Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dr. Rajendra Nargundkar – an expert’s advise for MBAs

Given below is an interview I had done with Dr. Rajendra Nargundkar, currently the Director, IMT, Nagpur. An electrical engineer from Osmania University and a product of the IIM, Bangalore, he completed his PhD. From Clemson University, South Carolina in the late 1980s. Dr. Nargundkar is one of the names to reckon with in the Indian management arena and is an author, scholar, academic, golfer and quite the creative genius. He is the right mix of academics and work experience, having begun his career with New Horizons, Delhi, an advertising agency belonging to the India Today group and then with Marketing and Business Associates, Bangalore before he left to the USA for his Ph.D.
Dr. Rajendra Nargundkar, Director, IMT, Nagpur

After his Ph.D, he taught at Lander College in South Carolina before returning to a career in academics in India in 1991. Since 1991 he has worked in various senior management capacities in prestigious institutes such as Xavier’s Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar, Vignana Jyothi Institute of Management, Hyderabad, Kirloskar Institute of Advanced Studies, Harihar, Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, PES, Bangalore, IFIM, Bangalore and now IMT, Nagpur (as Director in the last three positions). All this in a career spanning over 25 years, 2 decades of which are in the area of management.

While at this, he has also authored three books – Marketing Research, Services Marketing and International Marketing – all the books have been well received in the Indian market due to their simple and effective way of explaining these concepts with Indian case studies. In fact when he wrote these books, there were few books on these subjects by Indian authors and fewer with Indian case studies. Another one, Brand Management, co-authored by a former colleague Ms. Bhagyalakshmi Venkatesh, is due for publication. Dr. Rajendra Nargundkar, has also authored a non-fiction book titled ‘My Experiments with Half Truths’, a breezy autobiographical take. A man of many passions, he plays golf very seriously these days, loves watching movies, blogging, and listening to old Hindi music. But most of all he loves a good laugh as several people who know him will readily testify.

Considering his vast experience in meeting and observing students, faculty, systems, recruiters in India and abroad – I asked him a few questions which might help those who aspire to do their MBA or even for those who are already pursuing their MBAs. Here then is an interview from a man who has pretty much seen it all and says it like it is.

Q. How does an MBA degree or diploma add value to a graduate? Is it better than merely studying regular streams?
A. A good B school certainly adds value. Most undergraduate programs are not serious in India and do not provide any kind of finishing or personality development to the student. This includes engineering colleges. B schools help in shaping and adding to the students’ personality development through rigorous course work. B schools also provide opportunities to the students to do group work, make presentations and get critiqued. And beyond all this, it is up to the student to add value through other activities while on campus.

Q. Is there any particular orientation you look for in students who want to pursue an MBA?
A. When I ask most students why they want to do an MBA they do not give me convincing answers. They should at least prepare themselves to the extent that they give evidence on why we should consider them. I certainly expect some preparation like subject knowledge and reading up some business magazines to know what is going on.

Q. What expectations can students have from an MBA course in India?
A. An MBA certainly boosts long term career prospects. Definitely better than if you don’t do one. Also helps in personality development which is a good thing anyway.

Q. What kind of a preparation do they need to put in to get a good MBA?
A. They have to figure out how to handle the CAT of course. But if they get beyond that, I suggest a lot of general reading with some business reading. The fundamentals should be clear in their discipline. And once they get the B school, they need to prepare for hard work in good business schools. It’s a must.

Q. How is a good business school different from a bad one?
A. Quality of faculty is the number one issue. Also systems are in place in good schools to keep pressure on the students to perform. Systems such as relative grading. A residential program helps, which most good B schools have. Good physical infrastructure is a given. But most certainly good intellectual infrastructure such as databases, case studies etc. are a must.

Q. Is it better to have some job experience before doing an MBA as opposed to a fresh graduate?
A. In my opinion job experience should be made compulsory. Teaching a course like production management, or organizational behavior or MIS to a fresher is tough because they have no idea what it is about. Unless a person has worked for a while in an organization it is difficult to visualize. I would say a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 8 years of work experience is the best band.

