…and what I learnt once I got there.
By Vinay Solanki I am not a subject matter expert and by no means want to influence your decision to pursue a one year MBA program or choose a particular school. My idea is to put down my thoughts on what a one year MBA is all about and why someone with 8-10 years of experience would leave a job and pursue a full time MBA. Being a current student at PGPX, IIM A lot of my examples will refer to the college and the program but that is only to explain my thoughts through analogies. If you have questions, simply post them on the forum at Ask Vinay and I will get back to you.
After having worked in the financial services domain for over 9+ years at Goldman Sachs, New York, thoughts about how my career was going to progress over the next 5-6 years occupied my mind, day-in and day-out.
My parent were ageing, so I also had an urge to move back to India to stay close with them. However I was leading a securities frontline team as a Vice President, Technology, so I wasn’t facing any major career crisis and was comfortably placed in my role. But I still took the plunge.
Why did i do it? Let’s start with my career graph highlighting how my career choices evolved, ultimately leading to the wonderful one-year MBA (PGPX) at IIM Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.
I started as an assistant lecturer teaching C++ and Artificial Intelligence at DMCOE, Mumbai University. I thoroughly enjoyed this but it was obvious to me that it would not offer the money that I need in the long run.
There was also natural pull from friends who were joining MNC’s and Indian IT companies. I’m a Bachelor in Computer Engineering so I joined ‘the god of IT firms in India’ TCS, worked there as a web designer for a year and then went on to do Masters in Computer Science at SUNY Binghamton University, New York, USA.
It was a very regular/conventional path that many of my friends wandered on and I wasn’t an exception.
Then I joined Goldman Sachs and started building my skill set in the web and server technologies as well as financial services. I utilized the internal mobility and moved from sales to trading after 4 years at Goldman Sachs, which introduced some novelty to my work. However after another 4 years in trading technologies, I started to feel restless and an urge to learn or do something dramatically different.
That’s when I decided that since I anyways wanted to move back to India and wanted to explore business beyond what my technologist profile afforded me, I should get more insight on various business functions, at least a high level view.
That’s when PGPX came to my mind (I had heard about it from a friend at Goldman, who graduated in 2012). I prepared religiously for GMAT, worked hard on my application (applied only to IIM A) and got through.
I was working in New York, earning reasonably well – something that would be true for all those with 10 years average industry experience. So, when you think about full time education at the age of 30+, the 1st think that props up in your mind is the loss of one year’s pay. Next comes in tuition fee (average 22 Lakh in India), living expenses and the dilemma on how to source it (personal fund or bank loan or a mix of both).
But also something crucial, which should be calculated as the opportunity cost is time – the time that you will dedicate primarily focusing on studies, networking, events, etc. and hence that time you will have to steal from time with your family and friends and of course personal time (sleep included).
If you’re married and also have kids, then these 365 days will be challenging because these important individuals will get less attention from you. Some people in my batch left their families home and are living in the hostel and some have got their families (like me) on the campus and live in MSH (Married Student Housing).
However it doesn’t matter because most of your time is spent in classroom, libraries, syndicate study rooms, etc. but yes your family being on campus definitely eases things a bit for you and your family when you are in need of each other. However it is still a point to ponder over carefully. I may be speaking of an extreme but even on average TIME is limited commodity in such programs.
Of course it depends on how you manage your time but on an average you can expect to spend only 2-3 hours a day with family. Even parents won’t hear from you every day, if there is habit of talking to them daily then forget it.
Now let’s talk about the rigour of the program and what it entails. Remember that most of us will study after a long break, most of us will hold pens to write loooooong exams after almost a decade. So that shock needs to be absorbed well. Lectures, quizzes and especially 2 ½ hour exams can take their toll on you in the first term. My take is that while these tested us, we managed the pressure.
You are grouped into study groups with 5-6 people, potentially from various backgrounds (if the class diversity is good) and then you need to learn to adjust in that new formation. We all work in teams, manage people and handle peer pressure but being a student and interacting with peers is a different ball game. You need to be sensitive and accommodating.
You may like it at the start and enjoy the newness of the group but you may also face the tension, the stress and the pull when either you have a pressing group assignment or an exam or just simply due to the fact that you don’t gel well with someone in the group.
A big positive of this group structure is that you will potentially make close friends pretty early in the program and more importantly you’ll very likely learn to interact with peers and handle difficult situations.
Also thanks to the diversity in backgrounds, you get different perspectives on each assignment you work together.
However the key point to notice is term I and term II are very ‘heavy’ especially because they only comprise core courses and there’s no getting away from them regardless of your interest. Believe me some of us behave like school students and worry about grades all the time, although our seniors have told us that plenty of times “dude at this age and experience grades don’t matter!!”
Anyways we have a Grade non-disclosure policy so that should somewhat relax you.
What to focus on?
What should be your primary focus in a one-year MBA – a course that recruits candidates with work experience the same as MBA courses abroad? Horizontal learning across all domains/functions or vertical deep understanding of a particular topic?
Tough to answer this question with 100% clarity… and possibly harder than it is to find a needle in the hay stack. Along with the never ending list of courses there are so many other activities, events and opportunities thrown at you (case challenges, interviews, committees, focus groups, extra-curricular, blah blah), at times you don’t know what you should choose and what you should let go.
People (including myself) jump on to any opportunity that comes across and then find it difficult to manage all commitments at once. Therefore I think before you join the program, ponder on what area/field/subject you want to focus or maybe you want to do anything/everything possible in this one year and widen your horizon. Iron out your priorities. As David Allen said “you can do anything, but not everything”.
