“Should I get a MBA?”, “I have finished by graduation. Will MBA help?”, and many such questions is what I get asked by friends, family and their friends and family. My honest response to them is, “It depends!” – after all I have a MBA too and this is the most popular answer that any MBA gives. The last 18 months (or more) have been a very tumultuous time for a lot of us and the frequency with which I get asked these questions has increased. What makes matters worse for me is now I have a huge conflict of interest when answering these questions as I myself am a faculty member at one of the leading management schools. However, let me share my thoughts and leave it to the reader to arrive at their conclusion – we each will have one!
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The first point I want to highlight is the cyclic nature of the macro-economic conditions. The general understanding is that approximately every 10 years there will be a slowdown of the economy. The current century has seen three such slowdowns – the dotcom bubble burst, the financial crisis and then the COVID-19 outbreak. From the economics point of view, each of these slowdowns forced certain business to close down permanently, some business to correct their track and some of them did exceedingly well. Why did this happen? What does this mean for MBA aspirants and graduates? It means that while each such slowdown will result in loss of certain jobs, they are going to result in a new set of jobs being created. Why are the new set of jobs created? Well, simple, it is a result of the changing strategies that the slowdown forces. Some firms plan for a lot of contingencies and hence they will be quite well equipped to handle such challenges.
Next, a good business is one which plans ahead – which means that they do not react to situations and economic conditions, but they plan for them. This is exactly how I suggest one should evaluate career decisions. If that means that one needs to continually invest in learning new things to keep your current skills relevant, so be it. The one big mistake that most of us make is to think that once you have a job, you are settled and there is no further need to keep oneself updated. If this would have been true, we would never have had an industrial revolution in the 18th century or the advent of computers in the 20th century. Just like the way every individual must keep oneself updated, every business also must keep itself updated and plan for the future to stay in business and also grow.
Third, I want to talk about what does a MBA degree really involves. The MBA is an applied course unlike the core sciences. One learns about statistics, accounting, finance, marketing, operations, organizations, law, and strategy. While all of these are core subjects, and every MBA degree starts with revising the concepts in them, the actual core of the degree is putting these all together. This exactly is the reason why MBA schools have an internship requirement, encourage live projects and have group assignments.
Now, putting all of these together – it is never really a bad time to invest in education, it is never really a bad idea to plan ahead (whether in one’s own life or as a manager) and last it is never really a good idea to blame the economic conditions. However, learning how to handle crisis situations will never lose its demand and hence any education (including MBA) will never lose its sheen. If anything, learning about management in a crisis situation (like the current pandemic) is a blessing in disguise!
The author is Prof Ashish Galande, Marketing, IIM Udaipur.