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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.