Also count how many times I say ‘you’ in this article because it is ultimately your decision, your call and your clarity of thoughts that will help you decide the best course of action.
Another highlight of the program is the quality of the faculty. Some of them are really world class, and have industry and international experience and bring wide and deep perspective on the subject they cover. Case based pedagogy is an invigorating method to learn a topic but at the same time confusing and long winded when you’re not familiar with it. Most of us coming from presentation and oration based learning approach have to make an effort to transition to a discussion-based learning.
You learn from the amazing professors here but it is more important for you to participate, share your views and build on to other people’s views and ideas. Sharing is the mantra!! Om Share Namah!
Student Driven Committees
Something I was totally unaware of before joining the program is that everything and anything is student driven here and this is true with most of the one-year MBA programs in India at least.
Of course you are guided by the alumni’s, seniors, professors and the office staff, but you can only get so much of their time. The upside of this is you get a lot of experience working, running, managing or contributing to various activities ranging from organizing cultural programmes to placements, from alumni relations to brochure design and from event management to academic coordination.
I think in addition to learning various functions of a business by being part of a committee, the experience also adds a different dimension to you. An important facet of being on a committee is being responsible, reliable and answerable.
Even the selection process involves elections and it is fun and stressful at the same time. Some of you will manage funds for various committees and some might do more of coordination job and some of you will be part of placement committee (the most important one), which I will talk about next.
How many of you scrolled down straight to this section? 🙂
Just joking! Placements are a key factor and something assigned the highest weightage while selecting degree, school, location and program. Two-year PGP candidates are generally young and hence can take a risk and try out few jobs or career tracks but we have to be more precise in deciding where to go, what to do and how to manage a decent standard of living.
We always discuss, that 85 of us are 85 niche profiles or 85 individuals who need to be placed in 85 specific job roles and functions. Similarity and diversity both in experience and expectations is the paradox here.
It is important to think about where you want to go (re-iterating points discussed above in sections titled ‘focus’ and ‘rigour’ above) and what you want to become. It takes a lot to prepare for placements, ranging from preparing your resume (reviewed by at least 10 people) to creating a summary profile and networking to practicing mock interviews.
Understanding the market, the prospective employer and the fit for the job should not be ignored. The placement process starts somewhere in term IV (October/November) and runs until graduation and even beyond sometimes, if student is picky or has a very niche profile. Placement for the one-year MBA at IIM A is a student driven activity (as it is for all courses at IIM A) and the placement committee along with the help of alums and current students tries to get as many good companies on campus and as many on-phone interviews as possible – but a lot depends on you too.
A lot of people when they join the course also express an interest in starting their own venture and some form groups and find partners as well. Although it seems tough at this age and time with all the responsibilities you may have, but not impossible.
You’re provided an ecosystem that includes Centre for Incubation, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), professors, an alumni network and internal clubs. If you’re really serious you can opt-out of the placement process and diligently follow your dream. As we say “CEO bano, Manager nahin !!”
Some of the key takeaways (I may have definitely missed many here so this is not a full list).
Branding: Management education is good for your all-round development if you’re serious, focused and attentive. Be open to feedback, but more importantly seek feedback from your batch-mates and professors. A top school will also spruce up your individual brand and build a positive perception to a certain extent. Having said that even a decent school should give you a good exposure to the reality of business management, people management and self-management.
Networking: You either end up building a strong network or at the very become adept at networking. Events and activities push you to prepare elevator pitches, interact with strangers, and break the ice. Overall you learn to open some form of communication channel.
KASH: We say at IIM A that you build KASH in this program. Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, Habits, which is generally true. Most of us build knowledge in various topics, areas and sectors (for sure not very deep in all areas but to a level where you understand the topic to build upon it later). We develop an attitude of being perfectionists, of being calm, cool and confident. We acquire lot of Skills – from technical stuff such as accounting to soft skills (very important for managers) such as team/people management, sharing information, expressing yourself, etc.
Such programmes make you look at things afresh and from a new perspective, which reminds me of a quote. “Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted”. – George Kneller
Self-actualization: There are some unique courses offered here at IIM A and I hope at other one-year MBA programs too. If you’re serious to know more about yourself than you have plenty of resources at your disposal. A course called MCC (Managing and Creating Creativity) is pretty unique in its format, it focuses on how to foster creativity. We also have course such as ILPM (Integrated Learning through Personal Mastery) another gem of a course for future leaders and managers. There are many other courses, sessions, activities and opportunities to spend time with yourself, for yourself and understand yourself better.
To summarize, it is important to consider all these points and many more that I may have missed, before you make the decision to take the plunge. I think I made the right decision because I now know so much about so many things or at least a little more about few things. I have discovered some of my skill sets, which I was not able to at my professional environment. I have identified some of the weaknesses of myself as well and hence I think the opportunity cost is worth it.
Have a question about the PGPX? Ask Vinay here.
Vinay Solanki is an MBA candidate at PGPX, the one year full time MBA program at IIM Ahmedabad, Class of 2014-15. Prior to joining IIM A, he worked for Goldman Sachs, New York managing and building trading platforms and risk management systems and has a total of 9+ years of experience in technology. His primary interest are Finance & Technology and his hobbies include reading, blogging and dancing. He holds a M.S in Computer Science from SUNY Binghamton, New York and B.E. Computer Engineering from Mumbai University.