Masterclass: The Future of the MBA

There are urgent issues emerging around the need for an MBA as a vehicle for social good. Also, Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of digitalisation by at least 5-10 years across many businesses. This too is forcing b-schools to revamp their curriculum and make it future ready

Founding Fuel

MBA and b-schools are at the crossroads. The global pandemic has brought into sharp focus the attractiveness and the relevance of the MBA. Yet, it also gives us an opportunity to reimagine the entire learning space.

This isn’t just about reshaping the MBA, but taking a fresh look at the practice of management itself.

The Founding Fuel Masterclass, held on Zoom on June 30, 2020, examined the various dimensions of this complex subject.

The panel included

  • Srikant Datar, Senior Associate Dean, Harvard Business School, and author of Rethinking the MBA
  • Ajit Rangnekar, Former Dean, ISB, and Partner, SVP India
  • Nitin Paranjpe, Global COO, Unilever
  • Pramath Sinha, Founder, Harappa Education, Ashoka University, Vedica Scholars

The session has anchored by Meeta Sengupta, Founder, Centre for Education Strategy.

This isn't a standalone conversation. Founding Fuel hosted two breakout sessions in the run up to the masterclass. The objective was to frame and distil the issues that are germane to this conversation. And lead up to new ideas, some thoughts and perhaps some questions that will take management education forward.

With that purpose in mind, we also invited the two chairs of the breakout sessions—Baba Prasad, CEO, Vivekin Group, and Rishikesha T Krishnan, Director, IIM Bangalore—to present the highlights of their sessions. 

And three additional experts presented key themes that will shape the future of the MBA: Piyul Mukherjee, Co-founder and CEO, Quipper Research; Saikat Chaudhuri, Executive Director, Mack Institute, Wharton; and Harsh Vardhan, Strategy Consultant.

Arun Maira, former Chairman, BCG, and former Member, Planning Commission, presented the ending keynote.

Highlights from the Masterclass

The knowing-doing-being gap. (Are MBAs taught the right tools?)

Srikant Datar: Businesses exist because society gave them license. So, the purpose of MBA should be to educate leaders [to serve society]. To do this, MBA programmes need to create transformational educational experiences. That means [imparting three things]—knowing, doing and being.

Knowing—what you need to know in the professional management. Doing—practicing professional management. Being—working with others, inspiring others. MBA programmes’ focus has been on ‘knowing’, not so much on ‘being’ or ‘doing’.

Nitin Paranjpe:  Shareholder wealth maximisation is not the purpose, but an outcome of a great business. All the models we were taught were relevant, but not enough. The issues society faces are far too complex. We need to be much more nuanced—we need ethical considerations beyond the obvious financial considerations.

Ajit Rangnekar: Before we start reimagining the MBA, we have to look at ourselves. We [the middle class, the biggest beneficiaries of globalisation] have been highly materialistic and acquisitive in the last 25 years. We have to change ourselves. Listen to people not like us. We know nothing about society. We need to learn humility.

Pramath Sinha: I think we are beating up on the poor MBA too much. I have a new startup. There are 11 people in the top management team [they come from diverse fields; most don’t have an MBA]. This is the face of business today. MBA is the most popular programme today to change track. That’s how I see the purpose of MBA.

The ‘what I know’ and ‘what I need to know’ gap (How is Covid and tech making us rethink the MBA design?)

Srikant Datar: Managers operate in the “gap”—of what I know, and what I need to know. To operate well in the gap, they need thinking skills—critical thinking, integrative thinking, and innovative thinking. You cannot lead people you don't deeply understand. But all of this is going to happen outside the classroom. This is where technology is going to play a very big role.

Nitin Paranjpe: There are many interesting ways technology can be used. In our company, we were concerned about diversity. We developed a tool to allow anyone to apply. Last year, 1 million people applied. And in the final round we saw a very different profile of people who came up for selection. I wonder whether we would be open enough [to try this] in our MBA schools, where our selection tends to be right for yesterday, not right for tomorrow.

Ajit Rangnekar: 5G and AR (Augmented Reality) will radically change the way we deliver education. Imagine a Telugu girl who has learned only in Telugu, having access to Srikant Datar’s programme, sitting at home.

