A One Year MBA Doesn’t Make Any Sense

Around this time last year, when the wife was applying for B-school, I was clear in my advice to her on one thing – that a one year MBA just doesn’t make sense. From what I recall I wasn’t really clear back then regarding that piece of advice – it was rather intuitive, and based on a few “data points” I know, but as I see her go through her (two year) MBA, I realise why my advice makes sense.

There are two important functions that a business school performs. The first – which is debatable since a lot of people I’ve spoken to, including my classmates from IIMB – is that it changes the fundamental way you think. Exposure to different paradigms of management and case studies and frameworks completely changes the way, in my opinion based on my tenure at IIMB, you think about a lot of things in the world. If I were to summarise my MBA in one sentence, I will say that it taught me, and reinforced in me, the issue of tradeoffs.

In corporate strategy we learnt that any strategy you adopt will have its pros and cons, and if a strategy helps you “cover one flank”, it will expose you to the other. In HR, we learnt that life, and all our decisions, are all about making tradeoffs. In finance, we learnt that the very concept of the interest rate reflects the tradeoff between consumption today and consumption tomorrow. And so forth.

This, and a few other concepts that I learnt in my two years at B-school, completely changed the way i look at a lot of things in the world, and that helped broaden my perspective and that alone makes me believe that the time I spent at B-school was time well spent (I managed to get a scholarship so I didn’t spend much money for my education there).

Coming back, the second function that a business school performs is that of an employment exchange. By having a highly selective admission process it signals its students’ quality to prospective employers, and helps people move ahead in their careers by getting jobs they would have otherwise not got, without the MBA. For a lot of people, this is the primary reason to go to B-school (let me confess that this was the case for me, too, 10 years back), and the learning or changing the way they think is a bonus. But having had ones way of thinking changed, one will realise that this change is the more sustainable impact that the B-school has on you.

So what does this have to do with one year MBAs? Ever since my wife started her classes two months ago, she has had to start preparing for summer internships. She worked on her CV, wrote cover letters, attended tonnes of PPTs and networking sessions, even did a short trip to network with some companies and so forth (it was a similar case for me 10 years back). In sum, she has spent a disproportionate amount of her time and energy in dealing with the placements, leaving little time and energy and mind space for her academics.

Now, the point is that this is only for a summer internship, which allows you to make a mistake since you are not permanently committing to a company. If you don’t like your internship, or if the company where you intern doesn’t like you, you always have a second chance during the so-called (in IIMB) “final placements” to make a better choice. Yet, despite knowing that the summer internship is not “final” and gives you a second chance, first year students of two-year MBAs everywhere end up getting quite stressed over it, with the stress not lifting until they know where they are going (which, for some curious reason both in India and abroad happens rather early – in the second “trimester”).

It is only when the summer placements are done are you actually able to concentrate and do justice to your academics, and do some learning, to try and imbibe the first function that a B-school offers. Then you can relax and concentrate on your studies till late in the second year when (if you haven’t “converted” your internship) you will need to find a full-time job. In IIMs, thankfully, this happens towards the very end of the course which gives you sufficient time to actually learn, change the way you think, or do whatever the hell you want.

Now think of what happens in a one-year MBA. Firstly, typically there is no internship, meaning you have only one chance to get your post-MBA “remodelled” career right. Secondly, since “final placements” are less than a year away, you will have to spend a considerable amount of your time and energy and mindspace in Business School to that end – worrying about it, wearing suits, attending PPTs, attending career fairs, networking and all such.

There is very little time that you spend in a one year MBA when you are actually relaxed and know where you are going next, which is a necessary condition for you to learn, and for the business school to “affect” you. And to change the way you think, which is the only lasting impression (apart from the brand) that the business school can have on you!

So unless you want an MBA just for the brand, and just for the change in career, a one year MBA makes absolutely no sense. It is cheaper, for sure (both in terms of time and money), but so much inferior in value, since the main function of a B-school has very little time to actually function!

Arranged Scissors 5 – Finding the Right Exchange

If you look at my IIMB grade card, one subject stands out. It is one of the two Cs that I have on the card, and the other was in a “dead rubber” (5th/6th term where grades didn’t matter for placements). This C was in introductory marketing management. Where the major compoenent was a group project called the application exercise (ap-ex). I frequently crib that I did badly in that project because four out of six people in my group did no work, or even negative work (and this is true). Digging deeper, however, I think the more fundamental issue was that the two of us who worked didn’t really know what we were doing. We failed to understand the concept of STP till a few years after the project was over.

STP is one of the most fundamental concepts in marketing. It stands for Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning. I quickly appreciated Positioning, but took a long time in trying to figure out the difference between segmentation and targeting. In my defence, they are highly inter-related concepts, and unless you look at it from the point of view of social sciences (where each unique point fetches you one mark in the board exam) it is not intuitive that they are separate concepts.

