Business Today
Beyond The Obvious

B-Schools are breaking the age-old two-year programme template to meet the demand for niche skills.

Beyond The Obvious

After working for 12 years, Lakshmi Ravindran decided to take a break from work to look after her two children. Two years later, she decided to return to the corporate world and started looking for work. But there was a problem. While she was at home, the world had moved ahead, with the industry (her last job title was relationship manager, commercial banking, HSBC) swearing by buzzwords - deep tech and blockchain, data analytics, et all. She knew she would have to reinvent herself. At a loss, sometime around August last year, she learnt that S.P. Jain Institute for Management Research, or SPJIMR, was starting a 12-month "Returning Women Programme." She decided to give what the school calls as the world's only such programme a shot. She is finding it enriching, albeit hectic, and says that only support from husband and parents has made it possible for her to pursue the course, which started this January with 20 students. The aim is to help women who have taken a mid-career break get back to work. The women should have a minimum work experience of five years and taken a break of at least two years. The reason can vary from child care to attending to family or a medical emergency. The idea, she says, "is to help women upskill themselves and get back into the corporate world on a better footing." The programme teaches regular management subjects but with greater emphasis on getting students up-to-speed on current trends with the help of an assigned mentor and a coach, she says. It is followed by an internship and help in placement. "It has built my confidence and taught me to go beyond my comfort zone," she says. She is now looking forward to a strategic role in the industry.

SPJIMR's programme is a perfect example of management schools trying to break out of old patterns. The aim is to offer specific skills and knowledge to thrive in today's complex world. One-size-fits-all is passe. Customisation and niche are in.

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But what are the skill sets that industry is looking for in todays management graduates? Speaking at Indian School of Business, or ISB, in Hyderabad on September 23, Vani Kola, Managing Director, Kalaari Capital, an early stage, technology-focused venture capital firm, made an interesting observation. While seeing merit in singular depth, she underlined the need for multi-disciplinary learning - literature with management for example. There are times, she said, when she finds that new MBA graduates struggle to write a proper email. "Every time, I have to sit with the copy and correct it," she says. "To become successful, a multi-disciplinary skill set is important."

"We must be more innovative with the design of our MBA programmes," says Pramath Raj Sinha, founding dean of ISB, co-founder of Ashoka University and co-founder of Vedica Scholars Programme for Women, a unique alternative to the traditional MBA programme, which will create a cadre of successful women professionals for the 21st century. "I think the two-year MBA and pure one-year MBA have run their course. MBA mixed with other disciplines is the answer. I think there is a lot of room for innovation and different types of programmes."

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PRAMATH RAJ SINHA Founding Dean, ISB (Photo: Vivan Mehra)


So, what kind of innovations is he talking about? "Today, many people need a crash course in MBA but cannot afford to take two years out." For instance, Harvard offfers HBX CORe, a primer on the fundamentals of business thinking. It can be taken up by people from all backgrounds. Referring to the Vedica Scholars Programme that he is involved in, he says, "Getting women into a top-quality MBA programme is a big concern in India. The fact that it is intertwined with liberal arts is important as a management graduate needs to understand complex issues ranging from policy, politics and international relations to sustainability and inclusion."

"Recruiters say they want students who are not only logical and analytical but are also able to connect the dots. So, this year, we have introduced a compulsory course in management and liberal arts; it gives students a perspective on philosophy, literature and history. The idea is that the students need to see the larger connections between the phenomenon and the world. Management is becoming less narrow and more interconnected," says SPJIMR Dean Ranjan Banerjee. The school, he says, has three compulsory courses "to take care of unstructured problem solving and environmental awareness. These are Management and Liberal Arts (MaLa); Management Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow; and Design Thinking (in its third year now)." These courses are part of its flagship two-year Post Graduate Diploma in Management, while design thinking runs across all its five programmes.

Then, there are schools that are taking a deep dive into select sectors. For instance, IIM-Bangalore has started a general management programme for aerospace and aviation executives. It has signed an MoU with Toulouse Business School, France, for designing, developing and delivering this long duration certificate programme. A total of 67 students signed up for the first batch, of which 50 are pursuing the aerospace MBA from Toulouse Business School. Or, consider IIM-B's General Management Programme for Healthcare Executives (GMHE) in collaboration with Apollo Medskills. The programme, says the school spokesperson, "attracts applications from various sections of the healthcare industry. The average work experience of the participants is 10 years and they come from companies and hospital chains such as Narayana Health, Frost and Sullivan, IndegeneLifesystems, M.S. Ramaiah Memorial Hospital, Apollo Hospitals, K.G. Hospitals, Philips Healthcare, KIMS, Cellworks Research India." Healthcare is one area that is attracting other B-schools too. For instance, three years ago, IIM-C had started a healthcare management programme in partnership with the private sector. This year, it has taken total ownership of the programme and rechristened it as PGCHM (Post Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Management). It is a one-year, full-time programme. "It has 30-odd participants. Of this, over 20 are doctors and the rest are healthcare administrators," says Uttam K. Sarkar, Dean (New Initiatives & External Relations) at IIM-C. "Apart from a standard management course, there is also emphasis on areas like business analytics," he says.

@EKumarSharma

TEACHING THE JOB CREATORS

Entrepreneurship can be taught. Professor Satyajit Majumdar at Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, School of Management and Labour Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, has good reasons to believe this. "If you look at entrepreneurs as problem solvers, you need to guide them towards problem solving." The way this is done has undergone a big change over time, he says.

"Five years ago, I would have focussed on building a robust business plan. Today, it would be more about having a robust product, understanding the market, engagement with customers and customer value creation. Being relevant to the market is more important than return on investment. Today, having an idea is not enough. What that idea will do is more important." His fl agship course is 'Venture Planning' where, he says, he teaches "problem mapping", as you need to articulate the problem well. And how do other schools do it?

 "Every institution has its point of view on entrepreneurship. Many teach it as an orientation course, others approach it from a business plan perspective, where they teach fi nancial planning, decisionmaking, negotiations and writing a business plan. Then, there are the incubation centres that have also emerged as support entities," he says. Consider what is off ered at IIM-C which, three years ago, set up IIM-C Incubation Park as a not-for-profi t, Section 8 company to promote entrepreneurship and innovation.

Today, while it is fulfi lling its goal of building a start-up ecosystem in East and North East, it is also off ering new learning opportunities to post graduate students. "We have something called as Start-Up Buddy programme where students can engage with incubatees and help them solve challenges. The park has some 22 active incubatees. It has, in three years, funded 15 start-ups with money received from the government under various schemes and has committed funding worth `3.5 crore. It has now embarked on a nationwide off ering called 'Smart 50 programme," says Subhranshu Sanyal, the CEO of the IIM-C Innovation Park. By March next, it hopes to vet 50,000 applications, fund 50 start-ups and mentor 400.

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