“Starve problems, feed opportunities”
Seriously..all that blogging about placements has cooked my brain! So, lets talk about more interesting stuff. I read Peter Robinson’s book – “Snapshots from hell – The making of an MBA”. He profiles the first year of the MBA that he spent at Stanford Business School, in the late 80’s. Fascinating read, highly recommend it to everybody who wants to be or already is an MBA. I read the book because I wanted to understand what an ‘ivy league’ MBA is all about, NUS is not at that level and despite what they might believe neither is IIM Ahmedabad. The Wharton’s/ Harvard’s/ Stanford’s of the world do not teach 20 something adolescent’s but people who have already attained a level of career distinction that we hope to achieve through our MBA’s. Incidentally Peter Robbins was a White House writer who wrote speeches for the Reagan administration. I read the book because I wanted to glimpse what it means to be a part of these hallowed, envied institutions.
Robinson was a ‘poet’ in Stanford, a history or English honors whose struggle to just survive in Stanford makes my efforts trivial in comparison. There were the usual complaints of ‘child teachers i.e. oh god! I am paying money for these teachers, unresponsive administration etc etc kinds of issues, problems that you would face at any business school. I am sure the non poets would go swearing to the grave about the value added at Stanford. But that’s not the point. Robinson in this book brought a very important perspective to the table, a perspective that only a poet can bring and not any of the others of us who believe that the equilibrium between demand and supply is a fundamental law of nature
Let me stop here for a second. I ramble but I ramble with a point, a message that I wish to convey and I sincerely believe that while brevity is a very admirable quality, there are times when rambling is required. In this blog I only write about Singapore and the NUS MBA so if you trust me to give relevant messages, read on. So where was I?
Robinson’s perspective is important because we often treat the MBA as a sub-par a short-cut to a good job, a short cut to hopefully great money. But take the arts for example, a literature or history graduate is there to form fundamental perspectives, to get a life changing learning experience that allows them to explore their own beliefs and value discipline. But we treat the MBA as a signaling device. (If you don’t know what signaling is, then you will learn it in Microeco with Prof Jo Seung Gyu, sem 1, NUS MBA). An MBA is a signaling device to the rest of the world that we have talent of high caliber, employees who will perform with distinction in your company. Take IIMA. I have interacted with them at length and if quantitative abilities is your argument then why don’t companies hire Maths Hons in bulk? You see the point of IIMA is not that these guys learn more than everyone else in two years but the fact that they recruit 200/300 of the smartest guys in India. That’s what companies care about and as long as IIMA continues to do that the rest of the schools in India will continue to be wannabe’s. Another case in point. If IIMA taught everything then why do companies like P&G put hires through their paces where they are asked to sell in small cities in India. The point I am making is that companies don’t expect IIMA (a very high quality Bschool) grads to know anything about real work but they expect them to be sharp and smart by virtue of their presence in that institution.
So where am I? I am back to the fundamental question of what an MBA should be and where does NUS fit in?
An MBA should not be just a means to an end. It should not be a shortcut to that great job i.e. subpar to an arts honors. It should instead be a program that teaches us how to “think” about commerce, a practice that is the fundamental underpinning of the world we live in. Take all the governments away and we would still trade. Barter existed much before Max Weber expostulated the concepts of bureaucracy. What does it mean for a wannabe MBA student? It means that you join an MBA for a higher purpose than joining Goldman Sachs or McKinsey. It means that you know why you are at an MBA. It means that you know why you learn concepts like Net Present Value, Oligopoly, Inventory accounting, diversification… It means that you believe in the concept of a free market, of competition, of profit and the fact that you believe that these concepts are not just sufficient to challenge you intellectually but also provide a reason why you want to learn them. You see where I am going. The others are wrong when they think that MBA does not have a higher calling. It does but the problem is that most of us are so wrapped up in our short term goals that we forget there is a bigger reason why we should sell more Ipod’s for Apple,. Darwin was right about survival of the fittest. If animals who don’t have the ability to process this rule know it by instinct, then all the more reason why businesses should. The greater good of society is irrevocably linked to business and we are the custodians. When you join an MBA, you should already know all of what I have said above. Only then can you derive the maximum out of an MBA because then you can focus on what you learn because you know why you need to learn it. Once you read the book you will realize that this is exactly what Robinson got wrong.
The NUS MBA! For those of you who are joining us, I deliberately take this narrow perspective because I have committed two years of my life to this program and I want to think about what this means to me. NUS is not Stanford and it’s not IIMA. It’s not Stanford because it is not as intense as Stanford and it’s not IIMA because it does not offer the same job opportunities as IIMA. But it presents a different value proposition that is my primary reason why I will stand up and proudly declare that NUS is my alma mater. NUS OFFERS OPPORTUNITIES. Not opportunities that will be thrust down your throat but opportunities that you will realize only and only if you have the motivation. Opportunities in terms of resources that can help you learn by providing access to faculty, library, time, databases, infrastructure. Opportunities that are available by studying with a truly Asian cohort (No IIMA grad will ever learn how to deal with the Chinese out of business school) and opportunity to study with a peer group that has work experience which counts, an MBA that lets you experience all of this at less than 1/5th the cost of an American MBA. You see the NUS MBA makes you grow up. It puts you through your paces by offering opportunities that you can capitalize if and only if you have the will and the smarts to capitalize on them. For people who do not manage to achieve that, I have no sympathy. THIS IS AN MBA!
Starve problems, feed opportunities! This is where I come from. There are issues at NUS. Sometime teacher’s make you wonder why you ever took that course. The pressure of the program is a lot less intense thus giving you a lot of time. Sometimes cohort politics makes you wonder – oh! Hell. But this is the point. For every bad teach that you get there is one outstanding prof. at NUS who will help you. These professors will go out of their way, for dinner/beer etc and do all that it takes to help you understand. You are not a child to them but somebody who deserves equal respect and trust me before long you will appreciate that. When you get more time, you will have more resources to contribute to your learning, at the library, through a part time internship etc. The cohort politics will never stop you from making a difference because the cohort is small.
You see where I am going. Starve the problems and feed the opportunities that NUS gives.