So you segment the “population” based on various axes. Taking these axes in conjunction, you end up “segmenting” the population into a large number of hypercubes. Then you do the “targeting”. Find the set of hypercubes that you want to sell your product to (in the context this post is about, sell yourself to). And so once you have found your “target segment” or set of “target segments” you “position yourself” and go out to sell. And then you need to figure out the “4 Ps” of marketing. Product (fixed here – it’s you). Price (irrelevant if you don’t plan to take dowry). Forgot one P. The other is Place (where you will sell).

The arranged marriage market can be broadly be divided into two – OTC and exchanges. OTC (over the counter) is the case where you have a mutual acquaintance setting you up with a counterparty. The only difference here between arranged and normal scissors is that in the arranged case, it is your parents who are set up with the counterparty’s parents rather you getting set up directly. Since it is a mutual acquaintance doing the setting up, the counterparty is at max two degrees away, and this makes the due diligence process a lot easier. Also, you have one interested third party who will keep nudging you and pushing hte process back and forth and generally catalyzing it. So people in general prefer it. Historically, there were no formal exchanges (apart from say a few “well known village elders”). Most transactions were OTC.

One problem in financial OTC markets is counterparty risk (which is what has prompted the US government to prop up AIG) but this is not a unique problem with OTC arranged marriage market – counterparty risk will always be there irrespective of the method in which the relationship was formed. Apart from providing counterparty protection, one important role that financial exchanges play is to improve liquidity in the market. The number of transactions that happen in the exchange ensure that the market is efficient and prices are fair. Liquidity is an important asset in the arranged marriage exchanges also.

The problem that I’m trying to describe in this post is about segmenting the exchanges based on their most popular commodity types. I don’t have reall live examples of this, but then for each product you will want to go to a different exchange. For example (this example may not be factually correct) both the Chicago Board of Trade (CBoT) and Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) trade in both corn futures and cattle futures. However, the volume of corn futures that are traded on CBoT is significantly larger than the volume of corn futures traded on the CME. And the volume of cattle futures traded on the CME might be siginicantly larger than the corresponding volume in CBoT.

So if you want to buy cattle futures, you are better off going to the CME rather than the CBoT since the former has significantly greater liquidity in this product, and thus you are assured of getting a “fairer” price. Similarly, to buy corn you should rather go to CBoT than CME. I suppose you get the drift. Now, the same is true with the arranged marriage market also. If you want to get listed on an exchange, you will need to make sure that you get listed on the right exchange – the exchange where you are most likely to find people belonging to your target segment.

To take an example, if you think you want a Tamil-speaking spouse, you are significantly better off listing on tamilmatrimony.com rather than listing on telugumatrimony.com, right? Of course this is just a simplistic example which I have presented because the segmentation and difference in markets is clear. Things in the real world are not so easy.

There are various kinds of marriage exchanges around. In fact, this has been a flourishing profession for a large number of years, and even the recent boom in louvvu marriages has done nothing to stem the flow of this market. You will have every swamiji in every mutt who will want to perform social service by opening a marriage exchange. Then, you have a few offline for-profit exchanges. Some of them work on a per-deal basis. Others charge you for listing, since it is tough for them to track the relationships that they’ve managed to create. Then, this is one business which has clearly survived the dotcom bust of 2001-02. The fact that this business is flourishing can be seen on the left sidebar of this page where I suppose a large number of them will be advertising. In fact, I encourage you to click through them since that will result in precious adsense revenue for me.

There is nothing wrong in carpet bombing, but that comes at a price. Notwithstanding the listing fees (which are usually nominal), you will have to deal with a significantly large number of “obviously misfit” CVs and bump them off. Especially if you live far away from the exchanges and have someone else broking for you, you don’t want to burden them too much, right? So the problem is in doing your segmentation and targeting. And then researching the exchanges to find which exchange has most liquidity for products belonging to both your segment as well as your target segment. And get listed on them ratehr than wasting precious time, energy and money listing on exchanges that are unlikely to be useful.

Since I began this (extremely long) post with marketing fundaes, I should complete it with some more (which is irrelevant to the rest of this post). A standard process for advertising is AIDA (Awareness-Interest-Desire-Action). Typically for a relationship to “happen”, you need a minimum of D from at least one of the parties, and a minimum of I from the other party. The normal arranged marriage process, however, assumes that an I-I is a sufficient condition for a sufficient lifelong relationship, and don’t give enough time and space for people to check if D is there. Hence the disasters. Hence the tilt towards the CMPs.

