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The Truth about MBA cats & dogs

There are two kinds of folks who aim to clear the CAT — the ‘MBA nahin to kuch nahin’ and the ‘Kuch nahin to MBA.’

The first category discovered at an early age that M, B and A spelt the magic and politically correct answer to the inevitable question: “Beta aap bade hokar kya banna chahte ho?”

The second took the medicine-engineering route only to be disillusioned with their course of study or future prospects. No particular pyaar for management but chalo, paisa to kam se kam zyaada milega.

The MBA programme — which allows graduates from ANY stream to apply — thus offers one final hope of personal and professional salvation.

In India, the MBA magic has worked on two fronts. Say you plan to do an MBA and parents will be a lot less worried about your taking up Eco or Commerce and avoiding the PMT/JEE.

Secondly, in case you did make it through those toughies and find you haven’t the faintest interest in electronics or electrocardiograms, you can at least dream of leaping off the wrong bus onto the MBA bandwagon. The ‘luxury coach’ that offers a ride in the fast lane!

Unfortunately, these coaches are very few and very hard to get a seat on. And although in theory ANYONE from any background has an equal chance at making it there, the statistics paint a different picture.

Check IIM Ahmedabad’s Class of 2006 profile — 70% engineering grads, 8% commerce, 4% IT, 4% science 4%, 3% arts, 1% medicine. Incidentally, Ahmedabad has traditionally had a much more diverse class profile in the IIM fraternity — the Class of 2004 at IIM-B, C and L all boasted 78% engineers!

The stats should bust a few prevailing myths:

Fact #1: Doing a management course at the undergrad level gives you absolutely no edge. Only 1% of IIM A’s 2006 class had an BBA/BMS background.

Fact #2: Humanities are a bad choice if you dream of making it to an IIM. Even among the 3% Arts graduates who’ve made it, most would be students of Eco — a quasi-numerical subject.

To put it extremely bluntly, only exceptional ‘ordinary graduates’ — the kind who could probably have made it to an engineering school but chose not to — make it to an IIM A. Many in fact come from colleges like SRCC and St Stephens where the cut-offs for Honours courses are mercilessly high.

Even among the engineers who make it, a large percentage are from the creme de la creme schools — the IITs, RECs, VJTIs and DCEs. The IIM Calcutta batch profile in fact lists ‘engineering’ and ‘IITs’ as two separate categories! Together these grads hog close to 80% of the seats at the Institute.

Why should engineers dominate so completely in an area which purports to offer entry to any kind of graduate?

According to UGC figures (as of March 2002), India’s 253 universities and 13,150 colleges churned out 2.5 million graduates annually. Of that number, just about 300,000 — or 10% — were engineers.

Now logically one may argue that those who make it through highly competitive engineering entrance exams represent the cream of the nation’s Class 12 crop. So four years later they are again more likely to excel when it comes to another competitive exam.

Engineering as a course enjoys such a halo that all but a small sliver of the intelligent school age population ends up in that stream by default!

There is another, more disturbing explanation. Engineers have a huge advantage when it comes to numerical ability. The vast number of ordinary graduates, especially those who have not been in touch with mathematics since Class 10, simply cannot cope.

But the crucial question is this: Does wizardry with numbers a good manager make?

It is unclear why the CAT exam must make such a big deal of how fast you can polish off sums on permutations and combinations. Sure, accounts and finance and operations all deal with numbers. But the level of number crunching undertaken during one’s MBA has hardly any co-relation with the actual work profile of most managers later in life. Because as you rise higher up the ladder, success is increasingly defined not by what you know or do, but how you manage and motivate your people.

Engineers are trained to believe every problem in the world has a logical solution. But, people — whether as employees or consumers or clients — are far from logical. Why, then rely on a uni-dimensional exam like CAT to identify talent? Yes, it is the fairest and toughest MBA entrance exam in the land — but are the people being selected through the process the best potential managers?

Top B schools in the US use the GMAT score as ONE of several evaluation criteria. In 2003, 18% of applicants who scored 700 or greater were offered admission by Kellogg. But more than 13% of applicants who scored between 650 and 690 were also admitted. Chicago’s Graduate School of Business clearly states that ‘successful applicants not only have the credentials but they tell a compelling and well-rounded personal story through their application.’

Fat chance, here!

Sure, there is an interview and GD stage, but to get there you must first score in the 99th percentile (ie be in the top 1% of test takers). And this works for one simple reason: Most admissions are tainted by ‘less deserving’ candidates using influence or money power. The fact that neither works when it comes to CAT has built a solid equity for the IIM brand. To protect this equity, subjective criteria comes in only at the second stage — after the CAT hurdle has been crossed. Any other, more holistic form of admission would never achieve the same reverence in this country!

The entire management entrance scene in India, then, boils down to selection of the ‘brainiest’ and then grooming them towards a management career. Rather than selecting the brains best suited for the purpose. Going by the old Cats and Dogs theory, the funda is to identify and aggregate all the cats in the graduate universe. Add the IIM chhaap and the world and his uncle will accept them as kings of the corporate jungle.

On the flip side, scratch the batch profile of an MBA school and the percentage of engineers you find can give you an accurate picture of where the school is ranked. The Big 4 — IIM A, B, C, L as well as S P Jain and IIM-K — admit over 70% engineering graduates. At XLRI (BMD) the figure is above 60% while the likes of MDI, FMS, Bajaj, XIM B and IIM-I boast 55% to 60% engineers.

As you go further down the ladder the number of engineers dips — a strong local school such as NMIMS had 23% while Welingkar just 6%. At these schools, Commerce graduates dominate — comprising 50% to 60% of the batch. Again, this reflects the inherent bias in the education system at an earlier stage — ‘students with marks’ inevitably join Commerce over Science or Arts!

The engineering overload at B schools is rooted in the fact that there is a strong opportunity cost for an engineer seeking to do an MBA. If he or she is to spend about Rs 4 lakhs for a 2 year course, also forgoing asimilar or greater amount in salary (perhaps even a chance to work abroad, given the software boom) — the course had better provide a great return. Only the top few schools provide that kind of long term brand value and short term job prospects.

IIM A, B and C placed on average 46% of their students in consulting, finance or banking (the high salary, top dollar variety of jobs). Just about 11% of the batch went into marketing/ sales.

At top B schools other than IIMs only 27% of the batch was placed in consultancy, banking or finance roles while almost 30% went into marketing.

As you go down the ladder marketing jobs dominate even more — and the prestige/ salary value of the job to an engineer declines.

In the final analysis,”Kuch nahin to MBA” may sound bechara, but the strategy it actually works. Those engineers didn’t ‘waste’ 4 years, they were just biding their time. Conversely, “MBA nahin to kuch nahin” is going to remain a pipe dream for the majority. Koi MBA to mil jayega — there are 900 + institutes offering the course in this country – but top B schools will continue to elude other graduates.

As far as CAT is concerned, non engineers remain the underdogs.

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