Q. How can a student get the best out of a 2 year course in MBA?
A. Focus on their strengths and do well in them. Give equal importance to academics and extra- curricular activities. Do well in whatever they are doing. Two years is a longtime. Also they should network with alumni, guest speakers and faculty, which comes in handy later on. Students could do well to plan their career if possible. Select electives carefully and be the best in whatever you have chosen. Play some games and sports. If you break that habit it is difficult to get back. It is a good thing to do throughout life.

Q. You have seen MBAs abroad and here. What is the difference in approach?
A. Most students abroad go for an MBA after some work experience. They also pay for it themselves and hence they are a lot more serious in the classroom. They apply themselves seriously and do not resort to plagiarism, as it is looked down upon. The Indian student has high IQ, but is prone to take short cuts and has low application levels and low motivation levels.

Q. Is there any difference between students at IIMs and other B schools?
A. There are always 25-30% students who are good in all B schools in India. I have found good ones everywhere and not just in the IIMs. Some of the best were in small class sizes – of 30-40 size which appears ideal. Even IIMs don’t have that kind of a size. Peer group pressure, good faculty and perceived rewards to which students look forward to - makes them stand out from others.

Q. How do Indian MBAs compare with those abroad?
A. The same. At least the top B schools are the same. Average ones in India are poor. Class sizes abroad are smaller, 15-20, which gives them an advantage. Except for few like Harvard which has class sizes of 100. Also a diverse set of students-- global diversity adds to the growth which is missing here. I would recommend a course abroad for anyone who can afford it if they have not got admission in a good B school.

Q. There is too much focus on placement. How justified is this approach? And how do students maximize their chances in getting placed on campus?
A. We have reached a stage when we can outsource placement. There are enough HR consultants to do that job. One reason why this has happened is that B schools started branding themselves with placement. Now with 2000 B schools in India it is difficult to attract enough companies. Top 30-40 schools succeed, remaining do not get enough attention from companies. One way of differentiation for B schools is that they must position themselves as ‘career builders’ and prove to students how the value is actually spread out over 30-40 years. The first-job emphasis is too much now - where returns may not be too high immediately. But long term benefits are high. Not too much attention is being paid to this aspect.

Q. On placement – is it better that the students choose jobs that fit their profiles or should they go for any job that comes their way?
A. My advise on placement to students would be to look for the first job as a two year passport to the next job. 95% cases do not survive this period in the first job. Look for a minimum of everything you need in the first job – brand equity, salary and learning opportunity. 2 years after, leverage this. I recommend growth industries and small companies as well for those seeking to maximize their long terms career opportunities.

Q. What do recruiters expect from MBAs? What is the feedback you have received from recruiters?
A. Attitude, communication skills, technical skills. Recruiters find students under prepared. Industry knowledge and company knowledge is missing. Some preparation in that respect is required. Other than that they are okay.

Q. If you were to list 5 things that students need to really work on during the time spent on campus before going out to industry, what would they be?
A. 1) Sound in core concepts in Marketing, Finance, Organizational Behavior.
2) Applied knowledge either through case studies, projects, summer internships based on their background
3) Evidence of extra-curricular activities
4) Perspective of the long term
5) Ability to network

Q. I sometimes wonder that with all the inputs students get, they seem to miss the forest for the trees. I find that they lack a basic understanding of the subjects, clarity and application of basic concepts is lacking. Comment.
A. Core concepts are usually forgotten by the time they pass out. The student himself needs to emphasize on this and understand this. They need a basic idea of all subjects, with some idea of the larger picture where it all fits in. Business books which are NOT text books might help one to do this.

Q. What is the role of the student during this 2 year period?
A. The student’s role is to take responsibility for himself or herself. No IIM student wants to be handheld. Maybe in the first 4-5 years of an institute coming into being they should develop the kind of systems and culture that the student starts taking responsibility for his own career. Faculty helps certainly. The students should also remember that he is forever representing the brand of the institution and do all that he or she can to enhance that brand. Anything he does to its detriment, affects his own brand value the most.