We train you for being CEOs, but by the time you're CEO, the world has changed, you've forgotten what you were taught. We actually have an opportunity to teach people just in time, lifelong learning.

Pramath Sinha: The whole notion of a two year program, or a one year program, or a four year program, is just going to get busted. Obviously you need those core professional requirements before you start in business and management—you get that upfront. And then along the way you pick up stuff as you go along.

Meeta Sengupta: I taught a couple of modules at Harappa. And the people sitting in the room said, “We don't want anything to do with your knowledge. We've already been taught that. We want to talk about how your knowledge worked for you.”

Pramath Sinha: We just launched Ashoka X. There are 14 courses taught by people from around the world. In each course we have 16 year olds and 60 year olds. This lifelong learning—we don't even understand that, how education will actually cater to that. But it's happening as we speak.

Breaking the silos with diversity. And are generalists better than specialists?

Meeta Sengupta: One of the smartest students in my class was a young gentleman released from jail. In the Slack comments earlier, a professor from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics said that one of the most interesting students was a Jain monk, who brought a lot into the classroom.

Piyul Mukherjee: One of the big issues I had was with the quality of education from which we are drawing people to come into the MBA. There are a lot of people out there who would be a perfect fit to resolve the complex issues that tomorrow's business needs are, but they are not even applying because they don't think that they should be coming here.

Meeta Sengupta:  We selected for excellence in a siloed way, so outcome /excellence is also siloed.

Nitin Paranjpe: All companies need some generalists and some specialists. I don't think today, you can afford to have too many generalists who have no domain understanding, no domain expertise. But, the education of an MBA has to give you a more general understanding of business.

Is the Indian MBA too Westernised?

Ajit Rangnekar: Global companies wanted people who understood their way of working, and also understood India realities. Indian companies were going abroad too. We needed a global programme which also integrated India. But we focused too much on that. We need to readjust now. And it is happening already. Since 2006 or thereabouts, focus is shifting back to India. The methodology is global, but how you apply is far more local with more Indian case studies.

Businesses will be assessed by the triple bottom line of profit, people, and planet. Are MBAs preparing students for this?

Nitin Paranjpe: The conversation around the triple bottom line is becoming more widespread. I'm beginning to see that globally there are more funds which are now flowing into companies which recognize this.

Srikant Datar: There’s a lot of work going on on triple bottom line. There’s research on this, faculty is being offered tenure on this, many schools are engaging with this topic.

How to build an entrepreneurial mindset, solve for complex issues

Harsh Vardhan: Entrepreneurship is taught as a subject. It is not a “subject"; it's a life you are going to live for next several years. So don't call it an “elective”, make it compulsory. Have people from VC, PE, HR, Ops help students build a business plan and validated eventually by an investor. That’s one way to build mindset. You also need to break silo thinking. In entrepreneurship you are not a marketing, sales, or HR guy. You wear many hats.

How to bring more rigour and relevance, and deeper industry - academia connect

Saikat Chaudhuri: I like the idea of co-teaching. I fondly remember my days at Stanford, where Professor Robert Burgelman co-taught with Andy Grove, the legendary then CEO of Intel.

Nitin Paranjpa: Remaining relevant is a big challenge because the pace of change in society is so fast, the half-life of everything is becoming shorter. What seemed okay in terms of your renewal five years ago, is simply not good enough today. In larger organizations like ours, some change gets forced because of the much higher level of renewal, which happens with more new people coming into the organization. Business schools might want to assess what is the extent of renewal which will happen in the faculty. How genuinely agile is your mindset that we are able to shed the models we have grown up with.

Srikant Datar: You have to equip people with the skills of learning how to learn.

Ajit Rangnekar: When we talk of industry - academia connect, there are two aspects. One is the industry connect for students. And the other is the industry-faculty connect. Why should the industry want to come to you? What is so special about your students? How do you build long-term industry connect?

Watch Breakout Session 1

Why are we in this situation, where we are questioning the MBA? What has changed suddenly, that is leading us to think and question about how can we change business? Because that's where the driver is for the MBA programmes to change.

Watch Breakout Session 2

If you had a free hand to completely redesign the MBA programme, if you were able to start from a zero base without any of the baggage of the past, and given the challenges India faces, how would you just completely redesign or visualise MBA?

Watch the full Masterclass video

The complete two-hour session.

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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