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 2

Arranged Scissors 3 – Due Diligence

Arranged Scissors 4 – Dear Cesare

Location matters

The other day in my office we were discussing recruitment. I pointed out that placements this year in the IITs have been particularly screwed. We haven’t decided if we can wait till July for the new recruits to join, but if we agree that it’s ok, we might recruit from IIT. Given our size and meagre requirements, if we do recruit, it’s likely to be from IIT Delhi. The CEO happens to be from there, but that won’t be the reason we might be  going there. It is simply to do with cost.

A number of people think that good colleges can lead development. I’m not sure if that is the case. Unless there is a massive cluster of colleges that comes up in some place which makes it attractive for people to set up industries, which can then recruit from the colleges. Until that happens, and you never know how long it will take for that to happen, the students in these colleges are effectively screwed. At least much more screwed than those in colleges in better locations.

For big companies it doesn’t matter. Their recruitments are such that they can’t possibly make do with taking people from the closest IIT (since we’ve started talking about IITs, let’s keep that as the standard). They will need to go to every IIT. And recruit from all  the places, irrespective of how much it costs them to recruit from there. So you will have people talking about big names that go to different IITs. Big companies with big names. I don’t think there will be significant inter-IIT difference in there.

However, where the students of remotely-placed IITs will miss out on is in terms of small, and maybe growing companies. Companies such as ours. We are located in Gurgaon, and might not need more than a couple of people. And from a simple cost perspective, there is no reason we should step out of Delhi for our IIT Campus recruitment. If we were located in Bangalore or Madras, and wanted to recruit from an IIT, we would’ve gone to IITM. It is about cost. Total cost of recruitment, measured against expected quality of candidates. So we go to the closest and most accessible IIT.

During my time at IITM (2000-2004), there were hardly any non-software companies that came to recruit. There were a few “big boys” that came (McKinsey, Levers, etc.) but they were large enough to go to every IIT. Not-so-large financial sector companies that were based in Bombay would simply just recruit from IITB. Outsourcing companies based in Gurgaon would go to IITD. The south had (and has) mostly software companies, and they would recruit from Madras.

Then there is the accessibility factor. Now, if I were to decide that my requirements won’t be fully met at IITD, and I want to recruit from a couple of more IITs, I would probably intuitively go to Bombay and Madras. Simply because they are well connected by flight from Delhi, and have good hotels to stay at if I want to interview over a couple of days. I’m not even sure if Kanpur and Kharagpur have airports. And I definitely don’t fancy staying at hotels in either of these places.

Popular notion is that IITs at Bombay and Delhi have traditionally had superior placements compared to other IITs. It is simply because they are located in superior places (Madras might have also been there but for some reason has historically shown a tendency to send most of its graduates to the US, because of which local recruiters don’t fancy it too much). Even if you are the smartest guy in Kanpur or Kharagpur, there is a good chance that you might lose out to a much less smart and much less hardworking guy than you in Bombay or Delhi. Simply because they are more accessible.

There is of course the contrarian viewpoint. Low supply of jobs at the less urban IITs means that as a recruiter, I should find it easier to get better people there, than I would in the IITs in the big cities. Again, it depends on how much incremental value I place on the “better students” at the less urban IITs. In most cases, however, it is likely that I would find that this incremental value wouldn’t justify my costs, and end up going to an urban IIT.

So who would recruit from the urban IITs? Apart from the big guns, of course. Think of institutions that don’t require a face-to-face interview for recruitment. Graduate schools. Large software companies which recruit without interviews (based on a test, etc.). Foreign companies that interview via videoconference. And I hear that nowadays, McKinsey has started flying down its shortlisted students from non-Bombay non-Delhi IITs to its own office and interviewing them there – maybe a few other extremely quality-conscious companies might emulate this model.

So if you have just passed the JEE, and don’t know which IIT to go to, you might want to keep this in mind. I know that at 17, you want to go to the IIT closest to home (at least, that is the reason I picked Madras). But keep this at the back of your mind – going to an IIT in a bigger city is definitely going to give you better options after your engineering. If you are extremely sure that you want to do a PhD in your chosen branch of engineering, then it doesn’t matter. Go anywhere. But if you want to keep your options open, go to the big cities. Bombay. Delhi. Madras.

PS1: In this post I have used IITs as only an indicative example. This applies to all colleges, irrespective of area of study. Basic moral of this essay is that if you have a choice between similar colleges of similar reputation, choose the one in the bigger city

PS2: I have no clue about our recruitment plans. I don’t even know if we will recruit. If you are a placement representative, please DON’T bombard me with “can you recruit from my IIT” mails. If we want to recruit from your college, we will get in touch with you.

PS3: Has any of you observed that if you consider Kharagpur as being close to Calcutta, the location of the 5 IITs are the same as the five cities where Test cricket was played in India in the 1950s. Maybe if Kharagpur hadn’t come up in 1950 itself, it would’ve been set up somewhere close to Eden Gardens.