Q. What can the institute do to reduce the gap between the IIMs and the average ones?
A. One thing with the IIMs is that their tough grading system pushes students to shape up. Also their faculty takes it upon themselves to be the best that they can be in terms of teaching methodologies, updates. They take responsibility for what passes through the IIM system. That reflects on students passing through. Faculty and the rigor of the program are the key. Finally the student needs to make up by his own means, by taking responsibility. The other thing is admission systems which select only deserving students.

Q. What changes would you like to see in MBA colleges in India to make students more market ready?
A. Since we are teaching professional courses I would like to see more professionalism in faculty and student selection. The rest will take care of itself. Also, the curriculum should be autonomous. The university system is almost dead. There are sadly not enough professionals, not enough PhDs – good programs are missing. We need focused institutions that produce PhDs who have training in both teaching and research. For example, I was teaching all through my PhD program.

Q. How does an aspiring faculty, say from industry, develop into a good B school faculty?
A. To develop themselves, industry-experienced faculty should publish more papers or cases. They can team up with faculty of business schools to get an insight into the methodology of doing research, including research for teaching. This is the critical difference. Reviews, interactions with and feedback from peers, an external validation makes the difference between someone who has done their PhD and someone who has not. Also, aspiring faculty can add value through all other things such as management training, consulting. But research essentially is probably the most critical, and where the US B schools score.

Q. A word of advise to MBA students on how to go about maximizing their success rate in life?
A. Keep learning. You will have different things you need to learn. Even at the worst job you will learn something. Use it. Do well even in a bad job, so that you take something with you for the next one.


Dr. Seven said...

Good interview and insights. From my own experience with education in India and abroad (in the US), the thing that stood out was that education in the US tends to be more applied, practical. Students in India are generally rewarded for memorizing concepts, whether or not they see relevance to the real world. As Prof. Nargundkar points out, this has to do largely with faculty members' own skills in research and teaching.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Dr. Seven. Agree completely. It is as if there are two worlds for students - one theoretical and another the world we live in. Naturally there is a huge gap in concepts and practice when there need be none. Much work is required, and when i say that I mean a humongous amount of work, in the area of training, guiding and mentoring teachers and wannabe teachers. It's a huge gap in such an important area.

Achyut Menon said...

Brilliant insights, Prof!!The idea of 'career builders' is very promising!

As a recruiter for close to 2 decades,one of my observations is that most MBA colleges just churn out 'post graduates' and not 'budding professionals'!!

I often take the example of the medical profession.The moment the 17yr old persons step into a medical college, their personal lives & priorities-totally change. Perhaps it has got to do with the residential programs, or the fact that their teachers are other practising professionals, or may be that they intern, industry academia interaction, etc but in a matter of 5-6yrs, they blossom into someone-that most patients almost treat as "Gods or life savers"!

Am looking forward to the day when MBAs graduate as 'business practitioners' and not be enamoured to join as trainees hankering after fancy lifestyles!!

Harimohan said...

Well said Achyut, Coming from an experienced recruiter with over two decades of experience in the HR area, your words bear a wealth of wisdom. I do hope that students, faculty and the management of MBA colleges take your feedback seriously and do what they can to change things - one small step at a time of course.

The idea of a professional is that of an expert, someone who knows what he is doing and that itself indicates that he or she is someone of the world. Someone who has experienced the vagaries of life by dint of sheer practice and application of their knowledge to the extreme. It is this experience that qualifies them as experts, as the best in the business, and as rounded people. It is about relentless application of the knowledge, to larger good, that makes them be 'god like'. It also attracts fame, wealth etc which are but the reward. I do wish all professionals take this route because that is what their job is (which is what Prof. Nargundkar and you are saying as well).

This is something one would love to see restored in the areas of medicine and teaching foremost, then in public life. Respect that in itself serves as an inspiration for youngsters to follow.