juries routinely focus on just those parts of the plan(such as organizational structure, hiring) which teams have missed out. Interviews for Bschool may go on a tangent discussing hobbies/current affairs etc instead of the candidate's stellar work experience/academic grades. And of course, entrepreneurs would know that even the best laid plans have to be frequently revised. So what is the value of planning if anyway it will fail? During the Ideafest(conducted at IIM-A by the student bodies Entrepreneurship Club and Public Policy SIG), one of the venture capitalists said that 'Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable', in the context that while he did not give undue importance to the business plans which tend to be positively biased anyways, that is evidence that the entrepreneurs have given some thought to their plan and addressed the obvious issues atleast.

In my view, the advantage of background work and planning is that it
  1. Gives the person confidence to face any level of grilling, and that confidence comes across while evaluation on the 'softer aspects'
  2. Makes the person learn a lot about the idea/subject, and may even make him drop the plan/modify it
  3. Separates those who can execute from those who merely dream. 
I do not say that planning is just about making nice excel models and verbose business plans. It is not. Doing your own market research/ground work/talking to people/field testing prototype-all these 'real world' activities constitute planning and are viewed much more favorably than planning totally based on secondary research. The above was what I saw in IIM-A as well, where professors from industry gave top grades to projects demonstrating real industry insights, while most academics could not care less.

The power of simplicity-oft ignored during MBA

Jack Trout wrote a book 'The Power of Simplicity'(http://www.amazon.com/Power-Simplicity-Jack-Trout/dp/0070653623) in which he implored managers to keep things as simple as possible. The message is not new-we must have heard about KISS(Keep it short/simple), Occman's razor(look for the simplest explanation possible) and the dictum of simplifying to the extent possible but not further. Yet, MBA with its stress on analytics and presentation skills lays an apparent premium on making things complicated. Those with the most animated slides, longest frameworks and the gift of the gab win in terms of class participation, grades in Organizational Behaviour/Marketing courses and (sometimes) peer admiration. And this carries in the second year.

There are many competitions which ultimately boil down to the contestants having to make presentations to a jury. Judges of the numerous bschool competitions around are often so underprepared that they rarely take time to understand the case/topic statement and instead go by their assessment of the efforts/understanding of the candidate. Few try to reward output instead of inputs. While those working in industry often demand short slides/sticking to the point, academics just love tonnes of references/exotic frameworks and making things as complicated as possible.

I'm sure that I lost atleast 2 competitions this year only because there was little work done on decorating the slides. While I do not deny the importance of that(indeed thats an important takeaway), it sometimes make me wonder whether form trumps substance. When judges must make decisions based on short periods of 15-20min presentations, their gut feeling may often be suppressed by their urge to seem fair and reward those teams who put the most visible efforts(as evident from the slide artwork/complexity), even if the final output in terms of analytic rigour/novelty was not as good. But lest anyone misunderstand, I refer to simplicity in presentation, not in background work/analytical rigour.

Ironically, the real world rewards simplicity. For example
  1. VCs/PEs follow the approach of backing the team behind the idea rather than spreadsheet based investing approach
  2. Charlie Munger is famous for using a few time tested heuristics to invest, rather than use complicated DCF models
  3. Even for apparently complex investment banking models,there are a host of simplifying assumptions listed on a spreadsheet, which flow through the model and permit easy modification.
  4. Corporate Finance trends are that dashboards(with those vital few stats) are being generated, and the number of MIS reports sent are being slashed, with expert DSS allowing on-demand analysis.
  5. Unilever recently moved to the '3+1' performance system model with everyone from the CEO downwards having just 3 business goals and 1 development goal. This allows for better focus.

Friday, February 3, 2012

IIM Placements 2012-the summer of discontent and trickledown

Disclaimer:-Adjectives like top etc are for ease of convenience and express MY feeling about how recruiters perceive the colleges. They do NOT imply that student quality is necessarily better/worse, so please do not feel insulted by the same. Also, my views only and not meant to convey official views at all

  Earlier in Apr11, I'd blogged my concern about whether the top tier colleges(IIM ABC) were losing their connection to Indian firms thanks to the Day0 obsession with multinational finance/consulting firms. Read the entire post here(http://iimaexperiences.blogspot.in/2011/05/will-top-indian-firms-begin-to-think.html). Ever since then, global financial markets have turned topsy turvy, with India specific factors like inflation/corruption/energy issues etc exacerbating the issue, and causing companies to grow/hire with caution, despite the still healthy domestic demand.  This has shown its effects on placements, as the audited reports in Sep'12 would doubtless show, and invited comments in the popular press.
  1. During IIM Ahmedabad's business festival Confluence 2011, Tata Sons chief (Group HR) Satish Pradhan compared IIM placements to cattle fairs, stating that people competed hard to get into IIMs, and then harder to get better packages, neglecting other options like becoming entrepreneurs, business leaders and agents of change. In my view, he was perhaps distressed at the campus perception of TAS/other Tata group companies(Indian firms you see) at premier campuses. 
  2. Older IIMs are reaching out to more sectors and areas as reported here, most of which doubtless would be domestic firms  (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/IIMs-innovate-to-fight-placement-blues/articleshow/11722119.cms).
  3. IIM Indore reportedly sought help from external placement agencies. 
As  I see it, some top paying roles from other campuses are now being offered at IIMs as well, which will have its repercussions on the other campuses as well. For instance, FMCG/consulting firms which may have hired say x people from top IIMs, may now proceed to hire 2x, including those people who may have entered banking but for the global financial crisis. Of course, the PPO holders from other campuses would retain their offers, hence the maximum impact would be on the final placements.  

While the pay is mostly sufficient to service that looming education loan, it may not provide that margin for spending binges on clubs/foreign holidays etc. While that may disappoint some people, they should be pleased of working during a downturn, where they learn rapidly/get more responsibility and are baptized under fire. For the Batch of 2010-12, summer placements were generally reported in the press as having seen bumper 'business as usual'. But because that is not always reflected in the Fin placements, some people could be forgiven for feeling cheated during that last mile lap(since markets situated worsened only towards the end of the 2yr course).  Personally, I feel that this baptism by fire will only help in the long run despite the visible short term effects. So there is still room for optimism.