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Without doubt, an MBA from a good business school prepares you for a career, be it as an entrepreneur or as a tenured professional in an existing setup.
The typical MBA course content is functionally laid out as finance, strategy and policy, marketing, production, systems, HR and so on. The hope really is that an astute student is able to translate the theory learnt in class into practice in most situations.
B-school for me was an amazing world of learning. Sure, some subjects were rather dry, but I suspect most of it was in the way the subject was taught.
In that sense, the better schools are equipped with better faculty and resources for teaching, and that makes all the difference.
I recall that a full credit course in business law was one of the most attended classes in my batch, because it was taught outstandingly well. Overall, I would attribute a lot of my professional success to what I learnt at B-school and applied in practice. That said, I still think there are things a B-school education does not prepare you for, or does not teach much about.
You don't really start out as CEO after B-school: Most B-school case studies call for the students to "make" or mull over decisions as CEOs or top management.
In the real world, such opportunities do not come soon enough for most people. I have seen that it takes a good 10 years for some and many more for most MBAs to get to make senior management decisions, leave alone top management or investor-level decisions.
It gets particularly hard when an ambitious greenhorn MBA finds (as I found out soon after mine) that not too many people in a large organisation really care for your brilliant ideas on what you think of the company's policies, and the need to do things differently.
Such experiences could lead to frustration and poor career decisions for promising youngsters, who then get seen as job hoppers.
Functional competency does not equal leadership: Another issue is the larger question of leadership. Organisations move forward and make progress with good leadership - at all levels.
But most "credits" for an MBA are earned for hard subjects like finance, marketing, manufacturing and so on. Leadership (is it a soft subject?) seems to have escaped the attention of deans in B-schools - at least, it certainly had during my time there.
I have read that of late, in the aftermath of scandals such as at Enron and Arthur Anderson, some leading business schools have included credits and courses on values and governance. It should not require an Enron to explode in our faces to develop leadership skills in B-schools.
After all, most MBA students seek to become leaders in business, and a goodish dose of leadership training is only too helpful. Even GE (where I worked after graduating from B-school) looks for leadership as a combination of numbers and values, the latter being the soft stuff of leadership!
Real life decisions are more than "class participation": One last instance is more a case of what they "can't" teach you in B-school.
In a typical heated debate during the strategy or marketing class, one group argues that a non-performing business should be shut down, while another cries out that it continues to make sense from some long-term perspective. And then the class finishes and rarely, if ever, does one have to live the consequences of "class participation" decisions about the business unit in question.
In the real world, consequences are inevitable and people have to deal with those decisions - for good or bad. Having known or seen perfectly healthy companies being taken over by others for all the wrong reasons and being systematically dismembered into oblivion, one can only wonder what was on their mind!
It might be unfashionable to study case studies of spectacular failures or disasters, but as the world of sports has shown time and again, one can learn more from failures than you can learn from your successes.
Anand Iyer graduated from IIM, Bangalore in 1994
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